Caribbean Brown Tube Sponge (Agelas conifera)

Agelas conifera

by B. N. Sullivan

This Brown Tube Sponge (Agelas conifera) is a fairly common sight on walls and reef canyons in the Caribbean region, and the Bahamas.  The tubes, which reach a length of 30 to 90 cm (about one to three feet), grow in clusters from a common base.

This sponge likes deep water, so you are not likely to see it on shallow reefs.  It prefers depths below 10 meters (30 ft), and we have seen the species at depths greater than 30 meters (100 ft), especially at places like Bloody Bay Wall, Little Cayman Island.  That's where I photographed the example above.

Row Pore Rope Sponge (Aplysina cauliformis)

Aplysina cauliformis

by B. N. Sullivan

The Row Pore Rope Sponge (Aplysina cauliformis) is a Caribbean species.  Its common name describes it well.  It grows ropy-looking branches, and its excurrent openings ('pores') are arranged in long rows along the lengths of the branches.  The ropy branches can grow quite long -- to a maximum of 180 to 240 cm (about six to eight feet ).  The longest branch of the one in the photo above was about 150 cm long (about five feet).  This sponge comes in several pretty colors: purple, lavender, and red.

This sponge is fairly common throughout the Caribbean, and may also be seen in the Bahamas.  It usually inhabits deep reef slopes and walls, at depths below 12 meters (40 ft) .  I photographed the one above at a dive site called Garden Eel Wall on Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands.

Video: Underwater junkyard off the California coast

by B. N. Sullivan

We've posted several articles about a nasty ocean environmental issue: marine debris.  Since this is one of our pet peeves, we have repeatedly reminded divers and beachgoers to deposit their trash in proper receptacles or to take it home with them.  Moreover, we have asked them to pick up and properly dispose of debris they find on the beach and in the water, including abandoned nets and fishing tackle, even if they did not put it there to begin with.

Being mindful about trash such as picnic remains and general litter can help to reduce damage to reefs, the pollution of waterways, and the risk of entanglement by marine wildlife -- and that's a good thing. But a much more serious and pervasive problem exists as well: using the ocean as a dump!

Have a look at this Fox News video, and you'll see what we mean:

If the video does not play or display properly above, click here to view it on YouTube.

Thanks to @scubadivergirls and Deep Sea News for alerting us about this video.

The Ornate Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ornatissimus)

by B. N. Sullivan

Fishes in the Butterflyfish family (Chaetodontidae) are among the prettiest inhabitants of tropical reefs around the world.  This species, the Ornate Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ornatissimus) is particularly nice looking, we think.

The Ornate Butterflyfish is easy to recognize, with six diagonal yellow-orange stripes on each side of its creamy body, black and yellow bars on the face (including one that covers the eye), a gray patch on its forehead, and black 'trim' around its margins.  They are said to grow to a length of 20 cm (about eight inches), although most of the adult individuals we have seen are somewhat smaller -- usually about 15 cm (six inches).

C. ornatissimus feeds exclusively on live coral polyps, so you would expect to find them in coral-rich areas. They seem to favor coral polyps of the Pocillopora and Montipora genera.  (Here in Hawaii, we frequently see them pecking on Pocillopora meandrina.)

Juveniles of this species look like cute miniatures of the adults.  The juveniles can be quite shy, hiding in corals for protection.  The juveniles live as singletons, but once they reach breeding age, they find mates and form pairs.  In fact, it is unusual to see an adult of this species not accompanied by its mate.  Also, pairs establish a home range, so once you discover a pair of C. ornatissimus, you will likely be able to find them again in the same area time after time.

'Ornates' are an Indo-Pacific species, most commonly found in the central and western Pacific, from Hawaii to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.  Sightings have been reported as well around Christmas Island in the eastern Indian Ocean, and we have seen photos of the species taken in Indonesian and Malaysian waters.  They are quite common here in Hawaii. I photographed the one pictured on this page in Honaunau Bay, on the south Kona coast of Hawaii's Big Island.

Don't feed the critters

by B. N. Sullivan

There are some dive sites where you know immediately that the fishes and other critters are used to being fed by divers and snorkelers.  How can you tell?  You can hold out your hand, like Jerry is doing in the photo above, and see if the fishes come forward.  Sometimes you don't even need to extend your hand.  At some sites, the fishes begin to converge on divers as soon as they descend from a boat.

So, is feeding the critters a bad thing or an okay thing to do?  Generally speaking, we advise against it.

For one thing, it can be disruptive to the critters in a number of ways.  Feeding an animal something that it would not naturally eat can disrupt its digestion and nutritional status.  Even if you choose to feed something the animal might normally eat, you alter its natural feeding behavior by supplying the food item.

For another thing, feeding critters encourages them to congregate in places where they might not normally stay -- like at the base of a boat mooring.  While the critters may learn that if they hang out in a particular place, they will be fed, their predators also learn this.  You may be setting up the unsuspecting recipient of your offerings for becoming a meal himself!

And then there's the diver safety issue.  If you've ever been mobbed by a swarm of fishes expecting a handout, you know what I mean. We have been followed around on many occasions by fishes that had become accustomed to being fed -- including eels and stingrays.  As annoying as being mobbed by Snappers or Butterflyfishes may be, it can be worse -- even dangerous -- if the hungry critters are large and/or toothsome and aggressively pursue divers expecting a treat.

Long-time readers of The Right Blue may recall a story we told awhile back about a particularly aggressive Napoleon Wrasse in the Red Sea.  The huge fish was accustomed to being fed boiled eggs.  The wrasse  apparently mistook the white second stage of our friend's regulator for an egg, and chomped it hard enough to detach it from the hose.

We know a dive guide who used to feed a certain large Moray eel, and then pet it.  One day he reached out to pet the eel and it snapped at him, clamping down on his finger.  At the hospital emergency room the doc said the only reason the dive guide did not lose that finger was because he was wearing a heavy class ring, which probably deflected the eel bite just enough to save the digit (although it was pretty badly mangled).

Remember, folks.  The creatures you see in the ocean are wild animals, not pets.  Don't give them indigestion and don't mess with the natural food chain.  Don't feed them.

About the photo:  I took this photo of Jerry (and a handful of Yellowtail Snappers) at the wreck of the Oro Verde, located off Grand Cayman's Seven Mile Beach.

Whale Shark excitement on the Kona Coast

by B. N. Sullivan

In late February we posted an article about Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus), with a video to illustrate. That video was shot at Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. We now direct your attention to another Whale Shark video, shot a year ago on the Kona coast of Hawaii.

YouTube user dolphinmind, who posted this video of some very happy snorkelers' encounter with the Whale Shark, said:
A great day of Kona Coast snorkeling on Hula Kai turned unforgettable by an extremely rare 40 foot long whale shark encounter... special effects or editing on this's REAL. ...
Yep, and it's REAL BIG!

If the video does not display or play properly above, click here to view it on YouTube.