10 Fascinating Facts about Piranhas

By , December 22, 2014 1:45 pm
picture red-bellied piranha

Red-bellied Piranha photo by wikimedia commons Karelj

1. All Piranhas live in tropical freshwater rivers, lakes, and lagoons in the northern half of South America.

2. There are between 30-60 species of Piranhas.

3. Piranhas’ teeth are triangular shaped and as sharp as sharks’ teeth.

4. Only 3 species of Piranhas are considered dangerous to humans:
a. Black shoulder Piranha
b. Red-bellied Piranha (average sized at 13 inches and 3 pounds)
c. Sao Francisco Piranha (largest at 24 inches and 13 pounds)

5. There have been no fatal attacks on humans as Piranhas only bite fingers, toes and chunks of legs and hips.

6. Piranhas live 10-25 years.

7. Shoals of up to 1000 Piranhas stay together to survive, not necessarily to hunt.

8. Most Piranhas are omnivores that eat meat (scavenge mainly), seeds and fruits.

9. Predators include caimans (a small crocodile), river otters, larger fish, and herons (a large bird).

10. When Piranhas attack a large animal, they eat the flesh and muscle in seconds, and leave only the skeleton.

Book Review: Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly

By , December 11, 2014 8:08 am
book cover Deep Blue

Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly

Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly is a mermaid book. There are spells, tails, fancy clothing, houses underwater, animals as pets, and anemones as beds.

This blurb from the inside cover perfectly sums up the book:
“Serafina, daughter of Isabella, Queen of Miromar, has been raised with the expectation—and burden—that she will someday become ruler of the oldest civilization of merfolk. On the eve of the Dokimi ceremony, which will determine if she is worthy of the crown, Sera is haunted by a strange dream that foretells the return of an ancient evil…The Dokimi proceeds, a dazzling display of majesty and might, until a shocking turn of events interrupts it: an assassin’s arrow wounds Isabella. The realm falls into chaos, and Serafina’s darkest premonitions are confirmed. Now she and Neela (her best friend) must embark on a quest to find the assassin’s master and prevent a war between the mer nations. Their search will lead them to the other mermaid heroines scattered across the six seas. Together they will form an unbreakable bond of sisterhood as they uncover a conspiracy that threatens their world’s very existence.”

It took me awhile to get into this book as the first 50 pages or so introduce dozens upon dozens of new terms specifically made up for this book series. I’m glad I trudged through, as the story picked up speed once Serafina left her kingdom (the first 100 pages). She and her best friend Neela, also one of 6 “chosen ones,” go on a dangerous quest to quell the six seas of evil.


Danger lurks behind every corner, but since this book is a part of a series, I knew the protagonist and those that are part of the chosen 6, weren’t going to die. The only mermaids in danger are (minor SPOILER) those that Serafina meets along her journey.

Humans are referred to as terragogs, and Serafina meets a few along the way. Humans are seen as bad, and spells have been placed upon them so they don’t expose the mermaids below.

The rest of the book focuses on getting the 6 female characters together, them getting used to their “powers,” and of their almost impossible quest to get some talismans that will help banish the evil from the mer kingdoms.

I would recommend this book who love richly drawn fantasy worlds (one look at the glossary shows how intensive this world is), to those who love mermaid books, and to those that enjoy non-stop action. I am looking forward to the 2nd book in the Waterfire Saga series.

The Real Monsters of the Ocean: Plankton

By , December 1, 2014 8:08 am
icefish larva picture

Icefish larva, part of the plankton

As darkness slowly creeps over the coral reef, the night dwellers begin to appear. Coral relies upon its symbiotic algae to feed themselves during the day, but after dark the coral polyps unfold their sticky tentacles. These tentacles grab food (plankton) floating by in the water.

Black tip reef sharks, which have been snoozing lazily on the sandy bottom during the day, become violent predators. They travel in packs with some sharks flushing out and eating prey from the fish cowering in their reef lairs. Other sharks catch whatever the flushing sharks missed.

