We keep running into massive schools of opelu—mackerel scad—at the south end of Mahukona. Here’s Marla free-diving down into a school.
Today Hai and Lottie were supposed to show us where the Blacktip Reef Sharks hang out at the south end of Kawaihae Harbor, but roaring offshore winds made us divert to Plan B. We went east to Kawaihae’s commercial docks, tucked away from the wind. There among the dock’s pilings we identified six species of nudibranch, breaking my short-lived personal record of five, set only three days ago.
After Marla and I got home I did a little web crawling and found that many nudibranch species are fond of vertical surfaces like those provided by Kawaihae’s pilings and pylons*. Who’d have thought.
*Actually, they’re all pilings. I’m really misusing the term pylon here, but we** use it anyway to refer to the piling supporting the military platforms. Actually, we’re misusing piling as well. A pile is a support column, while a piling is a structure composed of piles. Piling feels better somehow, maybe because it’s doesn’t sound like a hemorrhoid.
**By “we” I mostly mean Jeff and me.
Yesterday Marla and I, along with our friends Hai and Lottie, visited the huge concrete platforms that the military landing craft tie up to in Kawaihae Harbor. Hai had messaged me the other day that the nudibranchs had returned to the massive concrete pylons that support the platforms. Last July I posted on the surprising variety of nudibranchs and other interesting invertebrates living at this unlikely location. (https://onebreathkohala.wordpress.com/2018/07/21/kawaihae-surprises/) The nudis disappeared over the winter, but they’ve returned, seemingly in greater abundance and diversity than we’d seen last summer.
We spent over an hour free diving among the pylons, finding nudibranchs and other good stuff as deep as twenty feet, where the pylons hit bottom. We identified five different species of nudi—Gloomy, Painted, Trembling, Decorated, and Kahuna. I’d seen and posted photos of the first three species in July, but the last two were new to me. I struggled with my little Olympus point’n’shoot camera, having inadvertently gummed up some settings, but still managed to get some recognizable shots.
The water at Mahukona was full of floaty stuff yesterday. This happens fairly often, when the prevailing tradewinds die and are replaced by on-shore breezes. The on-shores bring in plankton and all sorts of other things from deeper offshore waters. Sometimes they bring stinging jellyfish (as described in the December 2016 post entitled The Pink Menace), but yesterday it was primarily tiny, nearly invisible creatures, which the various species of plankton-eating reef fish rose up to dine on. (Yeah, I know, dangling participle. I’m pretty sure it’s allowed in this rapidly unravelling 2019 world. Heck, if the President can say “bullshit” at a rally, I guess I can dangle a participle.) The upper water column was loaded with feeding Hawaiian Sergeants, Indopacific Sergeants, Black Durgons, Thompson’s Surgeonfish, Milletseed Butterflies, and others.
The great thing about days like this—and ocean snorkeling in general—is that you never know what else will drift in. In this case it was a tiny creature bobbing around randomly in the upper few feet of the water column, in water about ten feet deep. It was rolled up into kind of a lumpy ball shape about half an inch across, and we initially had no idea what it was—animal, vegetable, or mineral; alive or dead. But it looked intriguing enough that I had to play with it. When I handled it, it opened up into a flatter shape, and appeared to try, slowly and not very efficiently, to swim away. With our presbyopic vision, we still couldn’t figure out what it was, so I took some pictures and we let it go on its way.
When we got home and looked at the photos we saw that the object of our interest was a Gold Lace Nudibranch. This is apparently a common endemic species, but neither of us had seen one before. It’s usually, like most nudis, found crawling on the bottom. I did a Google search and could only find one photo of a Gold Lace swimming freely. I guess this one was trying to move to a new neighborhood. Here’s what it looked like:
We often run into floating debris when the on-shores are blowing. Objects that have been in the water for any length of time accumulate marine growth, and often a collection of juvenile fish using the object for shelter. A lot of different fish species congregate around floating objects as juveniles, prior to settling out on the reefs as they get a bit older. Individual species are difficult to identify, partly because the popular books don’t typically show this stage.
Spotted Eagle Rays are a pretty common—and always welcome—sight on Hawaiian reefs. Usually they’re either milling around or cruising from point to point, often in small groups. Sometimes we see them foraging in the sand for buried invertebrate prey. This one at Mahukona foraged for several minutes, ignoring us as we watched.
Last week Marla and I took a couple of dives off Puako with Blue Wilderness. There were a handful of beginners on the boat this day, so we dove two shallow sites—about 40 feet. Neither site was all that exciting, but both were quite fishy, full of the usual suspects. Here are some of the prettier or more interesting ones:
*I’m using Hoover’s nomenclature here. Reef.org and many others call the Longnose Butterflyfish the Forcepsfish and refer to the Big Longnose Butterfly as Longnose Butterfly. Some use Common Longnose Butterflyfish for the Forcepsfish. Sheesh.
After returning from yet another mainland trip the other day, Marla and I took a fast, cold snorkel at Mahukona. Marla wanted to keep moving in order to stay warm, and I followed. It was nice and clear and fishy, but we didn’t really see anything of interest, and Marla soon went in to enjoy Mahukona’s solar-heated “shower,” a hose bib fastened to a rock wall in the parking lot. I decided to linger for a while near the dock. The area close-in to the dock is surprisingly productive—it’s the only place in Hawaii where we’ve seen Leaf Scorpionfish*, and we’ve spotted all sorts of eel there, as well as hybrid tangs. This day the surprise was a sizable group of Hawaiian Elegant Hermit Crabs huddled among some large boulders in the surge zone just a few feet from the dock wall. These little beauties are not uncommon, but I’d never seen so many at once—at least ten.
*As of this post I’m capitalizing English common names for fish and other creatures, joining John Hoover, my good friend Jeff Hill, and many others.