Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rainbows and Clouds

The whales have started showing up for this winters whale season and the wind seems to have kicked up a notch for their arrival. Hopefully soon we will get some nice, calm whale watching conditions but for now we can enjoy the incredible weather formations from cap clouds covering the west maui mountains to rainbows over the harbor. I don't think it can stay windy forever.

As the year comes to a close I am looking forward to lots of whale encounters, getting my underwater camera fixed, and surfing some legendary winter swells.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Looking for Tony

 Reports had been coming in all week of a 10+ foot tiger shark hanging out in some of South Maui's most popular snorkel and dive spots. My friend Josh spotted it early in the morning while leading a snorkel which prompted Heidi and myself to rush down to the local dive shop, grab a couple of tanks, and hit the water for a dive I call, 'The Search for Tony.'
A tiny snowflake eel peering out of its lair
A very large white mouth moray eel 
  We went to a site called White Rocks and waded in. The water wasn't the greatest visibility, especially close to shore, but you could still see about 20ft. It cleared up even more as we headed off shore. It was quite fun searching the rocks and coral for our usual treasures of nudibranchs and eels but it is much harder when you are constantly scanning the water around and above you for something big. We covered a big area of the reef for about an hour and fifteen minutes. We found some very fun turtles all playing and rough housing with each other like brothers which made me think there probably wasn't a big tiger shark in the area. That coupled with the fact that we were both getting quite cold after so long underwater we gave each other the underwater sign for turning around and heading back.
A trumpet fish giving his best wire coral impersonation 
So I still haven't seen a tiger shark in the wild but it was very excited just knowing that one was nearby. I have done many lectures on sharks, trying to dispel the myths and aura of fear that surround them. I feel like it wasn't a big risk to head out with scuba gear on this day. Scuba divers don't act like shark's prey so there is hardly ever accidental attacks as there have been with swimmers going up and down like pearl and abalone divers, or surfers that look like seals. Also we are doing nothing that would attract a shark out of the ordinary, like spear fishermen trailing their catch behind them. In fact the bubbles from breathing underwater on scuba seem to scare sharks off. Still with every adventure comes a certain amount of risk and I wouldn't suggest this kind of thing for everyone. I learned early in life working with alligators in the marshes of Georgia that no matter how much you study or handle wildlife you can't lose that healthy respect for the fact they are built as top predators. Plus sharks are always there, they often just swim away before we see them. 

(A few days later...)
  Tony the Tiger hasn't been spotted for a few days now which makes me think that he has swam back out into deeper water. But I will keep searching...
This turtle acted a bit weird. It swam straight at me from
very far away and ended up running right into me. Then
he just continued on to mess with some other resting turtles.

Here he is nipping at a resting turtle stealing
the turtle's prime spot

a white margin nudibranch

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Diving Lanai Part 2: First Cathedral

The opening to Cathedrals
First Cathedrals has been on my dive list for a long time and I was about to get to see it! I was so excited. I was the first one ready in my group so even though I was a bit cold from the first dive I jumped in to see what lay below. The opening of Cathedrals could barely be seen 50ft down or so because of the clouds of fish. Sargent majors and black triggerfish schooled in huge numbers above the cave system but the real draw here is the topography. That was until I saw how much life was on this dive!
 Entering into an underwater cavern with light filtering in from different directions is always an eerie experience. There is an unnatural shade of blue that gives everything a ghostly haze. But if you turn on a flashlight there is an amazing amount of vibrant bright colors.

 Inside the cave opens up into a massive open area which is where it gets the name Cathedrals. I would have loved to spend more time inside but there is so much to see. We exited out a small tunnel on the opposite side of the entrance named the shot gun, for how the current rushes in and out and if you time it right you can push yourself into the tunnel just as the current turns out and it will shoot you out like a bullet.

Outside the back of Cathedrals we entered nudibranch heaven. Gold laced, fellows, and several different phyllidias roamed the walls. We also encountered a huge titan scorpionfish hanging very close to a large lobster. Around a few more corners came some real treasures, two new fish for me, a Bandit Angelfish and a scary looking Viper Moray Eel. I can't wait to go back.

Titan Scorpion Fish
Viper Moray Eel

Inside the eerie but beautiful First Cathedral

Bandit Angelfish

Monday, December 5, 2011

Diving Lanai, Part 1: Wash Rock

 For an early birthday present Heidi surprised me with a dive trip to a location I have been wanting to go ever since moving to Maui. Off the coast of the island of Lana'i there are complex lava formations, one of which created a huge underwater cathedral type cave know as First Cathedrals. Somehow without me knowing she booked us a trip and got Ben, Diana, and Flora on board as well. We would depart out of Ma'alaea Harbor the next morning at 6:15am.
   Its a long trip to Lanai from Ma'alaea so we kicked back, talked nudibranchs and what we wanted to see, ate some breakfast, and were surprised to see some large black bodied dolphins  heading our way. I snapped this picture of what may be a false killer whale or perhaps a short fin pilot whale. Either way it was a very cool sighting and a great start to the adventure. Since Cathedrals is a relatively shallow dive at 50-60ft we headed a little past it for our first dive at a place called Wash Rock.
A juvenile rock mover wrasse
Checking for nudibranchs on the Wash Rock
  We dropped down into beautiful water looking 70ft straight down to the bottom. And up ahead we could see a huge rocky pinnacle that shot up from the bottom and almost broke the surface. Unwary boat captains in the past have wrecked at this site before. Life lit up the sides of the wash rock itself and the coral reef extended all around it. A long tunnel swim through at this site called the 'tunnel of love' was a pretty neat added treat complete with a cowry graveyard within.