A chambered nautilus, the less sexy cousin of octopus and squid, slowly ascends from 2,000 feet deep to 300 feet deep, its shell’s chambers acting like a submarine’s ballast.

Then the real stars of the night show up, barely visible to the naked eye. The longest vertical migration takes place every night. Plankton rise from depths of 1,500 feet to feed near the surface.

I was lucky to see some of these other-worldly creatures on a Blackwater dive called “Pelagic Magic,” through Jack’s Diving Locker in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. Divers hold onto ropes under the boat and like a seat back entertainment center on an airplane seat, each diver gets their own individual show. The highlight of my dive was seeing a squid flush red, catch a meal and dart to the surface, all in a blink of any eye.

Plankton are the real monsters of the ocean, as the myriad of shapes and colors is outstanding. The larval form of many animals, like a crab or sea urchin, look nothing like the adults. Much of the plankton is translucent because in the depths of the ocean they virtually disappear. Other plankton are bright red, which at the surface are obvious, but at depth they are barely visible. This is because red is the first color to be lost under the water. The further down you descend in the ocean, the less colors you see.

Did you know krill (part of the plankton) are the most abundant animal on Earth?

Book Review: Atlantia by Ally Condie

By , November 25, 2014 8:08 am
atlantia by allie condie

Atlantia by Ally Condie

Despite that the blurb from this fiction book makes it sound like it is about mermaids, it isn’t truly. It is a tale of humans living underwater once the air “Above” got too polluted. It is also a story about sisterhood and friendship. The book even ventures into religious territory with the people “Above” and “Below” worshipping their gods, and the people’s changing faith over time. It is a quick read at 298 pages. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy, a young adult dystopian series. But I would recommend it to Condie’s fans, those with an environmental bent, and those who enjoy a good story about female empowerment and the strong sisterly bond.

The story revolves around the relationship between those that live Above with those that live Below. Since the book is titled “Atlantia,” most of the story takes place Below. The main character is Rio is recovering from her mother’s mysterious death a year ago. She then has to grieve over the decision of her sister (SPOILERS) to live Above. About three-quarters of the book follows Rio Below, and the rest of the book of her adventure Above. I wouldn’t call this an adventure book as the pace is slow, and it’s not quite a thriller. It is like a mystery, as Rio investigates not only why her sister left without an explanation, but also into the mysterious circumstances of her mother’s death.

Rio meets True, who helps her earn money so she can try and escape Above. True is her love interest, but the romance takes a back seat to the rest of the plot of Rio trying to escape Above. Most of the book focuses on the complicated relationship between her and her mother’s sister, who is a Siren like Rio. Sirens are sort of like mermaids in that they have powerful voices, but they don’t swim underwater or have tails. So Rio slowly learns about her Siren abilities from her Aunt Maire, a shifty figure who is blamed by many for the death of her sister.

The ending is satisfying if not predictable, but the ride is worth the read. I recommend this book for readers who enjoy strong female characters and being immersed in new worlds.

10 Awesome Facts About Cuttlefish

By , November 10, 2014 8:08 am
pharaoh cuttlefish

Pharaoh Cuttlefish (photo by Cherilyn Jose)

