Blog #5: Some Secrets of the Sea

Some Secrets of the Sea

7:00 PM. Just pulled into Dollar Harbor at South Cat Cay, Bimini. Not really a "harbor" in the traditional sense, but a wonderfully tranquil stretch of turquoise-colored water bordering a narrow strip of sand. We're the only boat.

Before I get started on today's "catch," a brief word on our chef, Chef Matt, who is just now singing along with Jack Jones in the galley behind me while preparing a Bahamian specialty of yellow tail snapper heavily laden with garlic. This is his first full time job. He graduated from Johnson & Whales Culinary Institute in Miami last year and has now been on the Coral Reef II for ten months. At 21, his talent for cooking is extraordinary, as is his ability to hold his breadth while snorkelling 20-30 feet below the surface of the sea, as are his vocal chords. We are lucky to have him on board.

We spent the afternoon diving at a large wreck called the Sapona, one of Henry Ford's attempts to make something other than cars during World War I. The Sapona along with 11 other experimental ships was made of concrete. By the looks of it, he should have stuck to cars. But his efforts were not for nothing, as the Sapona provides a wonderful artificial reef for thousands of fish and invertebrates.

My wife, Margaret, and I spent most of the dive on the ocean floor watching John Dayton and Barbara Bailey (two of the Aquarium's most experienced collectors), fearlessly probing the underside of one of the concrete panels looking for a small Moray eel, called a goldentail (Gymnothorax miliaris). Wow was he elusive. He bolted back and forth, ultimately escaping altogether after about twenty minutes! The moray have an uncanny ability to burrow deep in a hole or crevice, and I had a feeling that this one had more than earned the right to stay home.

A diver feeds fish at the Aquarium, the future home of our catch today.

Speaking of uncanny abilities, here's another one. The parrot fish (we now have a princess Scarus taeniopterus, shown top right), a stoplight (Sparisoma viride), a redband (Sparisoma aurofrenatum), and a striped (Scarus iserti) on board our burgeoning Noah's Ark. It blows a mucous bubble (sort of like a cocoon) around itself every night to mask its scent. This provides safety against nocturnal predators such as moray eels or nurse sharks. At day break the parrot breaks out of the bubble and lets it float away it (we see the remains of the mucous bubbles floating on the surface in our fish wells each morning)

Here's another: The hogfish (Lachnolaimus maximus) and many other members of the wrasse family also now in our holding tanks on the Coral Reef II have the ability to change their sex. Typically, a harem of females is led by one super male. The male is larger and visually quite different from the females. If he gets eaten or dies, the dominant female in the group morphs into a male, and takes the original super male's slot.

One last note that will make our aquarists back in Boston really happy. We collected four indigo hamlets (Hypoplectrus indigo shown at right) on one of today's dives. It's a huge find, a fish that hasn't been exhibited in Boston for quite some time. Come on down to Central wharf and see this really beautiful species!

Coming up tomorrow : Dive with the sharks!

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