Ol' Blue Eyes

Wordless Wednesday
Watery Wednesday

What: White-speckled Hermit Crab (Paguristes punticeps),
a Caribbean species -- size: about 3 to 5 in. (8 to 13 cm).

Where: I took this macro photo at Bloody Bay, Little Cayman Island.

Paguristes punticeps
Click on the photo to enlarge.

Lace Bryozoans - Dainty Stuff in the Deep

by B. N. Sullivan

Reteporelina denticulataHere is something very beautiful that lives in the ocean that snorkelers almost never get to see. They don't get to see it because it usually lives at depths greater than 10 meters (about 30 feet or so). This is a Lace Bryozoan (Reteporelina denticulata).

Bryozoans are odd things. The colonies they build can look a bit like corals, but they are not corals at all. Bryozoans are colonial animals, and many of them -- like the ones on this page -- build calcareous structures. To that extent they also seem like a type of coral, but they are not. Biologically, they are quite distinct from corals, and in fact, the Bryozoans have a phylum all to themselves, with more than 5,000 known species.

The individuals, called zooids, usually are less than a half millimeter in length. In other words, they are microscopic. Many types of Bryozoans form encrusting colonies on rocks, corals, and other surfaces; other Bryozoan colonies look almost plant-like. We think the prettiest ones are those known as Lace Bryozoans.

The Lace Bryozoans pictured on this page can be found in many areas of the Indo-Pacific region, from the Red Sea to parts of the Pacific Ocean. They are quite common in Hawaii, especially on deep rocky terrain, and on rubble slopes at the deeper edges of the coral reefs. It's not unusual to see a colony attached to a rock or a large lump of dead coral out in the middle of a sand flat, just like the colony in the first photo on this page, even at depths of more than 30 meters (100 feet).

Reteporelina denticulata Bryozoans are sessile animals: the base of their colonies always is very firmly anchored to the rock or coral upon which it is growing. Lace Bryozoan colonies are very brittle and therefore quite fragile. If you come across one while diving, do stop to look closely and admire it, but don't touch. If you try to handle it you will surely damage it.

The photo at left shows a relatively new colony, just about one inch across (about 2.5 cm). We spotted it out on a deep sandslope as we swam over it. It looked like it was growing right out of the sand, but it was not. It was attached to a rock that was buried.

Mature colonies of this particular species of Lace Bryozoan look like ruffled lace nosegays. A colony can measure up to about four inches (10 cm) across.

As you might have guessed, all of the photos on this page are macro photos. Each is of a different colony of Reteporelina denticulata. I photographed them off the coast of Puako, Hawaii, at depths in the 30-40 meter range (about 100 to 120 feet). I've reduced the size of the photos so that they would fit better on the page, but if you click on any of the images they will enlarge so that you can see more details of their lacy structure.

Reteporelina denticulata

Hawaiian Swimming Crab (Charybdis hawaiiensis)

Wordless Wednesday
Watery Wednesday

What: Hawaiian Swimming Crab (Charybdis hawaiiensis),
a nocturnal animal that hides in crevices during the day.

Where: I took this photo at Puako reef,
off the coast of Hawaii's Big Island.

Hawaiian Swimming Crab (Charybdis hawaiiensis)
Click on the photo to enlarge.

On Sharks, Spearfishing, and Senseless Killing

by B. N. Sullivan

sharkOver the years we have had many encounters with sharks while diving. We have told quite a few tales about sharks here on The Right Blue. Our readers always seem to enjoy our stories and photos of sharks, and a quick glance at the list of keywords that bring search traffic to The Right Blue tells us that a lot of people are looking for information about sharks every day.

It should be clear to anyone who has read our tales about sharks that we enjoy seeing them in the ocean. We do not fear them, but we do respect the sharks' role as apex predators in the hierarchy of ocean life. Sharks have great value to the overall ecology of the sea.

Without question, the shark species we have encountered most frequently is the Whitetip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus). We have seen this species regularly in our home waters around Hawaii, and in virtually every tropical reef environment we have visited around the world. We have seen Whitetips 'sleeping' in cavelets, on ledges, and on sandy bottoms. We have seen them actively and expertly hunting at night -- an impressive sight, indeed. Mostly we see these elegant animals lazily cruising the reefs, just like we do when we're diving.

We have never seen or heard of a Whitetip Reef Shark harming a human. They are not an aggressive shark. Neither are they valued as food for humans.

So, imagine our complete dismay and disgust when we learned recently that a Whitetip Reef Shark was senselessly killed by divers who were spearfishing at Puako, Hawaii. Here is an excerpt from this sad story, as it appeared on a local news blog called Hawaii247.com:
A couple of weeks ago, a resident Whitetip Reef Shark, known to countless Puako scuba divers, was speared and dragged out of the water along Puako Beach Drive.

A Puako resident who asked the young spearfishermen if they planned to eat the shark reported that they didn’t know what to do with it and that they had just shot it because they could.

