Banda Sea, April 2014 ~ This algae covered decorator crab, found by Ned on a night dive off Pantar, Indonesia, is one of my favorite images from our April trip around the Banda Sea. We boarded the Dewi Nusantara in Ambon and dived our way down through and around the southern perimeter of the Banda Sea and across through the Alor region, ending in Flores. And oh, what a trip!
Last year, I posted about the little bryozoan goby that Graham Abbott found in Ambon. We looked for it all the way down from Halmahera to Ambon, but only found it in Ambon at the end of our cruise. This year, our trip started in Ambon, so we searched for it as we traveled south but didn’t find it until we reached Alor. After we blogged about it last year, the fish became quite an attraction with the dive operators in Ambon and I shared information about how to find these tiny, cryptic fish with others. I am pleased to say that one of them found the goby in Lembeh a few months ago, so it is now known from Ambon, Alor and Lembeh. I can understand Ambon and Alor, but I find it interesting this fish wasn’t seen earlier in Lembeh, a muck diving mecca visited by thousands of divers. Just shows how knowing something exists can often be the key to more sightings.
Another fish that we have been searching for is Cirrhilabrus humanni, a fairy wrasse I discovered in 2010 off Pura Island and formally described by Dr. Gerry Allen in 2012. During our 2010 trip, I only saw the one male with a harem of many females so we were keen to know more about its range. This time our friend, Dr. Richard Smith, was the first to find one. Alerted to its presence by Richard, we found a couple more on the dive site off Alor. Richard’s wonderful shot is posted on his site, Oceanrealmimages.com.
I have seen many Midas Blennies, but never one in its courting colors. The banded pattern caught my attention but it took a while to realize which blenny it was because it was so large. I pestered Ned until he went back with me to take photos. One shallow outcropping sported a highly motivated population of at least eight males.
On an early morning dive, our guide Yann pointed out Red-margined Wrasse, also flashing bright courting colors.
I found this stunner, a flasher wrasse (possibly undescribed), on a late afternoon dive and finally got the attention of Ned, our guide Yann and our friend Dave Dempsey, who were equally impressed! We were able to return the next day so everyone else could see these beauties.
Night dives almost always yield fabulous creatures like this bumblebee shrimp perched on a brightly colored sea apple. Bumblebee shrimp feed on the tube feet of echinoderms, which is why we often find them on sea cucumbers and urchins.
You can get an idea of how small this Bobtail squid is by comparing it to the shrimp it is holding. Ned shot this photo as the squid was capturing its dinner.
Who can resist a teddy bear? During a mucky night dive, Ned found this Teddy Bear Crab out bimbling around. I touched it – couldn’t resist – it was so soft.
It is hard to believe that this tiny Pinnate Batfish grows up to be a large, rather nondescript silver-gray fish.
This cuttlefish was not impressed with Ned and his camera. Here, it exhibits what I think is a threat display.
It isn’t uncommon to see Fire Dartfish singly or in pairs, but just outside of Banda, I found a group of almost 20! True to their name, they darted into their holes when we approached but Ned caught a respectable number in his shot.
We close with happy bees of Banda – we had a lovely morning walking tour of a nutmeg plantation and fort on Banda Neira.
Years ago, Ned and I decided that when we were too old to scuba dive, we would spend our time visiting as many natural history museums of the world as we could. It recently occurred to us that we might not ever stop diving, so we should probably get on with the museums. A visit to friends, Cary and Jim Yanny, made the Natural History Museum, London the logical place to start. What a thrill to visit this beautiful building where a statue of our hero Charles Darwin looks out over the great hall:
And we were pleased to see that Alfred Russel Wallace is honored with a portrait that hangs to Darwin’s left and the note below the painting: “Joint author with Darwin of the theory of Natural Selection.”
Alfred Russel Wallace: “Joint author with Darwin of the theory of Natural Selection.”
We could have spent several days here, but we only had a few hours. Skipping the long line at the dinosaur exhibit allowed us to make it through several of the other halls where we saw some old favorites and many things we’d only read about, like a Thylacine, also known as a Tasmanian Wolf. They were actually marsupials, not mammals, and this preserved individual is much smaller than I imagined. Once widespread across Australia, they are now extinct (although I understand there are occasional reports of sightings, which are unsubstantiated).