A Fellow's Nudibranch, quite rare elsewhere but we saw quite a few here
The tunnel of love
A Pustulose Phyllidia
Fuchsia Flatworm

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Rare Fish Dive at White Rock

 I try to spend as much time in the water as I can. So when the weather and conditions look good for a scuba dive (and they almost always look good here in Maui) I jump at the opportunity. This dive at white rock was filled with turtles and rare fish.
 The bright blue and orange fish at the top is a Potter's Angelfish. Angelfish are hard to spot here in Hawaii because they dive deep into the reef when they see a diver nearby. The beautiful fish in the picture on the right is the second Hawaiian Red Lionfish that I have seen, both in the last few weeks.

And to round out a great rare fish dive I came across this neon yellow fellow to the left, a Commerson's Frogfish. This frogfish still has its juvenile coloration. You would think bright yellow would not work as a camouflage but when you are surrounded by bright yellow sponges and corals you could swim right past him.
I thought this snowflake eel was too cute not to post. He was giving his best snake impression.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

White Rock Dive Review

I am always looking for a new place to dive and explore so it was a thrill to try a new site along the south Maui coastline known as 'White Rock'. It is a little trek across some beautiful beaches and some sharp lava outcroppings to get to the entry point but it was definitely worth it.

Right off the bat we had a white tip reef shark hanging out in this great swim thru. Then we started finding our treasured nudibranchs. The gold laced nudibranch on the left is always one of my favorites. Our big new find came when Heidi checked some Spanish Dancer eggs which look like a velvet rose and found some egg eating nudibranchs on one of the 'petals'.

 You can see how small the nudibranchs are. They get their red color from the eggs they are feasting on. This is one of those times when it pays to have done your research. Who would have thought to look on nudibranch eggs to find more nudibranchs!?
 One of the benefits of going slow and checking all the nooks and crannies for nudibranchs is that we commonly find moray eels hiding in their lairs. Sometimes they are easy to spot like this zebra moray to the left, and other times we only catch a glimpse like this yellow headed moray to the right. Occasionally we get very lucky and see an eel totally out freeswimming the reef.
 Another rare find thanks to Heidi's sharp eye was this flame angelfish. They are reclusive and very shy, diving back into the finger coral to hide. I had to stay put for a while before this one came back out just long enough for a quick picture. A juvenile yellow tang and a squirrelfish share hiding places with this beautiful angelfish.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Whale Shark at Molokini, No. 2

 I've been to Molokini many times but it never fails to surprise me. The beautiful water is almost always a constant but whats in it can vary greatly from day to day. Molokini sits a few miles offshore from the Maui coastline so swim bys by big pelagics are something I always hope for. Today I was in for a treat!
Right when I jumped in I looked down to see a 16ft whale shark cruising by under me. A whale shark! I always hope to see something like this when I jump in at Molokini but this time I was totally unprepared. I quickly grabbed my camera, let air out of my BC to start descending, tried to catch my breath, realized I still had my snorkel in instead of my regulator, kept descending, switched my reg to my mouth, kicked hard after the quickly disappearing whale shark, snapped a couple of pictures, and then it was gone. Phew. I also glanced at my dive computer and realized I was at 94ft. What a way to start a dive! I couldn't believe it. There was a much smaller (4ft) grey reef shark following the larger whale shark and a couple of giant trevallys cruised the area off the dropoff as well. I couldn't help looking up and out to the deep blue to see my whale shark swim back and while I didn't see him again I did see the giant trevallys cruising around and a big 4-5ft barracuda eyeing me from afar. It took a long time into the dive for my breathing to return to normal and my concentration to be direct enough to look for nudibranchs, which was my original plan. And find some I did!

  Luckily some of the nudibranchs at Molokini are really big. This blue dragon nudibranch can exceed half a foot in length! The first one I found was dangling on a tiny piece of algae, perfectly posing for the camera. Another giant was found snaking its frilly blue body among the hard corals.

 This white margin nudibranch is one of the more common ones that I see out here but in the picture on the right is a red spotted nudibranch which I've only seen once on the north shore of oahu. That rounded out the nudibranchs for the dive but with how long I spent looking out into the blue I may have missed many.
The views underwater at Molokini live up to its repuatation as a world class dive site. Typical sites are big schools of fish all throughout the water column, fish lining up to get cleaned like this surgeonfish, unicornfish, and goatfish on the left, and a rarely seen site like this species of lobster that I have yet to identify. All in all I think it is a pretty incredible site to have within striking distance of a kayak.