As the animal thrashed around in a tidepool with a spear through it, they were unconcerned about its fate. It is likely that it died and was washed out to sea by the surf in the night.

The market value of a single shark pales in comparison to its value on the reef, alive and serving its function for reef ecology. As seemingly insignificant as the take of one shark may seem, these are not abundant animals, and, as they pose no danger to us, there is no justification for killing them for sport.
They had just shot it because they could. How brave. How sporting. NOT!!

Some time ago, a reader asked us, via The Right Blue contact form, what we thought of spearfishing. We sent him a reply privately, but made a note to address the issue in a blog post "one of these days." When the story about the senseless killing of that shark in Puako came to our attention, we decided that "one of these days" should be now.

Our attitudes and ideas about spearfishing have developed over time. Many years ago, in the early days of sport diving, many divers took along spearguns on nearly every dive, as a matter of course. It just seemed to be the thing to do. We never engaged in spearfishing, but many of our dive companions certainly did. Yet, it wasn't ever a question of engaging in target practice on reef fish, at least among the divers we knew. Instead, those divers speared food fish (or tried to -- they missed more often than not). If they managed to spear a grouper, sea bass, or flounder, all of us happily feasted on the catch.

Here in Hawaii, many people still spearfish. A good number of those look upon spearfishing as just another method to catch fish to put on the family dinner table. We have no quarrel with this kind of spearfishing, as a matter of principle.

We do have a big problem with spearfishing of the sort engaged in by the shark-killers in the above story. Fish -- whether sharks or angelfish or anything in between -- must not be used for target practice, ever. With spearfishing, there is no such thing as 'catch and release'. In most instances, a fish, once speared, will suffer substantial tissue and organ damage. It will not be able to survive, even if it is removed from the spear and let go. There simply is no excuse for spearing a fish you are not going to eat, just because you can. Of this we are certain.

Many conservationists oppose any sort of spearfishing by divers using scuba, reasoning that it provides the spearfisherman with an unfair, unsporting advantage over his game. They contend that spearfishing only should be allowed while free diving.

While we agree with the spirit of this point of view, we think it subsumes that spearfishing always is done just for sport. To us, "sport" implies just the kind of live target-shooting we abhor. We concede, of course, that this may be a semantic difference.

In truth, we are less concerned about whether a spearfisherman is free diving or using scuba than about his motivation. If we are talking about fishing for food, we don't see much practical distinction between spearfishing, throwing a net, or tossing a baited hook into the water.

Our core attitude about spearfishing is this: Don't spear anything you are not going to eat, and don't spear more fish (or other animals) than you need for a meal.

Lettuce Coral -- Not for salads

Wordless Wednesday
Watery Wednesday

What: Lettuce Coral (Turbinaria mesenterina).
This coral colony was large -- nearly two meters across.

Where: I took this photo in the Red Sea at a reef called Umm Hal Hal,
off the coast of Safaga, Egypt.

Turbinaria mesenterina
[Click on the photo to enlarge.]

Copyright status of material on 'The Right Blue'

We get quite a few requests from other bloggers and website owners, asking if they can use some of our material. If you scroll down to our blog's footer, you will see that we publish The Right Blue under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 license. This means we allow others to use our material under certain conditions:
  • You may quote from our articles -- but not copy the whole thing -- so long as you attribute it to us and link back to The Right Blue (http://therightblue.com/).
  • You may post our photos on your personal, non-commercial website or blog, so long as you do not alter them or remove the copyright line that says (c)TheRightBlue.com, and you must link back to The Right Blue.
  • You may not use any of our material for commercial purposes, nor display it on a commercial website, without explicit permission from us.
What you see and read here is the product of decades of experience, thousands of dives, countless travel miles, and a lot of out-of-pocket expenditure over the years. It is with with pleasure that we share our photos, stories, and knowledge with our readers.

We own the copyright to all of the original photos and written material that appear in The Right Blue. Occasionally we publish a photo from elsewhere, or quote a paragraph or two that someone else has written, but we always indicate when photos or other material are not our original work, without exception, and attribute them to the original author or photographer. All we ask is that those who borrow our work do the same.

The Anemone Shrimp (Periclimenes longicarpus)

by B. N. Sullivan

Anemone Shrimp (Periclimenes longicarpus)Here is an interesting little critter: the Anemone Shrimp (Periclimenes longicarpus), which is endemic to the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea. This shrimp lives commensally among the tentacles of certain anemones. The anemones' tentacles have stinging cells, called nematocysts, which most potential predators of the shrimp cannot tolerate, thus the shrimp's choice of home affords it some protection from predation.

Like many other shrimps of its genus, this Anemone Shrimp makes its living as a cleaner, in a manner similar to the little cleaner fish that we discussed last year.

