Saturday, February 21, 2009

Penguin Island marine life (1)

Today I went snorkeling at the Penguin Island with a friend, Paul. Going with a buddy not only makes it safer, but also more interesting. First, you get to interact with another person, not just with the fishes. Moreover, very often your buddy might spot an interesting creature that you miss.

We went to the west, south and north-east sides of the island. Generally, the water was rather murky or contained too much seaweed and other unknown debris. And to make it worse, it was a cloudy morning, so the underwater visibility wasn't that fantastic. Nevertheless, we still saw quite a number of interesting marine creatures when we hit the water.

And Paul was quite happy that he saw a wild penguin today.

One thing I noticed today is that there were so many ctenophores (comb jellies) in the water. Anyway, as comb jellies don't sting, it was nothing to worry about. I just think of them as some teabags, or maybe small plastic bags, drifting around in the water.

These creatures look plain but are nice to look at when there's sunlight. The hairs that run down the length of their bodies, when beating, will generate some rainbow-like colors.

Another thing I noticed today is that there seemed to be fewer purple-tipped sea anemones compared to the last two times I visited the island. Many of the sea anemones I saw just looked whitish.

Anyway, I did find this pretty sea anemone tucked away between seaweed in the shallow reef in north-east part of the island.

I checked out the colony of Zoanthus praelongus (sausage zoanthids) that I photographed during my last visit - they were still there. In fact the colony seemed to have grown. Also, most of them have retracted their tentacles, unlike what I saw before.

I found quite a number of western slate pencil urchins (Phyllacanthus irregularis) in holes and crevices in the reef. They are quite large, probably 10-15 cm across (including spines). They look really different from the usual sea urchins, which have sharp spines. They emerge at night to scrape algae from rocks. Since algae will not move whether it is day or night, I suppose they emerge at night as a way to avaoid predatots.

I saw a red sea star (Petricia vernicinia) for the first time! On its upper surface, there are many small balloon-like structures (the white bits) which they use for respiration and getting rid of waste.

Another exciting find (for me) is the orange feather star (Cenolia trichoptera)(?) I found it sitting next to a sea urchin inside a hole in the reef.

I saw the feather star for the first time when I was exploring the South Cottlesloe shore on a low-tide morning.

By the way, I also saw a sea cucumber and just like before, I couldn't get a sharp image. Arrghh!

While we were exploring the reef in teh north-east side of the island, Paul spotted a southern bailer (Melo miltonis) too. I first saw the animal when I snorkeled at Penguin Island last December.

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