Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Turtle Tales, Not Tails - That's Next

I had the most amazing turtle dives this past weekend. I was just running into them everywhere, and they didn't seem to mind at all. I ran into this big Hawksbill turtle at the beginning of my dive at Lau Lau Saturday morning. He was just sitting on the coral by the sand fingers. I got a few cool shots of him there, and then he just slowly got up and started swimming. He wasn't trying to get away though, so I stayed with him and just kept taking pictures of him. He was a big one, his shell was was 3-4' from top to bottom. He would stop along the way, munch on some algae, look around and then we would swim a little bit more. I spent about a half hour with him and he took me almost all the way over to Lau Lau golf course.

I finally decided I should figure out where I was and start heading back. You don't always realize how far you go when you're being a turtle. When I swim with them and film them, I become one of them. I swim through the same tunnels they do, I skim over the coral formations just like they do, and I stop and just enjoy them when they eat. But they can cover a lot of territory in no time, so it's easy to find yourself a long ways away from where you started out. I headed back toward the pipeline, it took me a solid 15 minutes of hard kicking to get back there. As I was cruising over the coral, something caught my eye that looked very familiar. I went down to check it out and sure enough, it was a Leaf Scorpionfish.

This guy was yellow and the ones I've seen previously have been brown and pink. I don't know if they can change colors to blend in with their surroundings but he was around a bunch of yellow vegetation, so his camouflage was perfect. I'm realizing these are much more common that I had ever thought, it's just that I didn't recognize them before, and now my eyes are getting used to spotting them. You can see why they are so hard to spot, they are almost paper thin. If you don't recognize their fins you'll never spot them as they usually look and act like a leaf in the water. So I had already spent a half hour with a big Hawksbill and I found a yellow Leaf Scorpionfish, could this dive possibly get any better? As I continued heading toward the pipeline, I came across this little green sea turtle. I followed him over the sand flats for a while and he took me over to the pipeline. Then he banked a hard right and showed me another green sea turtle who was just relaxing next to the pipeline. Here you can see the 2 green sea turtles in the same picture, one is just to the left of the pipeline and hte other is on the sand just to the right of it. You don't often get a chance to get 2 turtles in the same picture so I was pretty excited about this. So I spent a little time with the 2 turtles just watching them and taking pictures, neither of them were in a big hurry to get anywhere either. Now as hard as this is going to be to believe and as awesome as this dive was so far, the best was yet to come. However, this post has already gotten pretty long and has quite a few pictures, so I'm afraid you're going to have to wait til tomorrow to read about the best turtle encounter of this dive. I promise it will be worth the wait though!

The Experts Were Just As Astonished As I Was!

I've heard back from the experts and they find my discovery of inter-species mating of these two different nudibranchs just as amazing as I do. Neville Coleman said he definitely wanted it for his new book on nudibranchs, and he also wanted some shots of the Halgerda johnsonorum alone, as it has not been a very widely photographed nudibranch up to now. There are several hundred shots of it now, all on my computer. And I also heard back from Dr. Bill Rudman on the Sea Slug Forum. Here is what Bill had to say, "By definition animals of different species are not supoosed to mate. I have had some doubts about some of the species of Halgerda described in recent years but these two species seemed quite distinct from one another with little evidence of intermediate colour forms. All I can say is keep a look out for possible intermediates and for more matings across the apparent species barrier. Best Wishes, Bill Rudman"

So now the key is to keep an eye out for Halgerda nudibranchs in the Grotto that don't fit any of the previously described color forms or patterns, as that may be the offspring of the johnsonorum and the guahan. I asked Bill what you got when you mated one with the other, he thought it sounded like the beginning of a joke. I think you may just get the Halgerda Blalockii. You know I'll be keeping a very close eye on the situation to see what comes of it. And to those other of you who dive the Grotto regularly and take pictures of the nudibranchs, please let me know if you run across anything different in the coming days. I find this absolutely exciting, it's like exploring a new frontier and you just never know what you'll stumble into next. I know I promised turtle stories and pictures today. I won't break my promise, but I'll make that another post so it's not so long.