Our Japanese Blenny (Ginpo) Tour

Neoclinus sp., possibly N. bryope, Kokeginpo, face - photographed in Hachijojima, Japan

Neoclinus sp., possibly N. bryope; Japanese name: Kokeginpo

July, 2015 ~ Two years ago, our good friend, Dr. Richard Smith (Ocean Realm Images), showed us photos that he took while diving in Japan. The Pinecone fish, a blenny (ginpo) and undescribed Japanese pygmy seahorse (Japa-pigu), caught our imaginations and Ned and I decided then and there that we had to see these fishes for ourselves. Richard kindly set up an entire three-week itinerary for five of us and off we went last month for a dive trip unlike any we’d ever experienced. We got to see the pygmy seahorse and the Pinecone Fish – stories that we’ll save for a later post – and some very cool blennies.

Our first stop was Hachijo-jima, an island about 180 miles south of Tokyo. Kotaro Tanaka, our host and owner of Dive Club Concolor started us off at Nazumado, a shore dive that required entering by holding onto an anchored rope to ease ourselves over the lava rocks. A series of distant typhoons had created a bit of surge, making the entry more of an exercise in rappelling. And timing was everything – releasing the rope at the right moment in order to be carried away from the rocks by the outgoing flow of the surge was the key to a successful entry. Easy – peasy when you’ve done it and understand that. I was terrified but managed nonetheless because…there were blennies below! I think my graceless return to shore by riding up the rocks on my butt, fins first (I did hold onto the rope all the way) might have played a part in Kotaro’s decision to make the rest of our dives from boats.

Nazumado shore dive, Hachijojima, Japan

Nazumado shore dive – Kotaro holds the rope while Wendy and Yan prepare to enter.

But back to the blennies … oh, the blennies!

Cirripectes kuwamurai, Suji-tategami-kaeru-uo, face

Cirripectes kuwamurai, Suji-tategami-kaeru-uo

Another fish for our lifelists, this is Cirripectes kuwamurai, a fairly large combtooth blenny in a group we call the “earred” blennies because their dark nuchal flaps edged with tiny yellow cirri look like little ears. Named for Dr. Tetsuo Kuwamura, the Japanese name is Suji-tategami-kaeru-uo.

Cirripectes kuwamurai, Suji-tategami-kaeru-uo - photographed on Hachijojima, Japan

Cirripectes kuwamurai, Suji-tategami-kaeru-uo

We have seen the Piano Blenny, Plagiotremus tapeinosoma (Tenkurosuji ginpo in Japanese) in Indonesia, Fiji and the Philippines. This fish is so variable that every time I see one, it takes me a minute to recognize it and these were no exception, especially because we’ve never seen them so yellow. I think there was some courtship action going on because we saw plenty of the more typically colored Piano Blennies too.

Piano Fangblenny, Tenkurosuji ginpo, Plagiotremus tapeinosoma - photographed in Hachijojima, Japan

Piano Fangblenny, Tenkurosuji ginpo, Plagiotremus tapeinosoma

This outrageously adorned blenny, is possibly Neoclinus bryope, the Moss Blenny (Kokeginpo). Seeing Richard’s photo of this fish was what compelled us to visit Japan in the first place. I am uncertain about the identification because a paper published in 1987 identified two similar-appearing species, N. okazakii and N. chihiroe whose ranges overlap N. bryope and we just don’t have enough experience with Japanese blennies:

Neoclinus sp., possibly N. bryope, Kokeginpo - photographed in Hachijojima, Japan

Neoclinus sp., possibly N. bryope, Kokeginpo

I missed this one but Ned shot this great Blackfin Triplefin, Helcogramma fuscopinna within minutes of entering the water. I couldn’t find a Japanese common name for this fish:

Blackfin triplefin, Helcogramma fuscopinna

Blackfin triplefin, Helcogramma fuscopinna

Our favorite sighting was Meiacanthus kamoharai (Kamoharaginpo) a beautiful fangblenny known from Japan and Taiwan. Kotaro, Ned and I spent most of one dive watching a male court and chase a female and just before we had to ascend to shallower water, the female finally entered the male’s lair, presumably to lay eggs that he would fertilize and guard. An interesting note: these blennies are now being successfully raised by OAR (Oceans, Reefs and Aquariums) the hatchery located on FIU’s Harbor Branch campus in Florida.

Kamohara's Blenny, Kamoharaginpo, Meiacanthus kamoharai

Kamohara’s Blenny, Kamoharaginpo, Meiacanthus kamoharai

We halted our Hachijo-jima diving two days early because of rough seas from a typhoon and headed back to Tokyo where we met up with Shingo Suzuki, owner of Kiki Diving Club. Richard and Shingo had worked out an itinerary around the Izu Peninsula, a few hours drive from Tokyo. We started at Osezaki in West Izu where we geared up on the wide beach and walked in. Added bonus: Mt. Fuji in the distance!

Shore dive - Osezaki, Izu Peninsula, Japan

Shore dive at Osezaki – with Mt. Fuji in the background!

This was a true black sand muck dive and it was much colder here. Shingo noticed me obsessing over another Neoclinus sp. blenny in a rock at the end of our first dive and asked me about it during lunch. I told him about this blog, Blennywatcher, which got him all excited about showing us these great Yatabe Blennies, Parablennius yatabei  (Isoginpo), known from Japan and Korea. These blennies are in the same genus as the western Atlantic’s Seaweed Blenny, Parablennius marmoreus, and are about the same size. Here in Osezaki, they were living in the growth on a submerged mooring float and their behavior reminded me of the Tessellated Blennies we saw last year on Bonaire.