1. Cuttlefish are cephalopods, not fish. Cephalopods include octopus, squid and nautilus.

2. Cuttlefish, along with most cephalopods, are the ocean’s most intelligent invertebrates.

3. Cuttlebone, found in the body of a cuttlefish, is used by pet birds to get calcium.

4. Cuttlefish have green-blue blood and 3 hearts!

5. A cuttlefish’s camouflage is so good that it can take on a checkerboard pattern placed beneath it.

6. Cuttlefish are color blind.

7. Cuttlefish taste with their suckers.

8. Cuttlefish have 8 arms and 2 long tentacles used for feeding.

9. The largest cuttlefish is the Australian giant cuttlefish, which is the size and shape of an American football.

10. Cuttlefish have W shaped eyelids so they can see in front of them and behind them at the same time.

Guest Post: World’s Most Fabulous Diving Hotspots

By , October 13, 2014 4:10 pm
snorkeler

Snorkeler

World’s Most Fabulous Diving Hotspots by Angel Jessica

For some international tourists, a leisure trip would not be complete without engaging in some form of fun activity. For such tourists, planning a vacation includes identifying locations that can be described as sporting destinations. These locations are either naturally or artificially designed to support various sporting activities. Countries with long and safe coastlines are bound to offer some of the best diving experiences. Indeed, most divers prefer areas that will allow them to explore their beautiful fantasies of the underwater world and at the same time, allows underwater photographers to take stunning underwater pictures. Depending on the main reason why one wishes to go diving, they can choose a location that suits their needs. However, with scuba diving becoming increasingly popular, diving enthusiasts are looking for new locations. Here are some of the World’s Most Fabulous Diving Hotspots.

Cocos Island, Costa Rica
For those who wish to visit this island, they must take the long journey from Puntarenas, the mainland port. Indeed, the beauty of the island is worth the trip and any tourist who decides to go to the island will have great fun. However, only experienced divers are allowed to dive the waters of the four mile-long island. Divers visit the island by means of a live aboard.

Magnetic Island, Australia
Many people have praised this famous diving hotspot for a number of reasons. First, anyone who jumps into the water will be in a position to see beautiful underwater wildlife. At the same time, divers enjoy great visibility at this diving spot, making it easy to make the most of the diving experience. Apart from the amazing marine life, another factor that makes this spot attractive is the fact that it is accessible from the sheltered beaches of Townsville. For international divers who are keen on travelling to Australia, they must ensure that they obtain an Australian visa with them.

Ambergris Caye, Belize
Belize, home to the second largest reef in the world, is also renowned as a great diving spot. What makes this spot stand out is that the diving depths are shallower in comparison to those of other diving spots. The area has more than adequate accommodations, so visitors will not have to worry. All that will be left is for tourists to enjoy the splendours of the area.

Red Sea, Egypt
The best diving spot in Egypt is at Yolanda Reef, which is located in Ras Mohammed National Park. The best kept national park in the country also has a number of other great diving spots. For this reason, divers can also explore Abu Nuhas and Woodhouse Reef diving sites.

Baa Atoll, Maldives
The fact that this atoll has featured on several television documentaries is a clear indication that the location is a great and popular diving spot. Indeed, while the atoll offers tourists a chance to indulge and have fun, the same place allows scientists to conduct scientific studies on animals such as manta rays and whale sharks.

What it’s Like to SCUBA Dive: Part I

By , September 15, 2014 11:42 am
manta ray cleaning station

Me and a manta ray at a cleaning station

I have returned from a SCUBA diving trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, and I am inspired to share the joy of diving with those that may never learn to dive. PADI, a leading SCUBA diving organization that certifies divers, has certified over 23 million SCUBA divers. That means (assuming most of the certifications from PADI were in the USA) less than 1% of people in the USA have gone diving.

Here’s a description of what it’s like to suit up on a boat dive and actually enter the water:
(This assumes that the gear is already setup, which also takes time to do and will be a part of a different post)

Gearing up for me starts with a fleece-lined dive skin. This layer helps keep me warm, and it helps the wetsuit slide on more easily. Then it’s the farmer john wetsuit layer (think overalls). After sliding it on, I get help with the Velcro shoulder straps. The shortie part of the wetsuit (it covers the chest, arms, crouch and part of thighs) is next. I put on the booties on my feet under the leg portion of my farmer john wetsuit.

