November 24, 2017
There I was, swimming along the bottom of gorgeous sandy beach in 80+ degree water towing a cloud of fish that would rival the scope and obnoxiousness of the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz. Backscatter was nothing compared to this! Trust me, I have footage of drifting plankton, the occasional stream of sandy fish poop and other underwater particulates. It was time to leverage the situation.
What could I do with a school of bothersome fish that would not leave? Deliver them to larger, hungry creatures! The circle of life. Sad for some. Entertaining for others. Necessary for all.
The first thing I encountered was a spiny devilfish. It was only 3-4 inches, colored in alternating hues of red and brown and was partially covered in sand. But was it hungry? As I got closer, the outer orbit of the fish cloud gained its attention. Waiting until the timing was right, it opened its mouth and sucked in some dinner. Well, more of an appetizer really, because the devilfish wasn’t done. Intrigued by the impromptu fast food delivery, it made its way toward to me.
An interesting note about devilfish is that they have several claw-like appendages toward the front of their pectoral fins that they use to move around. As it crawled, it stopped periodically to take advantage of the buffet. I filmed it for about five minutes, but then moved on to keep up with the rest of the dive group who was busy experiencing their own adventure and completely unware that my dive had shifted to the dark side.
The next stop was a painted frog fish. This little guy was almost completely white with a few spots of gold and tiny green eyes. It was about the same size as the spiny devilfish, but it seemed a lot hungrier. I watched it take six gulps. Three were successful and one took some extra work to get down as the initial bite left half the victim’s body hanging out of its mouth. I could also swear I could see it burp after each successful attempt, although I am sure a marine biologist could likely tell me what was really happening.
Moving further down the reef I noticed a couple of marbled octopuses. Not sure if they were on a casual stroll, but it quickly turned into a dinner date. I have seen plenty of octopuses on the hunt before. Typically, they move between coral heads and crevices, spread the webbing between their tentacles to create a small tent and capture whatever might be trapped in the confined area. This was completely different. They were out in the open thrusting each of their arms in a sometimes successful, but mostly vain attempt to catch any of the hundreds of fish swarming the area. Sixteen arms going in sixteen different directions! They were fascinating, but after eight minutes, I noticed my dive buddies getting farther in the distance. Time to catch up to them.
The last benefactor was another painted frogfish. This one was larger than the first, brown with black eyes surrounded by an orange ring and dimpled with a texture that you might see on a tube sponge. Like the devilfish, he was willing to get closer to the action and walked toward the swarm. Unlike the devilfish, frogfish don’t have spiny tines. Instead, they use their pectoral and pelvic fins like legs and feet. He took quite a stroll, at one point simply trampling over a small fish nestled between two small rocks. It, too, ended up with a full belly.
Unfortunately, I did not have the presence of mind to ask someone else to shoot video or take a picture. The emotional transition from frustration to acceptance to fascination kept me occupied until the end of the dive. Had we the opportunity for another night dive, I would have planned for better documentation. My macro lens was certainly able to capture part of the cloud several feet in front of me, but a wide-angle would have been perfect to truly communicate the intense frenzy that played out.
As luck would have it, however, the following morning provided a few supporting moments to lend credence to my fish tale. The first was heard by several of the guests enjoying some early morning coffee and swapping stories on the back deck of the Pelagian. All of a sudden, there was splashing in the water. Lots of splashing. Looking over the side, we could see thousands of small fish that were struggling to get away from something chasing them. This went on long enough for me to walk back to our cabin, grab my phone, walk to the back deck and shoot video for another five minutes. Were they the same group of fish? Perhaps or perhaps not, but I also have Exhibit B.
About 20 minutes later, I walked into the camera room to inspect my equipment before assembling if for the morning dive. I should note that the body of the Sola 9600 has a removable ring with fairly decent sized holes that allow water to circulate around the lighting element to help keep it cool.
Remember I mentioned my hands being pelted? As I rotated one of the lights, I noticed the limp body of a small fish. Apparently, it hit with such force that it’s head got lodged in one of the cooling holes where it eventually expired. The fact that the ring is removable was certainly a blessing as my first attempt to extricate the fish resulted in decapitation with the body hanging from my fingers and the head loosely moving about under the frame. A quick turn of the ring and I was able to clean out the remaining fish remnants. This I remembered to take a picture of.
Perhaps, I could send it to Light & Motion for use in their promotional materials.