More from Paniau

Some more of what we saw at Paniau last weekend.

Early in the dive I came upon two enormous yellowmargin morays poking their heads out from recesses in the reef at about forty feet. These are among Hawaii’s most common morays, and one of the two most likely to be seen during the day. If you click on the photo you can see the two sets of nostrils found on this and other moray species. (The second is over the eyes.) And, yes, I got pretty close to those teeth for this photo. These guys are supposed to be safe to approach.

Spotfin squirrelfish were all over the place on this dive. This is the only Hawaiian squirrelfish that is not red—at least not in the daytime. Hoover says they are absent at most reefs in Hawaii. I’ve seen them at most of the spots I’ve dived or snorkeled in North Kohala, but they’ve usually been hunkering in dark recesses rather than in the open as in this photo.


Tobies, turtles, psychedelics

Marla and I had a couple of great dives last weekend with Blue Wilderness.  The crew were very knowledgeable about fish and showed us some really nice stuff.  We went to two South Kohala sites, both off Puako:  Twin Peaks and Paniau.  Paniau, a fairly deep dive, was especially interesting.  I had a lot of fun with my “better” camera: a Sony RX100V with housing.

A lantern toby nervously keeping an eye on me as it moves off. This new-to-me fish was at about 70 feet at Paniau. Hoover calls this little puffer “uncommon.”  Kevin, our boat’s captain, says they’re fairly common around Puako.

A little better look at this pretty but cartoonish-looking little fish. The fish was solitary, which Hoover says is usually the case with this species.  Most other tobies—such as the crowned tobies in an earlier post—usually occur in pairs.

To this fish geek’s delight, there were two tiny psychedelic wrasses directly below the boat at Twin Peaks. I was surprised to see that individuals this size—under two inches long—already had adult female coloration. Like most juvenile wrasses, these fish were in almost constant motion and were damned hard to photograph.

Here’s an even smaller psychedelic at Paniau. This one still has most of its juvenile coloration but the caudal (tail) fin is just starting to turn from the juvenile white to the adult red. Again, a fish geek’s delight.

Puako is full of turtles. This one is at a cleaning station—the little cleaner wrasses and raccoon butterflyfish in this photo are here to clean the algal growth and parasites off this big fellow.

Eye to eye with another turtle at Paniau. What’s going on behind this placid fellow’s eye? My guess is not too much, but what do I know.

More to follow…

Los Arcos

Marla and I spent some time in Mexico last month, including a few days in Puerto Vallarta, a pretty resort town about half way down Mexico’s Pacific coast.  A few miles south of town lie a handful of small offshore islands known as Los Arcos—the arches.  The name comes from the fact that two of the islands form natural rock arches surrounding cavernous tunnels created through erosion over the eons.

One morning we booked a boat ride with a local dive outfit—Chico’s Dive Shop—to this popular dive/snorkel site.  We spent more than two hours snorkeling around three of the islands.  The water was not as clear as in Hawaii, but there were plenty of fish.  Most of the species we saw looked sort of familiar, but not exactly like anything from Hawaii.  Hawaiian reef fish communities share more species with the Central and Western Pacific than with the Eastern Pacific, a reflection of the vast, relatively island-free expanse of ocean separating the Americas from the major Pacific island groups and Asia.  There is at least one good book on tropical Eastern Pacific reef fish identification, but I don’t own it, so I had to resort to the web for fish IDs, and some species we saw went unidentified.  None of the fish shown below are found in Hawaii or the Western Pacific.

The Los Arcos islands can get quite crowded with tour boats. Here you can see boats moored in front of the entrances to the tunnels that bisect the two largest islands. We swam through both tunnels.

The best fish we saw on our snorkel, and also one of the smallest. This red head goby, maybe an inch long, was hunkering under a ledge a few feet below the surface. I only spotted it because of its bright red head.

A palenose, or freckled, moray (Echidna nocturna). We saw at least three of these handsome eels.

Marla spotted this jewel moray (Muraena lentiginosa), a normally nocturnal species.







Giant damselfish are a among the most common fish at Los Arcos.  Like many damselfish species, they can be quite aggressive.

Spotted or tiger snake eel.  Not to be confused with the tiger snake moray found in Hawaii.  The tiger snake eel seems to be quite common around PV—I saw three during our snorkel.