Yatabe Blenny, Isoginpo, Parablennius yatabei - photographed in Osezaki, Izu Peninsula, Japan

Yatabe Blenny, Isoginpo, Parablennius yatabei

The weather started degrading (darn those typhoons!) so we moved across the peninsula to Futo where the water was much calmer, but unfortunately much colder. My gauge read 64 degrees (18 °C) on the bottom so I lasted about 15 minutes before I fled to 20 feet for the warmer 68 degrees. This was a lucky move because I found more Yatabe blennies (on the moorings that held the entry ropes) and these gorgeous Hebiginpo, Enneapterygius etheostomus. I saw a black male with white bars first and because I had seen photos of this species, I knew to look for the female, which is reddish brown and mottled.  

Enneapterygius etheostomus, Hebiginpo, male

Enneapterygius etheostomus, Hebiginpo, male

Yokobama shore dive at Futo, Izu Peninsula, Japan

Yokobama shore dive at Futo, Izu Peninsula, Japan (video frame capture).

In spite of dodging 3 typhoons, very cold water (64 to 75 degrees – eek!), and negotiating travel and everyday life in a country whose language we could neither speak nor read, we had the time of our lives and cannot wait to return. We loved Japan – the people, the diving and the fishes!


Fukao, R. 1987. Fishes of Neoclinus bryope species complex from Shirahama, Japan, with description of two new species. Japanese Journal of Ichthyology, 34(3): 291–308.

For Japanese common names: http://www.fishbase.org

Anilao Portfolio

Aegires malinus

Aegires malinus

All I could see was a red speck but our dive guide, Kim Manzano, pointed insistently at what turned out to be a tiny, tiny nudibranch, Aegires malinus. Our trip to the Philippines this past April included a short visit to Anilao, a dive destination known for its macro subjects, including and especially nudibranchs. We are latecomers to the Anilao dive scene – many of our friends have been telling us to visit because the same sorts of fishes and invertebrates that we pursue in other favorite destinations are also here. Anilao is a 3-hour drive south of Manila and since we had to return to Manila after our Dumaguete adventure, we decided this was the time to add on a week and check it out. There were loads of our favorites, like coral gobies and ctenophores and a few first time sightings for our life lists like this spectacular Thecacera nudibranch:

Thecacera sp. in Anilao

Ned found this gorgeous Comet, Calloplesiops altivelis, during a drift dive along a wall. We’ve seen many Comets but none this small, just a few inches long, with such vivid markings:

Calloplesiops altivelis, a.k..a., Comet

A Candycane Pygmygoby, Trimma cana

Candycane goby

And another Pygmygoby, the Red-Spotted Pygmygoby, Trimma rubromaculatus:

Unidentified Goby

This little critter that looks like it’s sporting a jacket of fried eggs is a sea slug. Colpodaspis thompsoni has a fragile shell under its mantle:

Colpodaspis thompsoni

We couldn’t figure out why Ned was so obsessed with this Dragon Shrimp, until we saw his head-on shot:

Dragon shrimp

Dragon shrimp face

The Golden Hawkfish, Cirrhitichthys aureus, was an exciting sighting – another for my life list:

GOLDEN HAWKFISH Cirrhitichthys aureus

The Rumengani Pipehorse, Kyonemichthys rumengani was formally described in 2007 from a specimen collected in Lembeh Strait by dive guide Noldy Rumengan, who recognized it as an undescribed species. We have since seen it in Halmahera, Raja Ampat, Flores and now, here in Anilao. I know many destinations like to make fishes “their own”, so we have heard lots of different common names for this diminutive fish, but we know and have dived with Noldy, and to honor him, I’m sticking with Rumengani or Rumengan’s Pipehorse for the common name:

Kyonemichthys rumengani

Nudi face anyone? Technically nudibranchs don’t have faces so don’t call me out on this one:

Nudibranch face

Once we got into a groove with our dive guide Kim I started making requests. One was for a tiny sap-sucking slug (say that three times really fast) in the genus Costasiella. “You know, the ones that look like little sheep,” I said. He knew exactly what I was talking about: “Oh yes, we also call them Baa-Baas.” I love that. This was the size of a head of a pin:

Sapsucking slug

Since Anilao is famous for its nudibranchs, we close with two more that we really liked. I think they are Phyllodesmiums but not certain:


Unidentified nudi Anilao

Fangblenny with Eggs!

Fangblenny with eggsDumaguete, Philippines ~ April 2015  A blenny guarding eggs! The last time I spent a dive watching a male blenny guarding a cache of eggs, was in freezing water with 3 feet of vis – in Florida, of all places! Since that dive (see Blenny Fever), I’ve seen quite a few different species of blenny spawn but their eggs are difficult or impossible to see because they tend to lay them in abandoned worm tubes, shells or crevices.

I think this blenny is Petroscirtes breviceps, but I can’t be certain because it stayed in the tube at eye level. It is interesting that the eggs are in different stages of development – you can see the eyes on the ones lower down in the tube. The eggs higher up are still reddish and yolk-filled.

Here is a very short video showing the blenny in the worm tube. The two tubes just behind him are still occupied by worms. To watch, click on the video below. You can watch other short videos of our marine life observations over on our BlennyWatcher YouTube channel.

Dumaguete, Philippines ~ 2015

Fighting sand divers Dauin Philippines

Dumaguete, Philippines, April 2015 ~ I am starting this entry with one of Ned’s photos of tube-dwelling amphipods. These creatures were almost my sole focus during our three weeks of diving, first in Dumaguete, then in Anilao. I didn’t realize the extent of my obsession until I started cataloging video and reading my journal entries [...]