Raja Ampat 2015

Two-inch conchOctober 2015 ~ We are ashore in Sorong, Indonesia for 24 hours, between dive trips through Raja Ampat aboard the Dewi Nusantara dive boat. What a difference ten years makes! Our overnight stay in 2005 was in Sorong’s finest hotel (which shall remain nameless here), a friendly place with a lovely marble entrance…but that was about it. The rest of the building was a strange combination of musty, old rooms and unfinished stairwells (a plastic potted palm blocked the door to the out-of-service elevator). The smell of raw concrete and insecticide was memorable as was the 2-hour wait for meals. Ned just commented that “those were NOT the good ol’ days!” Here we sit today, in a brand new hotel, loading images to our blogs with a wireless Internet connection, from the comfort of air conditioned rooms. We’re a lot more comfortable but won’t have nearly the stories to tell! School of snappers off Gam Island, Indonesia

The south wind in Raja Ampat has been unseasonably strong for this time of year, forcing Wendy Brown, our cruise director, and the dive team to seek out protected dive sites on the north sides of the islands. They’ve managed to get us to some of the old favorites and tried a few new sites that were off the charts good. We had a couple of not-so-great dives too, but considering that the rough seas narrowed down the choices, we did all right.

Tasselled wobbegong, Eucrossorhinus dasypogon

The cutest fish ever: a 6-inch baby Tasselled Wobbegong shark sitting in a sponge

A few years ago, I found a tiny 6-inch Wobbegong Shark that looked exactly like the 5 to 6 foot adults. After the dive, I lamented that I should have put my hand down next to it when I shot the video, to give some perspective of its size. This time, as soon as our dive guide, Yan, called us over to look at another little baby, he immediately put his hand next to it – he remembered!

Baby Wobbegong Shark

Yan’s hand next to the baby wobbegong shark

On a night dive last week, I happened upon a large hermit crab holding onto a smaller one. I saw this behavior a few years ago in Lembeh Strait and the smaller crab turned out to be a female releasing hatching larvae. I was afraid if I got too close, she would stop, so I waited until it looked like most of the eggs had hatched before I moved close enough to zoom in. The whole thing lasted about 90 seconds before she moved off, the larger male chasing close behind:


Ever since he saw Dr. Richard Smith’s (Ocean Realm Images) photos of the shrimp that live in giant clams, Ned has wanted to see them for himself. This gave Yan and him a mission for the week – they searched for giant clams and if one was positioned in a way that they could kneel (no hovering for 70 minutes like Richard did to get his shot), they would wait for the fleeting moment that the shrimp appeared. They found a matched pair but a different species than the ones Richard shot, so the hunt continues.

Giant clam shrimp

A very cryptic shrimp living in the mantle of a giant clam

This is one of Ned’s favorite shots of the week: an Irian Jaya Fairy Wrasse being cleaned by a cleaner wrasse. Fairy wrasses become very brightly colored and move very fast when they are courting females.  It is the oddest thing to see one stop suddenly to allow a cleaner wrasse to pick a parasite, then take off again in a split second:

Irian Jaya Fairy Wrasse being cleaned

Irian Jaya Fairy Wrasse stops for a split second to be cleaned

Another cleaning behavior: a moray being cleaned by Scarlet Lady cleaning shrimp:Moray eel being cleaned by shrimp

Found on a night dive, this was the largest Saron shrimp – about two inches long:

Saron shrimp

A saron shrimp: what on earth is the purpose of all those hairs and bristles?!

Another night dive find: a sap sucking slug sitting on grape algae:

Sap sucking slug on grape algae

A 1/8-inch sap sucking slug

One of the prettiest dottybacks, a Firetail Dottyback:Firetail Dottyback

One of the first dives we ever made in Raja Ampat was on Cape Kri, one of the fishiest dive sites in the world. It was great to see the site ten years later – still amazing:Sweetlips on Cape Kri

I’ve been obsessed with Convict Fish (Pholidichthys leucotaenia) for years and have spent hours watching and filming them. The very large adults are extremely shy, so it has always been difficult to get a good image. Ned spent about 30 minutes getting a shot of an adult as it was cleaning the burrow. The striped juveniles, pictured all around the adult, leave the burrow during the day to pick plankton, but the adults never leave the burrow:

Convict fish adult, Pholidichthys leucotaenia

Adult convict fish spitting a mouthful of sand.

We’ll be boarding the boat again in a few hours for another trip. I’ll post our favorite blenny shots when we return to shore in two weeks.

Blue Heron Bridge Visit

Bumblebee shrimp crawling over octopus

Bumblebee shrimp crawling over octopus

Two weeks ago, I posted about a dive at the Blue Heron Bridge where I watched a female box crab molt while in the grasp of a male. Ned had good luck too. Bumblebee shrimp are known to feed on the tube feet of echinoderms, so we usually see them on or under urchins and sea cucumbers.  He had stopped to watch an octopus feeding on a gastropod whose shell was too large to fit into the den. Imagine his delight when several of the tiny, striped shrimp bimbled across the front of the octopus.

Bluelip Parrotfish, Cryptotomus roseus, male in normal color

Bluelip Parrotfish, Cryptotomus roseus, male in normal color

Even though the Blue Heron Bridge in Riviera Beach, Florida is only a three and a half hour drive from our home, we don’t have a chance to make the trip more than once or twice a year. But when we do, we are never disappointed and over the years, have had some amazing dives there. Although there are areas around the bridge that can be dived any time, the areas directly under the bridge spans are only manageable during slack tide, so a little planning is required. Last month, we managed to squeeze in a quick, two-day trip.