It’s time to defog my mask with defog drops (others use spit, dilute baby shampoo or defog gel). I rub them on the inner windows of my mask, and rinse in water. It’s then time to sit down on the bench in front of my gear. I check that my tank and dive computer are on. I put my flippers on. I strap on my BCD (Buoyancy Compensator Device) on like a backpack, and clip or Velcro several straps to me. I shimmy my way out of my seat and shuffle to the back of the boat. Take a giant stride off the dive platform, signal I’m okay to the boat, and get camera from crew member.

I let all the air out of my BCD and start to descend. I clear my ears frequently (it’s the same as when you pop your ears on an airplane). Near the bottom I add air to my BCD so I don’t hit the bottom, especially if it’s a coral reef. I always marvel at some point during my dive at how I’m breathing underwater. It’s a weird yet exhilarating feeling. I look around at all the fish and coral, and look around frequently for large visitors such as dolphins and tiger sharks that prove quite elusive.

I usually follow a dive guide so I don’t get lost. More experienced divers, especially photographers, go off on their own. I take lots of pictures even though I know they aren’t good. They serve as a reminder of the fish and coral I’ve seen. I check my dive computer frequently to monitor depth and air consumption. By 500 psi I signal to my buddy and dive guide that I need to surface (a thumbs up) and the guide points up to the boat above and waves goodbye. I do a safety stop for 3 minutes at 15 feet. Then I kick up to the boat’s ladder and take off my fins. I give them and my camera to a crew member on the boat. I haul myself out of the water and waddle over to my spot on the bench. Once the tank is in place, it’s time to unstrap myself and share what I saw with my fellow SCUBA divers!

Review of Mission Blue Documentary about Dr. Sylvia Earle

By , August 26, 2014 5:08 am

On August 15, 2014, Netflix began streaming a biographical documentary on Dr. Sylvia Earle called “Mission Blue.” Sylvia is the pre-eminent oceanographer of our time. She has logged over 7,000 hours underwater, and even walked beneath the ocean untethered to 1,250 feet! She is often called “Her Deepness.”

I have admired Sylvia for most of my life, as she once spoke at my elementary school close to where she lives in Oakland, California. I have read biographies of Sylvia, but none compare to this documentary. It covers her whole life, from growing up in New Jersey (where she was free to romp in the woods), to moving to Florida at age 12 (where she fell in love with the ocean), to today where she is a crusader against all the atrocities facing our oceans today. It not only covers her professional life, but it touches on her personal life including three marriages (and divorces) and being a working mother when it was not common. All women scientists today owe gratitude to Sylvia for blazing a trail on her way through a sexist society. She was often the only woman on an expedition and she endured headlines such as “Sylvia sails away with 70 men,” and for her time with five other aquanauts living underwater, the headline read, “6 women and only one hairdryer.”

Like her terrestrial counterpart, Dr. Jane Goodall, Sylvia travels up to 300 days a year. She is spreading a message of hope for the oceans and often says, “No Blue; No Green. No Oceans; No Us.” The oceans are the Earth’s life support system. They produce oxygen from marine plants, and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The oceans are the life blood of the planet.

I highly recommend “Mission Blue” for anyone who streams movies through Netflix. You will not only learn about Sylvia’s amazing life, from her first set of SCUBA gear, to the deep sea submersibles she has help built, but also about the many changes happening to our ocean environment. There are breath-taking segments showing the ocean in all its beauty and splendor. It can be depressing at times, like seeing the sharks being finned alive, but overall the theme is “ocean optimism.” Sylvia recommends designating “Hope Spots” around the globe. In fact this was her TED wish in 2009. Less than 3% of the ocean is protected, compared to 12% of land that is protected. Sylvia’s wish is coming true, though she would like 20% of the ocean to be protected by 2020!

A Great White Shark’s view of Shark Week

By , August 11, 2014 8:08 am
great white shark picture

Great White Shark (photo by Cherilyn Chin Jose)

Hi, my name is Boo. I’m the star of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. At least my species is. I’m a great white shark. My name is Boo because I like to sneak up on my prey. The name “shark” already strikes terror in humans, but adding the “great white” part makes me sound scarier. I must admit, my mouthful of teeth and red gums are very intimidating, and aren’t very pretty. But my mouth sure does scare my prey, which is what matters most to me!

