The water may be cooling down but the shark action is still here for a few more weeks. The bay is full of juvenile dusky whaler sharks, getting more acclimatised to divers by the day. They are also growing fast and will soon leave the shark nursery that is the aquatic reserve.
The water has cooled to 20 degrees but it was still surprising to find a few tropicals clinging on and a new fish I haven’t ever seen before, the Blotched Bigeye. Not a very nice name and it was a fortuitous find as I was photographing another fish when these eyes kept coming into the side of the viewfinder, and they are big eyes!
A larger than normally found bluehead wrasse was cruising the reef, with the blue and yellow moon wrasse, and I even found a dot-dash butterflyfish, the first I think I have found this year. A few Half and Half Puller remain, plenty of iridescent Neon Damsels, even a Fire Damsel.
Plenty to see in relatively clear water
Slightly murkier than recent weeks in CTBAR but there are still some interesting things around. A piece of seaweed rolling around on the sand turned out to be the Yellow-Crested Weedfish. Once amongst the seaweed their camouflage makes them extremely hard to spot.
A watchful Grubfish has incredible eyes that, like a chameleon, can be deployed independently in different directions – fascinating to watch.
A tiny Bennett’s Toby was sheltering in a shallow spot, along with the more common Stars and Stripes pufferfish. The Dusky Whalers were patrolling the shallow reefs and understandably quite a few fish were very wary, some even sporting wounds from earlier attacks. Mados and Old Wives were cleaning the wounds on these fish, and as well as the Cleaner Wrasse I found a few False Cleaner Wrasse taking advantage of the situation, nipping those fish that mistook them for the former.
There are also a few species of Parrotfish around, the largest being the elusive Grass Parrotfish that hides amongst the kelp and only appears when you have the wrong lens set up on the camera – they know I’m sure!
The Weedy Seadragon is classified as Near Threatened under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and as a member of the broader family of Syngnathiformes (Seahorses and Pipefish) is classified as a protected species in NSW. Being poor swimmers with small fins, they rely on camouflage amongst seaweed to avoid potential predators, typically in 10+m depth where they are safely out of areas susceptible to strong wave action. Feeding primarily on small mysid shrimp they use their long snouts to slurp up these shrimp that congregate just off the seafloor.
Being slow movers these fish unsurprising can be stressed very easily and populations are known to plummet very quickly as happened in Shelly Beach around 2011/12 when the local population all but disappeared.
Fortunately this year sightings have begun again, with both adults and juveniles being sighted but they are a long way from recovering to their original numbers. Whilst exciting news, the popularity of Shelly Beach is also providing challenges to their survival.
Almost every diver these days has a camera to capture their awesome underwater adventures and experience. Every weekend they hit the water at Shelly Beach in large numbers. Two weeks after the first sighting this year I found a dead seadragon on the sand.
I see videos and photos posted on Facebook of seadragons in midwater, their bodies extended as they try to escape attentions of divers and snorkelers, obviously moved there to get a “better” picture. These are stressed fish. If only ten divers take ten shots each that’s 100 blinding flashes impacting their eyesight and again adding further stress as well as impairing their ability to feed.
So what can be done?
Firstly budding underwater divers need to understand that shooting 20+ shots won’t necessarily result in a good photo. Get your composition right then take the shot. They don’t move fast so if you can’t get it right in few shots just enjoy the sight from a safe distance.
Don’t touch them ever, as by law “it is an offence to kill, injure, take, trade, move or export”. Recent reports of them being found near the shore in 3-4m of water suggest that they are probably sick, or have been moved there for a photo opportunity as that is not their natural habitat. Missing appendages on the body of the picture above suggest it was not well.
A healthy unstressed seadragon will have its snout parallel to the seafloor and its tail pointing towards, or even touching the sand.
Consider your impact carefully when diving with them and let’s all enjoy them and watch their population flourish again.
There is a seldom frequented part of the aquatic reserve that I often sneak off to for several reasons. Firstly, less people means you can find interesting critters and today’s gem was a tropical headband damselfish that has taken up residence in some hard coral growing there. On further inspection there was a crab hiding deep in the base of the coral. A few very fast wrasse were also swimming around making it very hard to photograph. I also stumbled upon a very shy Blackspot snapper that I have only really seen in juvenile form before.
I’ve thrown a mystery object to identify too – for those playing at home….