Yesterday I went for a late morning snorkel; although the water looked inviting, the viz was disappointing. I did not see anything of interest until I noticed a Seabream (15-20 cm) hanging about, not a species I had seen before! It goes to show that there is no dive or snorkel session whithout something that makes it worthwhile. The fish was not very shy, but I did not have weight or fins so I could not get down to get a proper shot from the side. I found out that this was a Gilthead Seabream (Sparus aurata). This southern species seems to have become more frequent on the South coast of the UK the last few years, probably due to warming seas. It seems to be known among anglers, but less so among underwater observers (the NBN Atlas only has two records for this species in Cornwall). Other than that the usual Ballan- and Corkwing wrasse, Two-spot gobies, Pollack and even a Blenny (very commonly found under rocks while rockpooling but I hardly ever see them when snorkeling).
It was time this Saturday: my first dive of 2018! Leaving with Atlantic Scuba‘s Stingray rhib from Mylor Harbour, we plunged in the cold (9°C) water above what remains of the N.G. Petersen in Falmouth Bay. Frustratingly, the indicator light of my strobe kept flashing red and green, so taking decent photos was out of the question. Luckily, I am able to post a nice little clip of this dive made by fellow diver Glyn Kirby (thanks Glyn!). It gives a good impression of life on the wreck and the plankton bloom, reducing the viz quite abit. Inbetween the rubble, some urchins, edible crabs, spider crabs and lobsters. Also great to see five or so (small) Rock Lobsters and some wrasse and shoals of Bib (with some other gadids hanging about too). We saw a small freeswimming Conger Eel and a very big one sticking its head out of a tube (photographic evidence below the video, such a shame the flash did not work because the angle I got was nice). All in all a good dive together with excellent buddy Al. More diving soon I hope!
I had the pleasure to go on two dives with Mark Milburn of Atlantic Scuba on the ‘Stingray’ RHIB this weekend and last, leaving from Mylor Harbour (see photo above). The first dive was in the Helford Pool, a deep area in the otherwise shallow Helford river. Buddied up with Sue and Al, we descended to 18 meters to swim over a gravelly area covered with tunicates and sponges. This was a drift dive but we did not get all the way to the eastern end of the pool where some small maerl beds are located. Swimming crabs and Leach’s spider crabs were very common; there were not many fish though. One exception was a cute little John Dory Zeus faber. I was struggling to take any decent photographs, in part because I have not used my strobe much yet and because I should have two, not just one! Sue Barnes kindly let me use a photo she took of the John Dory for the blog; also added is a photo of a sponge, one of the few half-decent ones I managed to take: The dive today took us to the cannon ball site, roughly a mile from Pendennis Castle, and an area where many of the cannon balls fired for practice ended up. With buddy Alex we descended to around 16 m using a shot line. Again a flat ‘rubbly’ area with few fish. The seafloor was covered with Common brittlestars Ophiotrix fragilis. The viz was quite good, and it was much lighter than the previous dive. I also had *a bit* more luck with the strobe. Leach’s spider crabs were common, and we also saw some Sea lemons, Doris pseudoargus, a large seaslug. Up next three common species: a little Rock goby Gobius paganellus, the colonial Antenna hydroid Nemertesia antennina and the colonial sea squirt Aplidium elegans (thanks David Fenwick). I keep my eyes open for seaweeds too of course, there were some small red species and what I suspect is Desmarest’s prickly weed Desmarestia aculeata. I found out back on the boat that I completely missed a small octopus that Alex pointed out, argh! I was very happy though that I managed to spot an Imperial anemone Capnea sanguinea, which is an uncommon species. The photo of this all-white individual was taken without a strobe; I really should have taken more time to get a decent shot. A good reason to go back though, and maybe we can spot some cannon balls then too. The water is 13-14 degrees and so it is still doable to dive with a wetsuit.