I don’t like how sharks are portrayed during Shark Week. We’re not man-eating mindless machines. I gotta eat, and over millions of years, great white sharks have become very proficient at eating other animals. Eating live prey is messy with blood everywhere in the water. Did you know I can smell one drop of blood in 25 gallons (100 liters) of seawater?

I could have been named a “great gray shark” because my back is gray. This is due to countershading. That means that when animals see me from below, my white belly blends into the sunlight above me. When an animal looks at me from above, my gray back blends into the dark water below me.

I’m not like those show-off great white sharks that live off of South Africa. I don’t jump clear out of the water when catching my prey. Instead I sneak up on my prey from below. I live off the coast of California, and I like to eat sea lions, seals, small toothed whales and carrion (food I scavenge).

I have 300 triangular teeth several rows deep. The teeth are continually being replaced so I never have to see a dentist.

I have no natural predator, except for orcas or killer whales. I have an unnatural predator in humans. Up to 100 million sharks annually are killed, mainly for their fins. The fins are used in shark fin soup, a delicacy in many Asian countries.

I would be safer if I just stayed near California, but a lot of great white sharks travel to the “White Shark Café” between Baja California and Hawaii. Those waters are not protected by any one nation. Why we do that is a mystery to humans, and I ain’t gonna be the one who talks!

I hope if you tune into Shark Week this week that you remember who the true killers are (humans) and that you remember me, Boo. I’m not that scary after all, right?

By-the-Wind Sailors Washing Up on US West Coast Beaches

By , August 4, 2014 8:08 am
Velella velella

By-the-Wind-Sailors or Velella velella photo from Wikipedia

By-the wind sailors, also known by their scientific name Velella velella, have been washing up by the thousands along the West Coast of the United States. They have been found from Monterey, California all the way up the coast to Oregon.

What are Velella? They are distantly related to jellies as both are cnidarians. Velella are closely related to the Portuguese Man of War. They have a blue elliptical base and a transparent triangular “sail.” An individual is actually a hydroid polyp. A polyp is like the less recognizable stage in a jelly’s life when it is anchored to the sea floor, though Velella polyps are free-floating. In this polyp form, they spend their whole lives at the surface. Velella are at the mercy of the wind to get anywhere. They are found in warm and temperate oceans.


Velella eat by using their tentacles which hang beneath the surface. Like jellies, the tentacles have nematocysts, or stinging cells, to catch their food. These stinging cells are not dangerous to humans, though each person’s tolerance to their venom varies.

There are two forms of Velella. One has a left-to-right orientation of its sail, and the other form has a right-to-left orientation of its sail.

The Velella life cycle (like many “jelly-like” creatures) can be summarized as polyp-medusa-egg-planula-polyp. The polyp stage is the one written about in this post. The medusa is the free-floating stage, like any jelly you can think of. The eggs are microscopic and part of the plankton. Planula are the “free-swimming, flattened, ciliated, bilaterally symmetric larval form of various cnidarian species,” i.e. the fertilized egg.

Next time you are at the beach, look for these By-the-Wind Sailors!

Sources used: Univ. of Michigan animal diversity page

San Francisco Chronicle article “Beached blue wonders”

Wikipedia page on planula

Krill: The Most Abundant Animal on Earth

By , July 17, 2014 5:24 pm
Euphasia superba

Krill

Or specifically, the most biomass on Earth. That would be krill, the small shrimp-like creatures like large whales love to gobble down.

