Balinese tobies and an imposter

Health issues have been keeping me out of the water, so I’ve been going through the photos from our November Bali trip.  Found some interesting stuff.  Today’s topic is tobies, those diminutive puffers that are another of my favorite fish groups.  I like them because they’re pretty, diverse, and approachable.

A lovely little Bennett’s toby in the shallows at Jemeluk. Like so many reef fish, several species of toby sport an eye spot, or ocellus, on the rear of their bodies.  This sort of marking is so ubiquitous among tropical reef fish that it must contribute significant survival value to the fish that possess it.  The going hypothesis is that it confuses predators as to which end of the fish is the front and which is the back. But are the predators really that dumb?

Papuan toby, another eye-spotted species, again in the shallows at Jemeluk.

This black-saddled toby and I played hide and seek in this sea fan for several minutes. Little bugger—this is the best shot I could manage.

When I took this photo I thought I was shooting a group of black-saddled tobies. On examining the photo later I realized that there are actually two species here. From left to right: black-saddled toby; mimic filefish; another toby; another mimic filefish. The tobies have coarser spots on their cheeks and bellies than the filefish. Apparently the filefish mimic the poisonous tobies (all puffers are poisonous) to avoid predation. They do a pretty good job of it!

A few more from Bali

Winding the year down with some leftover Bali observations.  Some of these are trophy fish—those that all the aspiring National Geographic photographers ask the dive guides to find so we can bring back photos.  But most are just fish that I happen to like.

Bluestreak gobies are among my favorite Balinese reef fish. They’re quite common in snorkel-depth water—these were at Jemeluk. The photo illustrates a particular field mark that you can use to easily distinguish members of the goby family from the similar looking blenny family. Look at the dorsal fins. Gobies have two separate dorsal fins, front and rear, while blennies have one continuous dorsal fin. Now you can say you learned something today.

A blackspot angelfish at Menjangan Island. Menjangan seems to be particularly productive for angelfish—most of the thirteen species I posted photos of in 2017 were spotted there. This is my fourteenth species, and, I think, an especially beautiful one. (Seems it’s called blackspot because the juvenile has a couple of black spots on the caudal peduncle.)

This one is a trophy fish. The dive guide at Padangbai found this ribbon eel (also called ribbon moray) for us. Unfortunately, because the guide and the rest of our dive group were already moving on while I was still trying to get the hang of a new camera, this is the best shot I could get.  Pretty cool fish though.

The leaf scorpionfish is also thought of by many as a trophy species. I’d seen this species in Hawaii on numerous prior occasions, but never the color of this one we found at Menjangan..

A bubble coral with a tiny bubble coral shrimp hiding in the middle. Another species that dive guides enjoy pointing out to their clients. This was at Pemuteran.

A hulking bluespotted puffer at Pemuteran. This one was over two feet long. The word is that those formidable front teeth can and will take off the finger of any diver foolish enough to harass one of these guys.

A tailspot squirrelfish at Menjangan. Because these fish tend to hang in deep shadow during the day, this is one of the very few photos I’ve shot using flash. Gotta play around with flash some more.

This solitary longnose filefish was just a few feet from shore at Jemeluk. I’d seen these previously in Samoa, but never in Bali. They’re usually found in pairs, so this female appeared a bit lonely.

Two North Kohala dives

On Sunday we dove with our good friends at Kohala Divers.  This was our first outing on their new 46 foot dive boat, Nakama.  It’s a very sweet boat, spacious, comfortable, with all the bells and whistles, maybe the best dive boat we’ve ever been on.  The crew was, as always, great.  Tradewinds were howling on this day, so our crew chose sites tucked close into the North Kohala shoreline.  First dive was at a site called Horseshoe and the second was at Crystal Cove.

A Potter’s angelfish at Horseshoe. These pretty little endemics are quite common at scuba depths.

Juvenile longnose butterflyfish at Horseshoe. Adults of this species are all over the place on many Big Island reefs, but I rarely see, or at least rarely notice, the juveniles.  This is in contrast to several other butterflyfish species where the youngsters are abundant on shallow reefs.

Crystal Cove held numerous large schools of bluestripe snapper. This species was introduced to Hawaii from Indonesia as a potential commercial food fish in the 1950s. According to Hoover they were not a commercial success, and their ecological impact on Hawaiian reefs is unclear.

A regal parrotfish—another Hawaiian endemic—came by toward the end of the Crystal Cove dive. We usually see this and other parrotfish scraping algal growth off of rocks, coral, or other hard surfaces, so it was unusual to see this big male getting something out of the sand. Also unusual was the tiny white thing that looks like a canine tooth protruding from its mouth. The only teeth I’ve ever seen on a parrotfish (both in person and in photos) are the fused front teeth—incisors if you will.

A closer look at the regal’s “canine tooth.”

Ho`okena Beach Park

On Saturday Marla and I met up with our buddies Jeff and Sandra for a snorkel at Ho`okena Beach Park.  Ho`okena is almost two hours south of us, and we don’t get down there much, but it’s one of the Big Island’s premier snorkeling sites. Here you can find fish species—Potter’s angelfish, flame angelfish, Hawaiian garden eel—at snorkeling depths that are only found at greater depths at other sites.  Jeff and Sandra are much more familiar with this site than we are, so they gave us a tour.  It was quite productive…

Flame angelfish are something of a Holy Grail for Hawaiian snorkelers, and are regarded as a nice find even for scuba divers. Jeff took us out to where they’re usually found and sure enough, we quickly spotted a pair of these shy little beauties. Water depth was around fifteen feet.

Gilded triggerfish spend most of their time midwater in water depths of thirty feet or greater (at least according to Hoover).  This handsome male was in about twenty feet.  We see gildeds at similar depths at Mahukona.