During my ‘seaweed sessions’ I of course keep my eyes open for animals too. Most prominent are the beautiful Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis (see also here). Other anemone species seem much more rare, such as the Dahlia anemone Urticina felina. Little schools of Mysis shrimp are very common (and very hard to photograph) but fish seem less common than a few months back. The common dragonet Callionymus lyra is (as the name suggests) not uncommon but hard to approach, the third photo was the best I could do and demonstrates how masterfully it is camouflaged (but see here what fullblooded males can look like!). Next a very pretty pink sea squirt species and a Broad-clawed porcelain crab Porcellana platycheles, completely flat so, very-well adapted to living under rocks. Finally, a tiny stalked jellyfish Calvadosia campanulata. Stalked jellies seemed to have disappeared over summer, but like the seaweeds are making a little comeback during autumn. There are not many around though, I have seen less than one per hour snorkelling (see this post for better stalked jellyfish photos; I need to work on the depth of field!).
This Thursday afternoon was quite bright with low tide still in the ‘OK’ range, however it was quite gusty, resulting in bad viz. As seaweed photography was not an option, I opted to lie down in a midshore rockpool and look at things up close instead. There are a surprising amount of fish in rock pools when you stick your head in and so I chose to have a go photographing them. Most common were Corkwing wrasse, but these are very shy. A pair of Two-spotted gobies Gobiusculus flavenscens hung around a ledge and were easier to photograph. Still tricky though as my standard settings result in limited depth of field; I need to play around with the aperture next time. I will also bring my strobe and videolight to try to bring out the colours more. I tried a split-shot which half-worked but you really need a wide angle dome port for that (not a ‘wet’ wide angle lens). You can see the steps leading from the tunnel entrance to the shore.Two-spotted gobies hover above the substrate instead of lying on it as most other goby species do, but you can see they are very well camouflaged against the corraline algae. Two Tompot blennies Parablennius gattorugine swam up to me. These are the least shy of all the rock pool fish (their cousin the Shanny did not come very close) and easy to photograph as they kept checking me out, striking all kinds of different poses. I need to try to photograph these with my macrolens next time. I turned over a stone and found a Long-spined sea scorpion Taurulus bubalis, these keep very still and are also easy to photograph. Prawns were of course around and are actually really pretty with blue and yellow legs and striped body. Finally a shot of seaweeds in this pool showing fresh growth of many red species and a shot with green Cladophora showing limited visibility due to wave action. Btw, I see this is the 200th post on the blog!
This Monday I was lucky to be invited to join several colleagues for a trip to find Blue sharks with Chris and Annabelle Lowe of Atlantic Diver. Blue Sharks Prionace glauca are not uncommon around Cornwall at the end of summer but they are a pelagic species and usually do not come close to land. We left at 8:00 from Newquay harbour to go 20 miles offshore, get in a cage and see what would swim up! Chum was made by cutting up mackerel and mushing it in a bucket with a spade, out at sea, it was hung overboard in bags to create a trail. On the way I saw my first ever Sunfish Mola mola; a tiny one (30-40 cm or so) flapping about on the surface. We also saw a variety of seabirds: European storm-petrels, Fulmars, a Great skua and Gannets attracted by the chum. The picture above was taken at the end of the day when the weather was a bit more settled, but it was quite rough when we were on board. Let’s say I added a bit to the chum trail! The Fulmars are supposedly a good indicator of sharks, as they are the firsts to fly off. Not this time though, we spotted a small Blue shark (a bit over a meter in length) but all birds seemed oblivious to it. I had expected for the shark to be a bit closer to the surface, but it remained 5-10 meters deep and was quite hard to see. We took to the cage in pairs. It was bobbing about quite a bit and the water was flakey with mushy mackerel. The shark swam in big circles around the cage, once or twice it touched the cage but otherwise it kept her distance. We believe we saw a second shark of about the same size, but they did not appear together. The slender profile and deep blue colour of the sharks were very striking. One of the sharks had a parasite trailing from the tail fin, probably a copepod. The cage might seem a bit overkill for these sharks (there are two tour operators on the south coast who go out on trips without one), but perhaps not when considerably bigger specimens could also turn up (see this link for a recent angling record) and there are multiple confirmed Blue shark attacks on humans. The swell and ‘mackerel snow’ made it hard to focus, but more frustratingly my camera let me down once again by being unresponsive, so I have to really send it out for repair. I also brought my GoPro (one of the old models without a viewfinder unfortunately). The longer first clip does not show the shark all the time (GoPro switched its software from ‘Studio’ to ‘Quick’, and whereas it is now easy to add a generic dubstep soundtrack, editing out bits does not seem possible) but gives a good impression of the experience nonetheless. All in all it was a great outing and I hope to go again some time. Many thanks to Chris and Annabelle, a very friendly and knowledgeable couple who are highly recommended for their sea safaris!