My name is Karl, and I am a krill. I live in Antarctic waters. What is it like to be part of a collective or large group? Well, not only am I small at half an inch long, but I live in a swarm of krill. A swarm of krill may be as dense as 10,000 individuals per cubic meter and may stretch for many kilometers. The total biomass, or the total weight of krill is estimated at 379 million tons. Half of that is eaten by animals such as whales, seals, penguins, squid and fish each year! So my life expectancy is less than a year unless I’m lucky. That is if I don’t get caught by a krill fishery either. Krill is used in supplements, aquaculture, aquarium trade, as bait and as food for humans in places such as Japan and Russia.

As a wee lad, I ate microscopic food stuck to the ice. I also depended on the ice for shelter from predators. Climate change is causing the sea ice to melt earlier in the season, and this is a problem for young krill. Some krill populations have declined up to 80% due to climate change.

Let’s hope climate change doesn’t wipe out my species, as it would be detrimental to animals higher on the food chain like whales and seals.

Tentacles Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

By , May 5, 2014 8:08 am
bigfin reef squid

Bigfin Reef Squid photo by: Cherilyn Jose

The Tentacles exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium contains many species of cephalopods from oceans around the world. Cephalopods include Octopus, Squid, Cuttlefish, and Nautilus. Many species in this exhibit have never been on display before.

I am a cephalopod lover. I have even taught a red octopus to open a jar to get live food inside! So I was thrilled to see species I have never seen in person before, especially the Wunderpus and Bigfin Reef Squid.

I went on a busy Saturday afternoon on April 26, 2014, and the following is the species list that day. The aquarium is going to vary the species list during Tentacles’ run depending on availability. I wanted to review the whole exhibit because I was unsure if I would be able to see each ceph on exhibit given that they are masters of disguise, and many are shy. I am happy to report I saw an animal at each exhibit!

The first tank of the exhibit is the Bigfin Reef Squid. They are housed together in a large tank with many squid visible at once. They are one of the few species of squid that like to school. They school to fool predators into thinking that they are bigger. They were changing colors, and their outreached tentacles looked ready to strike any moment!

Did you know squid and cuttlefish have 8 arms or legs, and 2 long club-like tentacles that strike out to capture their meals?

The next tank was the Day Octopus tank. This ceph was the hardest to find in all the exhibits. That’s a bit ironic as it is supposed to be active during the day, while most other cephalopods are active at night! I saw part of its white body and eye hidden in the reef rocks.

The amazing Wunderpus was next. This is an amazing octopus that changes form to mimic other poisonous creatures, including a lionfish, banded sole, and a sea snake. It was active and crawling along the window so I could see its underside of suckers and mouth.

The Red Octopus is common to Monterey Bay and other cold regions of the ocean. This one was awake and was crawling along the window.

There are 2 tanks of Giant Pacific Octopus. Both were squished into the upper right window corner. One was fully visible, and the other only had some suckers showing. Be careful here, as it is dark and people easily run into each other. The largest recorded GPO was 13 feet (4 meters) long!

I was surprised the Chambered Nautilus tank was so large and full of dozens of nautilus. I have never seen so many at once. I also haven’t seen them stuck to the ledges in the exhibit before.

I love the Flamboyant Cuttlefish, it is worth finding a video about them. I have seen some before at Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences where they were in a tank that didn’t overwhelm them. Here, the tank was much too large and the inches long cuttlefish got lost in the tank. They were visible, though it took most people awhile to spot them. When they are excited, their colors are surreal, and their flashing moves like a conveyer belt along their body. They also are known for “walking” across the sea floor.

I had never seen a Stumpy Cuttlefish. They were small, only a few inches long, and they were camouflaged and hiding in the reef rocks. They were readily visible though.

The last tank was for the Common Cuttlefish, a species I have taken care of before. One cuttlefish even accidentally caught my hand in their tentacles once! There were dozens at the “cute” size of 3-4 inches long. They were floating near the fake sea grass, and the ones buried under the sand were visible to visitors.

It was so busy the day I was there that I didn’t read very many signs, or stop to enjoy the artwork, some of it created just for this exhibit. Overall I give the exhibit an A+. The Tentacles exhibit is worth the trip to Monterey, especially for cephalopod lovers!