This is a male bridled triggerfish. A not uncommon, but uncommonly camera-shy species, at least wherever I’ve seen it. I managed to get close enough to this guy for a reasonable photo. Maybe he was distracted—notice (click on the photo) how his eye is directed backward as if maybe it thinks he’s being followed.

Bali—anemones and friends

The relationship between certain tropical sea anemones and the group of damselfish called anemonefish is a textbook example of symbiosis.  It’s not clear if the relationship is commensal (only one of the participants benefits) or mutualistic (both participants benefit).  It is clear that anemones provide shelter to the fish, who are immune to the anemone’s poisonous stings—anemonefish are virtually never seen away from their invertebrate hosts.  Benefits to the anemones are less obvious, but there’s evidence that they receive nutrition from the fish’s waste (both feces and food scraps) as well as protection from certain species of butterflyfish that eat the anemones.  It’s also been speculated that movement of the fish within the anemones’ tentacles helps clean and feed the anemone.  And there may be other benefits to either or both species.

Balinese reefs are home to at least ten species of anemonefish, offering abundant opportunities to observe this fascinating interaction.  I posted photos of four anemonefish species in my 12/24/17 post.  On our most recent trip we spotted two additional species.  But anemonefish are not the only animals that cohabit with anemones…

This is a magnificent sea anemone (I’m not being descriptive—that’s the common name of this species) in about 25 feet of water at Tulamben. The purple bulb is its “column,” the base of the animal from which the tentacles protrude. It’s hosting a family of pink anemonefish (again, the name of this fish species).

A closer look at a pink anemonefish.

We found this anemone on a sandy bottom about 20 feet deep right off the beach in Pemuteran. The little brown fish sheltering around the anemone are Moluccan cardinalfish. The larger fish are juvenile saddleback anemonefish, a new species for me.

The adult saddlebacks left the protection of the anemone when I approached, instead choosing to swim up into the water column and attempt to chase me away.

Here’s a false clown anemonefish at about 40 feet at Menjangan. Fortunately, Marla went in for a closer look. The two photos below show what she found.

Marla spotted this gorgeous little Sarasvati anemone shrimp—about an inch in total length—sitting on the anemone’s oral orifice (that’s mouth to you). I can’t get over the delicate beauty of this tiny animal. What purpose do the cobalt color highlights serve (other than to provide a lovely contrast to the anemone’s green)? Why is most of the body transparent and how does it do that? What is this thing doing there, anyway? If you look closely (click on photo) you can see an egg cluster inside the transparent abdomen. It’s a girl shrimp!

Okay, let’s go back to our childhood—Highlights for Children magazine in the dentist’s office. Remember the feature with two nearly identical pictures challenging the reader to find the differences? So, what’s the difference between this photo and the previous one, taken seconds earlier? The answer is easy. The little shrimp has two sets of pincers (“chelae,” as the zoologists call them). All four chelae are extended in the first photo, but only three are in the second photo. In the second photo the shrimp has moved one of its smaller chelae to its mouth—it’s eating! Whether or not it was aware of the giant ogre with a camera leering over it, this tiny creature took this moment to decide to have something to eat. (Yeah, maybe too much anthropomorphism here.) The thought of it gives me mental vertigo.


Back to Bali

Marla and I just returned from a fantastic three-week trip to Bali.  Like last year, our primary objective was to get in as much diving and snorkeling as we could while enjoying Bali’s delightful people and culture.  Like last trip, we divided most of our time between Amed on Bali’s northeast coast and Pemuteran—with day trips to nearby Menjangan Island—on the northwest coast.  Both of these face the warm, calm Java Sea.  On this trip we added a couple of days in Padangbai, which faces the colder, wilder Indian Ocean.  There were also the mandatory couple of days in Ubud, often described as the cultural heart of Bali, the setting for the novel and movie Eat, Pray, Love.  For Philistines like us it’s more like Eat, Pay, Leave. (Actually, we quite like Ubud despite its crowds and touristiness.)

I took a lot of photos of a lot of different species of fish and invertebrate.  I’ll restrict myself to just a couple of posts though.  Well, maybe three.  Four, tops.  Starting with this selection of a few of my favorites:

Golden damselfish like this one at Menjangan were common pretty much everywhere we dove or snorkeled in Bali. Like many of its damselfish brethren, this species is not shy. It will rush at intruding divers in an apparent effort to drive them out of its territory. Or maybe just out of curiosity.  In contrast to most divers and underwater photographers, I have a thing for damselfish.  They’re a diverse, abundant, and beautiful group. Most divers seem to forsake the lovely and common for the rarer, usually weirder-looking trophy fish.  I like the latter group too, and will post some of them later.

We spotted this dwarf hawkfish at about forty feet in Pemuteran. It shares those peculiar dorsal fin fringes with some of its Hawaiian relatives that show up elsewhere in this blog.  As far as I know, this fish is not common.

A small blacktip grouper staring me down at Pemuteran. The common name comes—duh—from the black tips of the dorsal fin.

We saw these young golden spadefish snorkeling at Jemeluk on the Amed coast. Spadefish, also known as batfish, are quite common on Balinese reefs. Hovering midwater, they’re the picture of serenity.

This splendid creature is a tasseled scorpionfish, among the more common of several scorpionfish species in Bali. This one was at Jemeluk, also photographed while we snokeled.

A school of oriental sweetlips at the Liberty Wreck in Tulamben, a few miles up the coast from Amed. These and other similar looking species of sweetlips and fixtures throughout the Indopacific.

One of the best dives of our trip was at a site called Liberty Dropoff in Tulamben. A highlight was this enormous school of yellowstripe scad. I was able to swim right up to them as they milled in a dense ball maybe twenty feet in diameter consisting of at least several hundred fish.

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.