The terrestrial biota were also interesting. This spiny iguana had gotten itself lost on a very urban Puerto Vallarta street. I caught it and brought it to the to the well-vegetated grounds of our hotel. It didn’t seem very grateful, but it posed for this photo as it recovered from its ordeal.


They’re back

We returned from a trip to Mexico (more on that later) last week, just in time for Hurricane Lane.  Finally got back in the water at Mahukona yesterday.  The park was still closed due to the hurricane, so we had to walk in.  The short walk from up near the highway dissuades most visitors (or could it be the prominent “Park Closed” sign?), so we had the place pretty much to ourselves.  Conditions were great, considering that a class three hurricane had been less than a hundred miles offshore just a day or two earlier.  As soon as we jumped in at the swim ladder my eagle-eyed wife called to me. She’d spotted a pair of juvenile threadfin jacks, also known as African pompano.  These infrequent visitors are among our favorite fish, and their appearance always occasions excitement.  We had only planned to swim, not snorkel, so we didn’t have fins.  But I was packing my trusty little Olympus camera, so managed a photo.

These little guys seem to like it in the murky surge channel right in front of the swim ladder. Since the park was closed there were no thrashing kids to spook them.  The timing of the threadfins’ appearance—late August—is consistent with previous years’ timing, although we sometimes see them in other months.

The threadfin jacks weren’t the only pleasant surprise—these two bandtail goatfish were also hanging around in the surge channel. Hoover calls these fish “uncommon” and I concur. We’ve seen them a couple of times at Hapuna, and once on Lanai, but never at Mahukona. They apparently prefer shallow, sandy areas, something Mahukona does not provide. I can’t help but wonder if their appearance here has something to do with the hurricane.  I like the open-mouth, extended-barbel pose of the fish on the right.


Diving South Kohala

On Saturday Marla and I took a two-tank boat dive with Blue Wilderness, a good outfit based at the Waikoloa resorts.  Their rigid inflatable boat leaves from the Puako boat ramp, right in the heart of the numerous fine South Kohala dive sites.  The first site we dove was near the southern end of the Mauna Lani resort.  I believe the site is colloquially known as “Skate Park.”  Interesting topography, but not too fishy on the morning we dove.  The second site, known as “Puako House 20” was more fun, but we saw some good stuff at both sites.

Early on the first dive I spotted this tiny juvenile psychedelic wrasse, less than in inch long, hunkering in a dark recess at about forty feet. It swam with a halting, waving motion, making it look a bit like a fragment of floating detritus. Juvenile rockmover wrasses employ a similar strategy to avoid predation. The psychedelic wrasse is a fairly uncommon endemic.

A photogenic Ewa fang blenny, larger and more colorful than many.  I always enjoy the pseudo-smile on these bold little endemics.

This juvenile Hawaiian hogfish appeared to have a bite taken out of its caudal (tail) fin. Another endemic fish.

A terminal male yellowtail coris asserting. It had been rooting around in the sand—some of which you can see in the photo—for invertebrate prey when I disturbed it.  You see a lot of reef fish with broken teeth—the result of their tough diets of hard-shelled invertebrates or, in the case of some species, coral. I presume the teeth grow back.

A serene pair of crowned tobies. Hoover says that these endemic puffers are fairly common at scuba depths, but I don’t see them much. (I try to get the color balance in many of my  photos to reflect the way things actually look at these depths—about forty feet in this case. I find the flat, blue-ish underwater lighting quite pleasing.)

Schooling four-spot butterflyfish. We see these often at snorkeling depths throughout Hawaii, but almost always in pairs rather than schools. (You have to count the spots on both sides to get to four.)

Kawaihae surprises

A couple of months ago, on a dive club shore cleanup at Kawaihae, we ran into a local architect named Hai On.  Hai is an avid snorkeler/freediver, very knowledgeable about Kawaihae’s fishy fauna*, and an overall good guy.  He graciously gave Marla and me a tour of what Kawaihae has to offer.

For those unfamiliar, Kawaihae is west Hawaii’s primary commercial port.  A long breakwater creates a large, lagoon-like harbor.  Despite all the commercial activity, as well as periodic military exercises, the protected waters inside the harbor are home to a surprising variety of marine life.  Invertebrate diversity is especially rich.  We’ve snorkeled there three times so far, most recently yesterday with our buddies Jeff and Sandra.  Here’s some of what we’ve seen:

Feather duster worms are all over the place in the harbor. The bodies of these filter feeders are hidden in tubes they build in crevices in coral or other hard substrates; only their fan-like feeding appendages protrude. This one is about three inches across.