10 Amazing Facts About Manta Rays

By , April 28, 2014 8:08 am
manta ray

Manta Ray Silhouette photo by: Jackie Reid NOAA

1. There are two species of Manta Rays: The Coastal or Reef Manta Ray (Manta alfredi) and the Oceanic or Giant Manta Ray (Manta birostris).

2. A Manta Ray’s spot pattern on its belly is as unique as a human fingerprint. (There is an international database of Manta Ray belly pictures called Manta Matcher)

3. Manta Rays feed on the smallest denizens of the oceans, the microscopic plankton. (Manta Rays feed by filtering seawater through their gill rakers).

4. Manta Rays may have self recognition, something only higher primates, elephants, dolphins and humans have. See previous blog entry, “Moby the Manta Ray and Self-Recognition”

5. Manta Rays have the largest brain/body ratio of any fish in the ocean.

6. Despite that their prey is so small, Manta Rays can have wingspans up to 23 feet (7 meters) and weigh 2,980 lb (1,350 kg).

7. When courting, a train of up to a dozen males will follow one female.

8. Manta Rays swim constantly and only occasionally stop to be cleaned of parasites at a cleaning station on a coral reef.

9. Manta Rays like to breach (jump high out of the water), but the reason why is still unknown.

10. Manta Rays are at risk from fishing for their gill rakers. (Manta Ray gill rakers are used in a controversial new formula of Traditional Chinese Medicine)

Guest Post: Cuttlefish by Grant Stirton

By , April 10, 2014 12:51 pm
cuttlefish

Cuttlefish photo by Grant Stirton

The Cuttlefish

There’s one cryptic reef dweller, whose superior intelligence, curiosity and charisma has always captured my heart. With over 120 species worldwide, the cuttlefish is both an adaptable and resourceful predator. They belong to the taxonomic class of Cephalopods and their morphology is closely related to octopus and squid. I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter them many times over the years as they are common throughout the tropical coral reefs of South East Asia.

Why Are They So Interesting?

Behind their curious looks lies a relatively large and well developed brain. Scientific analysis has shown that their cognitive abilities can approach that of a two-year human child, making them the most intelligent of all invertebrates. In my experience, many seem to revel in an encounter with divers, so long as they are approached slowly and in a non-threatening manner. I’ve even put out my hand and had a particularly interested individual swim over and sit down for a short visit. Often they will look directly at you, examining and investigating, until they satisfy their natural inquisitiveness.

One of their most unique adaptions relates to their eyes and how they see. Shaped like the letter W, each eye has two pupils, allowing them to see forward and backwards at the same time. And although they are colour blind, they can detect the polarization of light, which significantly enhances their perception of contrast and ability to spot well-camouflaged prey.

Using a combination of specialized skin cells and pigment, they can also instantaneous change colour to match their surroundings, as a means of camouflage, to communicate or to ward off predators. In one study, biologists were able to train them to produce shapes on their backs as a form of communication when they desired food. Normally, if they feel threatened or are being aggressive, they will change colour to a dark reddish or brown. As you can see from the picture, our little friend was quite calm and happy, even though I was less than twelve inches away with a big camera. He was intent on having a very good look at his reflection in my lens and completely ignored me.

Although they are a mainly a predator of crabs and small fish, they are also prey for larger marine animals including fish, sharks and eels. As a means to defend themselves and escape an attack, they possess, as do octopus and squid, the ability to shoot out a trail of ink that creates a pseudo smoke-screen. Interestingly for photographers, many old sepia-toned prints were made using their ink. Fortunately today, this traditional ink has been replaced with less environmentally destructive synthetic varieties.

All this intelligence, adaption and cleverness requires a solid engine. As a result, the cuttlefish has three hearts in order to ensure orderly circulation. This is a necessity as they do not have the iron containing protein hemoglobin in their blood that vertebrates do, but rather hemocyanin, which is a copper containing protein that is less efficient in the transport of oxygen.

