Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dirk Hartog Snorkeling

What a clam. (Adriana Weil)

An Eel (Adriana Weil)
While on Dirk Hartog Island we had heaps of time during the day to travel about and do as we pleased.  Much of the time was spent exploring and snorkeling.  I would have gone snorkeling everyday if the conditions had remained calm enough.  Instead we were only able to get out on the water a few times but every time it was spectacular.  The first day we went down the cliff and off the beach next to our camp.  The waves were breaking hard on the west side of the cape so we went in on the East side where the surge was reduced to a light pull.

(Adriana Weil)
Shark bay is in a unique area where the tropical currents of the North and the cooler currents of the south mix.  You are bound to come across all sorts of creatures from both habitats giving it an especially high rate biodiversity.  Dirk Hartog sits right at the entrance to Shark Bay.  It is one of the most under appreciated systems of reef structure anywhere around Australia.  Within the Bay itself you find sand and seagrass blanketing the sea floor but here on the edge it is nothing but reef and rock, the perfect place to go searching for animals.

Tasselled Wobegong, Eucrossorhinus dasypogon (Tyler Roberts)

Back end of the Wobegong (Tyler Roberts) 
That first day we were wowed by the massive clams and intricate coral heads all around.  There were fish everywhere; Bluebone, parrotfish, squirrelfish, Gobies, Damselfish, Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Moorfish, Wrasse, pipefish and really to many to mention them all.  To many to even identify.  The highlights that first day were the little Eel, a Bar Bellied Sea Snake, a large Honeycomb Ray, and the best for last… a Tasselled Wobegong (pronounced Wob-ee-gong).  Wobegongs are actually sharks though they are one of the few that do not need to constantly swim to breath.  They are relatively docile predators of small fish and invertebrates.  I spotted this one hiding under a ledge trying to look as rock-like as possible.  It is one of my main highlights from being on the island.
Tasselled Wobegong's head (Tyler Roberts)

Another day we went out and spotted a beautiful little Bluespotted Maskray.  It was only about a foot across but they tend to stay fairly small even when they reach full maturity.  The maskrays of the genus Neotrygon are an interesting group of rays.  In this area you can find three species of Maskray; bluespotted, Painted and a recently described species.  This new one was discovered by my research group in a previous year and seems to be endemic to the Shark Bay area.

Bar Bellied Sea Snake (Tyler Roberts)
One of my absolute favorite underwater creatures is the octopus.  They are the true masters of disguise, changing not only their color but their skin color and behavior as well in the blink of an eye.  Every time we had gone out I would keep my eyes open for one.  I would always make a point to search under every ledgeand in every crevice in the hopes of seeing one.  Instead I bumped into all sorts of other things in those places.  There were lobsters, soft corals, eels, the wobegong and until the last day no sign of an octopus.

Me and the Wobegong (Adriana Weil)

Bluespotted Maskray, Neotrygon khulii (Tyler Roberts)
That afternoon, after sleeping off the late night of turtle tagging Adriana and I decided to go for one more snorkel before we were forced to leave the island.  Down the cliff we went and into the water.  While doing my usual search pattern of every dark and covered area I noticed a couple eyes staring out at me.  They were odd looking bulbous eyes with skin the exact color of the sand and the texture of the rocks.  As I moved towards it, it retreated under the ledge that it had been peering out from and simultaneously turned a dark burgundy red.  It was such a dark red that it appeared black and when you looked at it from a distance further than a foot away its shape would disappear into the shadows all together.  I was very excited to finally see an octopus so I immediately signaled Adriana to come check it out.  It had done such a convincing job of camouflaging itself that on her first look Adriana could not spot it though it sat right in front of her.  I admired it for a bit and then moved on, happy as a clam to have seen all those wonderful animals and to have topped it all off with an octopus.

The next day we boarded a boat and headed for home.  It is about an hour and a half boat ride with chances of seeing whales and whale sharks so we all kept out eyes peeled for any sign of them.  We saw neither of those but we did get to see one the most beautiful, most elegant, most impressive animals.  Three Manta Rays came to the surface of the water not 20 meters from the boat.  Much like the Lynx had been for me in Alaska, though perhaps a little less moving, this is a sea creature I have dreamed of seeing since before I first dove in an ocean.  They are enormous and incredible, expansive and graceful.  They are the kings of all the rays and I feel privileged to have had them come so near if even just for a moment.

Bluespotted Maskray, Neotrygon khulii (Tyler Roberts)

A curious creature... and also a Seasnake. (Adriana Weil)

(Adriana Weil)

(Adriana Weil)

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