This nearly transparent shrimp is very tiny. Its body is barely 2 cm (3/4 inch) long from its rostrum (i.e., snout) to the end of its tail. Its body has a pale lavender tinge to it, and its appendages and tail are marked with violet spots, and edged in white.

We think this shrimp is quite good-looking. It is a great subject for macro photography, although its very small size and transparency can make it difficult to find, unless you know where to look. We have seen them most often in two species of anemone: the Bubble Tip Anemone (Entamacea quadricolor), and the Sun Anemone (Gyrostoma helianthus). The trick is to learn to identify these anemone species so you can spot them, then look closely to see if there are any Anemone Shrimps among the tentacles.

Anemone with shrimp (Periclimenes longicarpus) and juvenile fish (Amphiprion bicinctus)In the Red Sea, these Anemone Shrimp very often share their quarters with the Two-bar Anemonefish (Amphiprion bicinctus) -- AKA Red Sea Clownfish. The photo at left shows a juvenile Two-bar Anemonefish as well as an Anemone Shrimp. Note that the baby fish is even smaller than the shrimp!

For those interested in taxonomy, this Anemone Shrimp belongs to the family Palaemonidae. The family is relatively large, and is divided into two sub-families. The Periclimenes genus, of which this shrimp is a member, belongs to the sub-family Pontoniinae, characterized by their short, flattened rostrums. Most of the shrimps in this taxonomic group are known to live commensally with other invertebrates.

I photographed the two individuals on this page in the Red Sea, at a place on the coast of Tiran Island called Khush Khasha. Both were living in the same anemone. You can click on either of the photos for a larger view.

Sea Turtle -- Gliding Through 'The Right Blue'

Wordless Wednesday
Watery Wednesday

What: Young Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Where: I took this photo in the open ocean, off the Kohala Coast of Hawaii's Big Island.

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

New Year Notes and News

Bermuda Chubs (Kyphosus sectatrix)We're back from our holidays and ready to resume our storytelling and underwater photo sharing with our readers. We hope all of you had a nice holiday season.

We thought we'd begin 2009 with a short review of the past year on The Right Blue. We spent a bit of time going over the blog's traffic statistics for the full year of 2008, paying special attention to where our traffic came from, and which articles and photos appeared to be the most popular with our readers. We'd like to share some things we discovered.

Average monthly traffic to The Right Blue over the past year has tripled, compared to 2007. Our biggest source of traffic in 2008 was StumbleUpon, and we are grateful to the readers who Stumbled various articles on The Right Blue. We don't request Stumbles, so all of that traffic was organic -- and that's the way we like it.

Speaking of organic traffic, the second largest source of traffic to The Right Blue was from search, especially the Google and Google Image search engines. In 2008, more than a third of the traffic to The Right Blue was from search. (And did you notice? Google gave us a 'promotion' of sorts, recently raising The Right Blue's page rank to 5.)

The top five articles on The Right Blue for 2008, based on average monthly traffic since the time of posting, were:
  1. The Cave Where Turtles Die
  2. Dotted Sea Slug from the Mediterranean
  3. The Leaf Scorpionfish
  4. Exotic Underwater Nudies - The Spanish Dancer
  5. Bubble Coral
That number one article, which is about an underwater cave full of sea turtle skeletons at Malaysia's Sipadan Island, was posted in mid-June. Since then, that article's URL has been visited well over 20,000 times. The article also has been linked to by other bloggers and websites more than any other item on The Right Blue, and the photos that accompanied the article have been 'borrowed' a lot, too.

Each week we post a stand-alone photo for Wordless Wednesday (and more recently for Watery Wednesday as well). Participation in these photo memes brings some additional traffic to The Right Blue, and some of those visitors have become regular readers. We have noticed that nearly all the photos we have posted for Wordless/Watery Wednesday immediately begin to generate search traffic, too, so the photos are viewed again and again long after they were posted for the memes.

The top five Wordless/Watery Wednesday (i.e, photo only) posts on The Right Blue for 2008, based on average monthly traffic since the time of posting, were:
  1. Bubble Coral with Tiny Shrimp
  2. Juvenile Shark in the Red Sea
  3. Masked Butterflyfish (Chaetodon semilarvatus) - Red Sea
  4. Emperor Angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator) - Red Sea
  5. Hard Corals on a Shallow Red Sea Reef
Coming Attractions

What's coming up on The Right Blue for 2009? Of course we will post more illustrated 'creature features', since those stories definitely are the most popular. We also will present more tips for divers, and tell more tales about the adventures of the Marathon Diving Club back in the early days of diving. Speaking of adventures, there will be more wreck diving tales, and more stories about memorable dive trips.

We're also preparing a series of articles about the only period of time when we were paid to dive. This memorable assignment, which last for several months, was a unique experience for us. It entailed a lot of hard work underwater, but it was both exciting and lucrative. Have we piqued your interest? Here's a hint: Hollywood!!

Stay tuned...