The cuttlefish also uses a form of jet propulsion to move through the water column, allowing them to swim both forwards and backwards effortlessly. An internal structure called the cuttlebone, which is porous and made of aragonite, allows them maintain perfect neutral buoyancy at depth via pumping gas into the structure. Even the United States military has borrowed from this concept and adapted a similar design for maintaining the buoyancy of their nuclear submarines.

If you do come across one of these amazing creatures while diving, here are a few suggestions that will help ensure a memorable, safe and unique photographic opportunity:

1. Always approach them slowly and calmly. A very slow approach from below or at eye level is best, as this is much less threatening than a big, loud diver dropping right in on top of them.

2. I always make sure to leave them an easy way to escape, so that they don’t feel cornered and decide to retreat. This also ensures I don’t end up being sprayed in the face with foul tasting ink.

3. Photographically, they make great subjects, however any erratic movement is likely to scare them. It’s best to back away slightly and ensure your camera settings, composition and frame before slowly getting into the right position for a good shot. It’s much better to get one good shot than a series of mediocre ones. I haven’t found flash to be much of an issue in frightening them, however, I do try to keep it on the lowest power setting possible given the light and conditions. Blinding an animal with a powerful flash is not only poor practice, but also lessens your chances for a follow up shot.

The accompanying photo was taken on the reef slope next to the USS Liberty Wreck located in Bali, Indonesia. We came across this cuttlefish at the end of our dive as we made our way up the shallow reef slope back to shore. This individual was so curious that we ended up spending almost a full ten minutes with each other. This allowed me the chance to get very close with my macro lens and take a memorable picture.

Our oceans are full amazing creatures and for many we are only beginning to understand their lifestyles and importance in the overall eco-system. The cuttlefish is a perfect example of an animal full of personality, but that has also provided us with a wealth of knowledge about the delicate balance of our marine environments.
[100mm macro lens, 1/100 sec @ f/4.0, ISO 200]

Grant Stirton

Grant Stirton

Grant Stirton is a passionate Canadian photographer, writer and avid adventurer who specializes in marine environments, culture and travel. He can be reached at www.grantstirton.com, twitter @grantstirton, Facebook www.facebook.com/LuumbaTribe .

One Drop of Water on World Water Day

By , March 21, 2014 6:11 pm
world water day

One Drop of Water by David Newman

Hi, I am one drop of water. I am here today, World Water Day (March 22), to talk about the drought happening in California. California is in the midst of its worst drought in over 100 years, and the warmest and driest winter in recorded history. California is also in a 3 year dry spell.

As for me, I’m happily ensconced in a pack of snow. The snowpack in California is only 26% of normal. Soon enough though, the snow around me will melt. I will flow down a picturesque river into a reservoir. Then I’ll irrigate some parched land or some parched throats. I shudder to think about all the dried out land-that is what I have nightmares about!

Part of this drought is out of the human’s control. According to this NASA website The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is a “slowly oscillating pattern of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. At the moment PDO is in a negative phase, a condition historically linked to extreme high pressure ridges that block West Coast storms, and give the Midwest and East Coast punishing winters.” I’m quite glad I’m not there, as I probably would get dizzy!

What does this mean for California? It’s time to start conserving water! My buddies and I are becoming scarce. Otherwise farmers in California may not plant over half a million acres, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars in revenue. Some small communities may run out of drinking water.

How you can help?

1. Take shorter showers, even if just by 1 minute!
2. Check faucets, pipes and toilets for leaks.
3. Install low flow showerheads (a good one feels the same as a water guzzling one) and faucet aerators
4. Start dishwasher or washing machine with only full loads
5. Water your yard early in the day (to cut down on evaporation) and avoid watering on windy days


Thank you! You can make a difference in your daily life, visit this website for more water saving tips

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