Bluelip Parrot, Cryptotomus roseus, in courting colors

A male Bluelip Parrotfish flashing his courting colors

We’ve started work on updating the Reef Fish Behavior book, so spawning Bluelip Parrotfish, Cryptotomus roseus, was exciting. The males are normally pretty anyway, but during courting and spawning they get even flashier.

Bluelip Parrotfish male courting harem

Bluelip Parrotfish male, courting harem

The Blue Heron Bridge is one of the few places we’ve dived where Trunkfish, Lactophrys trigonus (formerly known by the common name, Buffalo Trunkfish), can regularly be found. The black juvenile is more commonly seen, but we were delighted when our friend Deb Devers showed us a tiny, bright green one.

Trunkfish, formerly commonly known as Buffalo Trunkfish, Lactophrys trigonus juvenile

Trunkfish, formerly commonly known as Buffalo Trunkfish, Lactophrys trigonus juvenile

Trunkfish, formerly commonly known as Buffalo Trunkfish, Lactophrys trigonus, green juvenile

Trunkfish, formerly called the Buffalo Trunkfish, Lactophrys trigonus, green juvenile

My video lights can be pretty annoying at night, attracting all kinds of worms and other assorted plankton that can totally screw up my video. One advantage though, is among the worms and isopods and occasional settling fish, we see some pretty cool settling crustaceans. I think the second is a settling lobster, but I’m not certain. The second is a stomatopod larva (thanks to Dr. Peter Wirtz for the confirmation).

Settling shrimp at the Blue Heron Bridge

Settling shrimp

Night settling crustacean at Blue Heron Bridge

Night settling stomatopod

We close with a nudibranch, Dondice occidentalis, identified for us by nudi expert, Anne Dupont, who noted that there are two color forms found at the bridge, one of which is this “sparkly” one:

Fringeback Dondice, Dondice occidentalis, found at the Blue Heron Bridge, Florida

Fringeback Dondice, Dondice occidentalis

Sergeant Major Eggs

Crab eating a Sergeant Major egg

Crab is having a Sergeant Major egg for dinner

September, 2015 ~ We’ve been on Bonaire for the past three weeks as Buddy Dive Resort’s resident naturalists. So how have we been spending our time when we’re not talking fish with other divers? We’ve started working on an update to our Reef Fish Behavior book and have a list of behaviors we want to add. For a good part of this week, we’ve been watching Sergeant Majors (Abudefduf saxatilis), ubiquitous little damselfish. More specifically, we’ve been waiting for their eggs to hatch. At a hundred minutes at a time (about all the time the air in my 63 cf tank will last at 25 feet) I’ve starting feeling like Horton in Horton Hatches a Who.

After last night’s marathon, Ned showed me how he’d passed the time: watching a crab feed on the Sergeant Major eggs:

Crab and Sergeant Major eggs

Under the cover of darkness, a crab helps itself to Sergeant Major eggs

Sergeant Major eggs are about the size of a sesame seed. They start out red and full of yolk. As the embryo develops, they become clear and a little silvery. Some of the eggs in this image are either freshly laid or didn’t get fertilized; the others are not quite ready to hatch but you can see the eyes of the developing Sergeant Major embryos:

Not quite ready to hatch but you can see the eyes of the developing Sergeant Major embryos

Not quite ready to hatch but you can see the eyes of the developing Sergeant Major embryos

Molting Box Crab

Ocellate Box Crab, Calappa ocellata, male grasping a female

Ocellate Box Crab, Calappa ocellata, male grasping a female

I am pretty sure these Ocellate Box Crabs (Calappa ocellata) are mating or about to mate. Not to split hairs, but one box crab carrying a smaller box crab around doesn’t necessarily mean we caught them in the act. The female mates when her shell is soft, i.e., when she has just molted. A male, sensing that the female is about to molt may grasp her and carry her around, presumably to make sure no other male sweeps her away. He may also carry her around after they have mated to lessen the opportunity for her to mate with other males. So when we see a crab in the grasp of another, we could be seeing pre-copulatory or post-copulatory mate guarding.

Ocellate Box Crab, Calappa ocellata, male grasping a molting female

Looks like three crabs – what do you think is going on here?

So how do I know these crabs were about to mate? I saw her molt – right in his grasp. I was on a night dive at the Blue Heron Bridge, with friend Elaine Blum, who was pointing out one seahorse after another of every color imaginable. I wandered away from everyone, out into the mucky channel, and saw the two crabs together, flapping rapidly. The last time I saw two crabs behaving that way, a female hermit crab was releasing her hatching eggs as the male held onto her.

I flew over to the box crabs but by the time I got close enough to see what was going on, they saw me and hunkered down. Up close, it looked like there were three crabs and I realized that the female was molting!

Ocellate Box Crab, Calappa ocellata, male grasping a female as she has almost finished molting

Ocellate Box Crab male grasping a female as she has almost finished molting

Ocellate Box Crab, Calappa ocellata, female grasped by male; her molted shell left behind

And off they went, leaving her old shell behind

So maybe the flapping was her attempt to free herself from her old shell. The images in this post are all frame captures from the video. If you want to see the molting box crab in action, head over to our BlennyWatcher YouTube channel or click on the video below: