Monday, March 31, 2008

Jellyfish of South Cottesloe Reef

I saw this beautiful animal during my Sunday morning's snorkel. I still don't know its name. But I love the colors!

When I was swimming around it taking photos, I did feel something sting my leg. But I must be imagining it because I couldn't find any tentacles dangling from this jellyfish. And I couldn't see any transparent stingers around me. Swimming into a big school of stingers would be my worst nightmare!

Anyway, the feeling just won't go away, so I decided to head back to shore. After all, I have swum much farther from shore today than I ever did before. And the water was quite deep too, at least 4 to 5 meters.

And so I headed back to shore and bumped into the biggest school of fish I have ever seen in my life! There must be a thousand of them - yellow fishes with black stripes, each about 20 cm in length. If they all rushed at me at the same time, I would be knocked over. Seriously.

Just watch out for my next post. You will be impressed. I was.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fishes on the South Cottesloe Reef (9) - The southern eagle ray (again)

Finally, I managed to get some 'proper' photos of the Southern eagle ray!

This one was taking a rest on the sea floor when I spotted it. And unlike all four other rays (southern eagle rays?) I saw off South Cottesloe, this one just let me take as many photos of it as I liked. 'Many' means more than 50. That's the number of photos I took during the ten minutes or so I was with it!

Why do I think it has a pair of panda's eyes and a permanent broad grin?
And why do I think its face resembles that of a sea turtle???

And so the ray took off after the photo shoot session, gracefully flapping its wings, I mean fins, heading God knows where.

By the way, please ignore the noise in the clips. No, it didn't come from the eagle ray. The noise was from the photographer, who still couldn't breathe well underwater!

Link to my earlier post about a southern eagle ray that I spotted off Rottnest Island.

Wow, my profile on the MarinePhotoBank webpage!

I just found out that has put up my photo and profile on their webpage! Dont' know what to say. But that already brought one visitor to my blog - that's great.

Well, let me tell you how I ended up submitting my profile to

For quite a while, I couldn't take any marine life photos because my camera was broken. In order to continue putting some nice images on this blog, I started searching for royalty-free marine images on the Net. That's when I bumped into the website.

'Advancing ocean conservation through imagery' - that practically sums up what MarinePhotoBank does. And I think it is a great strategy. Sometimes imagery touches a person's heart faster than words do.

So, you can download marine images from this website and use it for free as long as it is for non-commercial use, like using them on your blog. Of course, you can contribute your photos too. Their website says this: Send your best shots, instead of your entire set. Not all photo contributions are accepted into the Marine Photobank. We review hundreds of images and select images of high quality and composition.

I submitted some photos of seagrasses and also a photo of the southern eagle ray. And they were accepted. That's when I thought I should submit my profile to them. So I did and you know the rest.

It is cool to see your profile on an ocean conservation website!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Octopus on the South Cottesloe Reef

This was the second time I saw an octopus off Cottesloe, to be specific, the South Cottesloe Reef. I was actually going after a fish trying to take its photo. It was swimming too fast and soon I lost it, but it was then I found this octopus right below me. So I was just lucky.

I saw this one mid-way between the two Cottesloe groynes. The first groyne is right in front of the teahouse; the second separates the South Cottesloe Reef from the Cable Station Artificial Reef (I think).

Octopus, octopus - the blue-blooded member of the marine family! Yes, blue blooded, literally. And I would love to see their blood. I also read that some octopi can detach one of their arms for defense! Like a lizard would detach its tail to distract its enemy. Amazing! (See this)

I managed to do a short clip.
Again, as I have mentioned before, the quality of the original clip is much better than what you see here. I remember some websites say that the drop of quality is related to how the uploaded clips are processed by the website that hosts your blogs.

The clip is too short? I know. Wish me good luck so that I will see another octopus and make a longer or better clip.

Fishes on the South Cottesloe Reef (8) - Eagle ray

What a pleasant surprise that I saw a southern eagle ray twice today!

These are the photos of the first one. After seeing the fish twice off South Cottesloe when I didn't have my camera with me, I was happy to have finally captured the images of this one.

The second one just appeared ahead of me out of nowhere. And it had a small white fish (10 cm long maybe) swimming right below its fin, escorting it. It just vanished before I was ready with my my camera.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fishes at the Cottesloe groyne (1)

Every time I snorkeled near the Cottesloe groyne, I would see a few of these horned blennies sitting on the rocks underwater. They would just sit there still, so you would have to look carefully. I put these images up on the Dive-Oz forum and Shadowkiller identified them to be the horned blenny (Parablennius intermedius).

I know the image quality isn't that good. But these are the best I could get. It was hard to steady myself when the water kept moving me back and forth.

There are nicer images of horned blennies here. There is a close-up shot which shows you the 'horns'.

The Cottesloe groyne

Monday, March 24, 2008

Fishes on the North Cottesloe Reef (2)

At last I have taken some photos of a western king wrasse. It was a female; the male is more colorful. Anyway, I have never seen any male wrasses so far.

Books and websites say that when the only male in a group 'disappears' (into an angler's basket?) or dies, the largest female will have a sex change and becomes the male! That means she will change her gender together with her colours?

Another amazing thing about them is that the females and the juveniles could team up and start a cleaning station providing services for other fishes! They pick away diseased or dead skins and parasites from fishes that visit them. Community service?

The female western king wrasse looks really unimpressive. And the last two times I saw them, they were in a group of at least two or three. I wonder why this one was on her own. No, don't worry, the tarwhines were not going to attack her.

Mmm, this funnel weed looks yummy!

Those over there look yummy too. Must go and get them ...I wonder why these two tarwhines keep following me. Hey, I saw the food first!

WHOA! Hold it there. First you were following me, and now you want to sit on my face! Hey, I don't mind body contact, but your bottom IS touching my neck!

And now your bottom is touching my back! GO AWAY!

Phew! Finally I am on my own.


Not again! These guys are back! Unbelievable!

Ok, ok. Follow me if you want. Like I care!

Good, now we'll go our separate ways!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fishes on the North Cottesloe Reef (1)

I am aware that the waters of North and South Cottesloe Reefs are one water. But at least to my untrained eye, their reefs are different in terms of seaweed or seagrass coverage. Anyway, I thought I would like to organize the photos I took based on location. So, there you are, photos of fishes I saw on the North Cottesloe Reef on 21 March (Good Friday).

Red-lipped morwong
I like them because they are less shy than other fishes. So you could always get a good photo of them. This is my most-sighted single fish off North Cottesloe. There is just no way to not bump into one of them if you are swimming over some seaweed patches.

Blackspot goatfish (Parupeneus signatus?)
In the photo, you can't see the two barbels hanging from below the fish's chin. The fish uses them to stir up soft sediment to find its prey. And I suspect the barbels are the reason for its name too - 'goatfish'. This was the second time I saw a goatfish off North Cottesloe. They were searching for food alone both times I saw them.

This was the second time I saw a stingaree on the North Cottesloe Reef. And this time, this one wasn't planning to flee. In fact, shortly after I took this photo, it just went into the sargassum seaweed and hid itself up, revealing only part of its fin. Based on the rounded fin at the end of its tail, I reckon it's a stingaree. Despite being generally smaller than stingrays, stingarees have one or two venomous spines on the tail. So, they are dangerous too!

Banded sweep (Scorpis georgiana)

These two are photos of some fish whose name I don't know. There was a huge school of them, maybe a thousand of them in it!

These two schools of fish look like the same species, but again, I couldn't find their name.

Australian herring or Tommy rough (Arripis goergiana)

No idea what their name is. This must be the second time I saw them off North Cottesloe.

Tarwhine (Rhabdosargus sarba)
This is my most-sighted schooling fish off North Cottesloe.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Octopus on the North Cottesloe Reef

Today's snorkel at both South and North Cottesloe was delightful - thanks to the calm waters and bright sunlight.

I saw an octopus on the North Cottesloe Reef this morning. And this time I had my waterproof camera with me! The photos below show how the octopus moved away to stay out of my sight shortly after I spotted it. I hung around for more than five minutes but it didn't want to show up anymore. I had been in the water for almost two hours and was getting cold, so I decided to move on.

It is definitely not my way to poke it with a stick or throw a pebble on it to make it come out. One thing I believe is that when you are in the sea, you just have to respect the organisms living there. It's their home! So if they are not in the mood to get a photo shoot, you will just have to move on!

Friday, March 21, 2008

I must be lucky!

I think one reason why I could get so in love with marine life within such a short time is because I am lucky!

Well, of course I haven't gone snorkeling to the Great Barrier Reef. That will have to wait until I have more money and time to spare. What I have access to are just the beaches around Perth. In general. Although I have also snorkeled at the Busselton Jetty and the Yallingup Lagoon. Oh! And the Yanchep Lagoon too, although now I really wonder why I went there.

Just the Perth beaches? What can you see there?

Well, this is why I said I am lucky. I try to go snorkeling every Saturday and Sunday. Most of the time the waters are not at their best. So I don't see much - just some small invertebrates like red and green sea anemones, orange and purple sea stars and some bluish purple sponges. And I see the regulars like red-lipped morwongs, banded sweeps and scalyfins (McCulloch's or western?) And the seaweeds and seagrasses too.

But on good days, I have on one occasion seen more than ten species within one hour and many of them in big schools. Can you imagine how impressed I was when I saw a school of 40 or so really fat common buffalo breams swimming past me?

And so far I have seen six rays (stingrays four times and stingarees twice). The feeling you get when you quietly swim behind a stingray is really nice!
And I have seen the octopus twice.
Sea hares twice.
And mind you, I haven't gone very far from shore and I was only in water two to three meters' deep when I saw them!

The biggest school of fish I have seen must have at least one thousand fishes in it, even though they are just a small fish a few cm in length.

And I have seen the world of gold that the sargassum and kelp patches 'conjure up' in sunlight! It is magical!

I have also come across a banded toadfish that hung around me for more than 5 minutes watching me taking photos of some seaweeds.

I must be lucky to have all these experiences because they motivate me to learn more about marine life.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

An inspirational quote

Be careful what you water your dreams with.
Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream.
Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success.
Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success.
Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.

-- Lao Tzu


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cleaner fish & some questions

I have been teaching myself some marine biology by reading stuff from textbooks, web pages and scientific papers. And now I am digging into Introduction to the Biology of Marine Life (James L. Sumich & John F. Morrissey, Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 8th edition, 2004).

One thing I just learnt that really interests me is the role of the cleaner fish and cleaning stations in community fish health. It seems that in a coral reef ecosystem, for example, there are some cleaner fishes whose job is to pick away parasites and dead tissues from bigger fishes. These small cleaner fish would even get inside the bigger guys' mouths or gills to do their jobs. Those bigger clients will visit these 'cleaning stations' from time to time to have their body 'cleaned'. It reminds me of manicure shops where people can visit regularly for nailcare services. Only that this is more than just for good looks. Some study showed that when all cleaner fishes were removed from a coral reef community, the location was quickly vacated of most fishes and those remaining had frayed fins and suffered increased parasite attack.

Some questions came up in my mind:
(1) Are cleaner fishes selective of the type of diseased tissues or parasites that they would eat?
(2) My first thought is this: these cleaner fishes may have a powerful digestive system that breaks down all diseased stuff they eat. That way, they are protected from the diseases or parasites they pick up.
(3) If not, these cleaner fishes must be immune to quite a wide range of parasites or diseases, I think. And this will make them a wonderful research topic. Who knows what we can find out from them that may eventually be used to help boost human immune system or used to treat immune system-related human illness?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Teaching myself marine biology

I am so deeply in love with learning about marine life that I am thinking of going into marine biology research after I finish my PhD. It would be great if I can merge my work with my hobby. It would be so wonderful.

So I picked a marine biology textbook from the library, and started teaching myself. Of course I don't really have a proper plan what to learn first and what next. But I just pick any interesting chapter and start reading. I reckon when I go into marine research, I would have to compete with people who have a really proper training in marine biology. So I must get prepared.

I have asked myself this: just because I am not enrolled into a marine biology program now, does that mean I could not become a marine biologist ever? The answer is obviously no. With whatever resources that are available to me now, I could still get myself prepared. Like start reading a marine biology textbook! Of course, it is easier said than done considering how busy I am with my PhD work at hand. But I am trying.

I have this imaginary situation in mind:

I am a teacher who lives in the smallest, remotest village in the remotest, severely resource-limited, and far-way-from-shore country in the world.

And one day, a student comes and tells me, 'I want to become a marine biologist one day, can you help me?'

And I guess I can't tell him, 'Look, wake up! We are poor and resource-limited. And we can't send you to a place where you can get a proper training. So forget it!'

I would say this: 'I will try my best and teach you all that I know of marine life, however limited it is. Just because the situation is not the best now, it doesn't mean we have to give up on your dream. No one knows what will happen in future but we can surely try our best now. And enjoy every moment doing it.'

Saturday, March 15, 2008

'Slimy bags'

I found these red algae which had been washed ashore. Their scientific name Gloiosaccion literally means 'glue sacks'. They are basically hollow bags which contain a sticky, gooey liquid. I googled but didn't find any info about the gooey substance. Some say that it keeps herbivores away. I wonder if it is because it tastes horrible or that it is poisonous.

Gooey substance oozing out when the 'bag' was punctured.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Scary, wriggly larvae! (Not for the faintest of hearts!)

It is not politically correct to call any marine larvae or worms ugly. Whether they are pretty, lovely or otherwise is all a matter of perspective. And it depends on who you ask. So I wrote scary instead of ugly in the title of this post.

I found this dead sea sponge on the South Cottesloe Beach. On the outside, it looked pretty ordinary. So, like a curious child, I just casually picked it up to have a good look. That's when I dropped it like some hot iron!

Gosh! If only you were there to see these wriggly fellows yourself, you would understand why I was a little taken aback. And mind you, there were more of them on the whole sponge, I only managed to photograph some because I was doing supermacro shots.

I know, I know. I have probably swallowed heaps of larvae, seagrass pollen or marine animals' sperms during all those time I went snorkeling. But just let me pretend that I didn't!