Orange cup coral with a pencil urchin in the foreground. These cup corals have their tentacles retracted, typical during the day.

These cup corals in a shady crevice have exposed their tentacles to feed in the daytime.

There are three elevated concrete platforms, apparently used by the military, at the south end of the harbor. The pilings supporting these structures are loaded with barnacles, sponges, and associated “fouling organisms.” Had it not been for Hai tipping us off, we would never have noticed all the nudibranchs that also inhabit these pilings. In fact we’d probably never have even looked—the area does not look at all promising to the casual observer. This is a painted nudibranch wandering around just a couple of feet below the surface on one of the pilings.

A gloomy nudibranch, again on a piling just a couple of feet below the surface. This species, like most Hawaiian nudibranchs, is usually found in deeper waters. The greenish cast to the nudi’s blackish body is not a photographic artifact—it’s real.

This tiny trembling nudibranch, about half an inch long, was, despite its vivid coloration, fairly hard to spot among the colorful sponges and other stuff on the piling.

Oh yeah, Kawaiahae Harbor also has fish, and some surprisingly healthy coral. These are two juvenile parrotfish (bulletheads is my guess) sheltering in a gigantic head of plate-and-pillar coral.

*Check out Hai’s blog:  He’s got a link to some great black tip reef shark video and other cool stuff.

Diving Mahukona

Earlier this month Marla and I had the pleasure of hosting our fantastic mainland friends Jill and Eric and their fantastic kids, Finn and Sophie.  These guys are about the most ocean-oriented family we know.  The kids—especially Finn—are virtual fishes, and the parents are avid snorkelers and divers.  Their visit provided the occasion for two dives at Mahukona.

While we’ve snorkeled at Mahukona innumerable times over the last ten years, we’ve only dived there a handful of times.  It’s, not surprisingly, as good a dive site as a snorkeling site.

For the first dive we we went straight out from the dock until we reached a depth of about 30 ft. and then turned north. The terrain here was rich in fairly healthy looking lobe coral and finger coral, intermixed with sandy spots. Here’s Jill at a depth of about 40 ft. She’s of course not actually touching that coral. Right, Jill?

Hawaiian dascyllus were abundant among the coral between 30 and 40 ft.  Here they’re swimming with the ubiquitous multiband butterflyfish.  Both species are endemic.

A young pencil wrasse. These are usually seen in groups at depths of 40 ft. or greater, but this one was apparently alone at maybe 35 ft.

Pearly soldierfish. Unlike most soldierfish species, which tend to hunker in caves and under ledges during the day, the pearlies can often be seen out in the open, especially at depth.

A disappearing wrasse, also appropriately known as mustached wrasse. They’re fairly rare at snorkeling depths, but very common below about 30 ft.

Ewa fang blenny, another species found mostly below snorkel depths.  Another endemic.

One of the highlights of the dive was a group of bluefin trevally (omilu) actively hunting around us. They seemed to be using us to create a diversion to improve their odds of nabbing a small fish. Here’s Eric enjoying. You can see that he’s got a big rock tucked under one arm. He’d started the dive without enough weight, so had to carry the rock for the whole dive to keep from floating to the surface. Very old-school—what a man!

Two of the trevally hunting with a whitemouth moray and, in the background, a ringtail wrasse. This sort of group hunting is fascinating to watch, but it’s surprisingly uncommon to see the hunters actually score a small fish.

On the way back from the first dive we were met by Finn and Sophie, who were snorkeling with Marla.

The second dive was just Eric and me—the diehards. We went south this time, over a more sandy terrain interspersed with rock terraces.  This large horned helmet shell, almost a foot long, was a highlight of the second dive. Using a trick I learned from my old divemaster Scott, I found a sea urchin and placed it a couple of feet in front of the helmet shell. The helmet, which had been totally motionless, suddenly reared up and lurched toward the urchin—its natural prey—at a speed that seem almost supernatural for a snail.

Check out the helmet’s colorful mantle as it envelopes the doomed urchin. It will drill into the urchin with a rasp-like mouthpart known as a radula. We felt kind of bad for the poor urchin, but the helmet shell has to eat, too.