DIV­ING WITH WON­DROUS CRIT­TERS

Scuba Diver Australasia - - Contents - By Roni Ben-Aharon

We are hov­er­ing over the shal­low bot­tom of the black vol­canic sand on the At­lantis House Reef. It is a gor­geous sunny day in Fe­bru­ary, and our dive guide points out a half coconut husk ly­ing face down on the bot­tom; we care­fully ap­proach as he flips the coconut husk us­ing his pointer stick. Hun­dreds of tiny, translu­cent eggs are in­serted in be­tween the husk cracks. They are flam­boy­ant cut­tle­fish eggs, and be­fore we know it, some of the eggs be­gin to hatch in front of our eyes. It is be­yond in­cred­i­ble – I can’t be­gin to de­scribe my fas­ci­na­tion with these crit­ters!

Around five cen­time­tres in length, they pos­sess mag­i­cal cam­ou­flag­ing abil­i­ties: Not only are they able to change colour in a split sec­ond, they can even al­ter their body tex­ture! Usu­ally pur­ple, brown and white, when ap­proached, they hover as their skirt-like fins feather in the ocean cur­rent, and sud­denly, be­fore you can di­gest their rare beauty, they change their ap­pear­ance com­pletely, and be­come any­thing, even trans­par­ent, and van­ish. Now, imag­ine watch­ing the tiny trans­par­ent young hatch: Hav­ing the same cam­ou­flag­ing abil­i­ties of an adult, they be­come pur­ple, brown and white im­me­di­ately upon hatch­ing – it gave me goose bumps even un­der my wet­suit!

Crit­ter div­ing is all about the thrills of find­ing small, weird things you have never seen be­fore; the sur­prise when a rock sud­denly comes alive, or when you flip a leafy grass to find it sheltering amaz­ing crit­ters like the pygmy squid. Be­ing the tini­est squid, it is usu­ally be­tween 1.5 to 2.5 cen­time­tres in length. In­ter­est­ingly, it has a translu­cent body, and if you look care­fully, you can see the con­tents of their stom­ach! Ac­cord­ing to At­lantis Re­sorts’ res­i­dent ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist, Marco Ino­cen­cio, these fin­ger-nail sized crit­ters are genus level on the tox­i­c­ity scale, mean­ing they are the most poi­sonous in the bob­tail squid (Idiosepius) fam­ily.

Have you ever seen the ma­jes­tic Span­ish dancer? Not the one with the cas­tane­tas in Barcelona (as thrilling as those are), but the

Hexabranchus san­guineus, mean­ing “blood­coloured six-gills”. It is a large nudi­branch av­er­ag­ing 30 cen­time­tres, usu­ally red with white spots dot­ting its soft, flat body. When dis­turbed, the Span­ish dancer un­folds its wide para­po­dia, us­ing con­trac­tions and un­du­lat­ing mo­tions to swim away. As the wide, red edges

of the man­tle whirl through the wa­ter, it re­sem­bles the skirt of a fla­menco dancer – a mes­meris­ing sight to see!

DIV­ING WITH VEN­OMOUS CRIT­TERS

When I dived with the great whites off the coast of South Africa, the adrenalin rush was un­like any­thing I have ex­pe­ri­enced, but div­ing around tiny ven­omous crit­ters puts a cog­ni­tive twist on this thrill. “Should I fear you, you lit­tle thing?” I found my­self ask­ing the first blue-ringed oc­to­pus (Ha­palochlaena lunulata)

I met. Twelve to 20 cen­time­tres in length, it is the only oc­to­pus that is lethal to hu­mans, car­ry­ing enough venom to kill 26 adults through res­pi­ra­tory de­pres­sion and paral­y­sis. Usu­ally, the blue-ringed oc­to­pus is brown to yel­low in colour, but when pro­voked, its blue rings ap­pear as a warn­ing be­fore it bites.

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