The Dodo, another very sad story of extinction:
Ever since I saw the article by Bill Warmus about the Blaschka glass models of invertebrates, I have wanted to see one in person. This Blaschka octopus is exquisite:
Wow, I want to see this fish in the wild! An Indian hump-head – the male carries the clutch of fertilized eggs on his head:
Behold – a display for sea bean anoraks! What a surprise to round a corner and see a large image of a sea heart pod with the display of a seed cleverly encased so we can touch, but not make off with it:
A Coco de Mer – the largest sea bean of them all! A.k.a. the sea coconut, this seed pod of a palm endemic to the Seychelles is the stuff of legends. This is probably the closest I’ll ever get to a real one:
In the echinoderm exhibit, a model of a sea pig – and I knew what it was, thanks to Echinoblog:
You could spend an entire day just looking at the building and all its ornamentation, inside and out. We learned the difference between a gargoyle and grotesque from our guide in Oxford – gargoyles have water spouts; grotesques do not.
At the top of our wish list for England was a visit to Charles Darwin’s home, Down House. Cary and Jim obliged by driving us from their home in Woodstock, two hours away. What a comfortable place. It is gratifying to imagine Darwin and his family here:
The Sandpath at Down House:
Next stop: France. We didn’t make it to the Natural History Museum in Paris; that will have to wait until our next time through. Our destination was the prehistoric cave paintings and drawings in the Perigord region. We visited the Le Musée National de Préhistoire in Les Eyzies, where it is impressed upon us what a small blip in time we Homos sapiens occupy on the planet’s timeline:
No photos are permitted inside the caves but the drive through the region is dotted with interesting sites, including remains of settlements built into ancient river-carved niches:
Standing under the 14,000+ year-old drawings of mammoths, horses and ibex of the Great Ceiling at Rouffignac is something we have long imagined and we were so glad we made the journey.
This is the most photographed Tessellated Blenny in the world and likely the most observed. I am certain of this. I spent hours with this fish and its reefmates – I think I might have been obsessed. A few days after we arrived on Bonaire for our annual 5-week stay, our friends Allison and Carlos Estape (fellow fish surveyors) stopped by and told us about a site that had Tessellated Blennies (Hypsoblennius invemar) living in the barnacle shells. An abandoned, submerged mooring covered with a complex growth of sponges, barnacles and other invertebrates, this was perfect habitat for Tessellated Blennies. Enchanted by these colorful fish, we visited the site, dubbed the “blenny condo,” again and again regularly finding from 12 to 15 individuals, including one only a half-inch long.
Above: another view of the same blenny. Of all the blennies at the condo, this individual had the most developed cirri. It was also the most photogenic, sitting in a barnacle shell that was free of surrounding growth. Over five weeks, Ned and I showed it and the others in the colony to many fishwatchers and photographers – anyone who was willing to spend an hour at eight feet to look at a tiny, 2-inch fish. Although the mooring was attached to the bottom, at a depth of 26 feet, all the blennies I counted were in the top ten feet of water. Looking up, you can see how close the top of the mooring is to the surface:
Hanging out at ten feet could be tough when it was surgy, but we made a number of dawn dives, when the water was calmer and the blennies were particularly active. I was able to distinguish some of the females from the males by their behavior. In many blennies, the nuptial males are colored differently from the females and young, non-breeding males. They are usually site attached, rarely leaving their holes – I think this is because they are either guarding eggs or trying to attract females to lay eggs there. The Tessellated Blennies that never left their holes were the most vibrantly colored and strongly patterned, which led me to believe they were the males. When what I thought was a female approached, the males exhibited a very distinctive head-bobbing behavior, often leaning way out of the hole, like this one:
I could not tell the difference between the females and young males, but many were running around and getting into frequent fights with each other. When I saw a male going crazy, bobbing up and down like a mini-piston, I was certain the target of his showboating was a female, like this one that tucked itself into a shell after running around the male several times:
Ned shot dozens of photos of the Tessellated Blennies on the blenny condo but this is my favorite. I wuv de widdle toofees:
Coming soon: a revised Bonaire blenny map.
Some of the blennies we saw in 2013 on Bonaire
Team Blenny is on the job in Bonaire – check out the results of last year’s hunt on our newly created Bonaire Blenny Page. There are photos and hand-drawn maps with info about where we found them last year. “Like” us on [...]