After seeing so many Sand smelt (Atherina presbyter) (EDIT or potentially Herring….very difficult to make out position of fins) schools from the local slip and quay in Flushing this week (see previous post), I went for a snorkel on Castle Beach in Falmouth over the weekend. Lots more were to be found! Below two clips. I have hardly shot any videos with my camera, and it unfortunately shows. Shaky camera movement and I forgot I had the option of shooting at a higher frame rate too, doh! I clearly need more practice. Each school consisted of fish of the same size (the smallest fish were around 3 cm and the largest maybe 9 cm), but when chased by a hapless snorkeller some merged temporarily. If you look closely, you can see about one in a hundred fish have a little bite taken out of them, I did not see any predators though.
This Friday at the Seven Stars pub in Flushing there was a lot of activity in the water. Huge shoals of Sand smelt Atherina presbyter ((EDIT or potentially Herring….very difficult to make out!) were chased up the slip by mackerel. The shoals were so dense you could scoop the fish out of the water with your hands and shed fish scales were shimmering everywhere. I quickly picked up my camera from home down the road and stuck it underwater. With the fading light (and two kids to take care of) the filming was hurried and not ideal, but still gave a nice view of the frantic activity.
Last Wednesday I went for a quick dive at Silver Steps in Falmouth, good viz and the water is no longer cold. Buddy Chris (above) and I rummaged around the U-boat wreckage (less impressive than it sounds) and unfortunately did not see any cuttlefish. What was new was a largish Topknot Zeugopterus punctatus which was gone before I could take a decent photo. I also saw seacucumbers for the first time diving (have seen them before when rock pooling, including parasitic snails). They could be Pawsonia or Aslia, but with the bodies wedged in the rocks and only the feeding tentacles visible it is not possible to tell. Sand eels were abundant and Sand smelt Atherina presbyter were also present at the surface. I hope to go back soon to practice with the strobe. I did a second dive in Flushing with Thomas too. Enjoyable but not too many great shots. I included one of Sand mason worms Lanice conchilega and fan worms Megalomma vesiculosum.
I was lucky to go diving twice this weekend, first at Grebe beach next to Durgan in the Helford Passage. As the photo above shows, this is as pretty as Cornwall gets, and the water looked crystal clear at high tide as well. It was a pain to get all picknick stuff and diving gear down (no parking nearby) but it was worth it. Unfortunately I left my fins in my car, so it was a very slow swim out. I emptied my stab jacket and tried walking over the seabed which half-worked (let’s say it was an interesting way of diving). Unfortunately the viz was not as great as expected. I spotted a small squid but it took off before I could take a snap. Other than that no special sightings. Below two images of the eelgrass, two frisky Sea hares Aplysia punctata and a macro photo of a Necklace shell Euspira catena. I had the rented tank refilled at Seaways in Penryn in case there was an opportunity to go out Sunday. The opportunity turned out to be limited to the village where I live, Flushing (opposite the harbour of Falmouth). I had never seen divers in Flushing or heard of anyone diving there, and judging from the siltier conditions and presence of boats that seemed to make sense. However, I always was a bit curious how this bit looked underwater, especially I wanted to check out the extent of the eelgrass emerging at very low tides (see this old rock pooling post). The visibility was not very good and near the shore there was only decaying seaweed. After a while though, lots of eelgras appeared. I was unsure whether this spot is known for eelgrass so I recorded my findings on the seagrass spotter site. This was the first time I brought my new strobe to have a play with, I need lots of practice for sure. Below a Thornback ray Raja clavata photographed with and without flash (no postprocessing used). The eelgrass looked very tall and healthy and many plants were flowering (middle of the photo). Towards the channel the eelgrass thinned out which allowed to observe little mud dwelling creatures.
Sea lemons Doris pseudoargus Pleurobranchus membranaceus are not that little actually (egg masses present). Finally, a lucky shot. Looking through the eelgrass, a curious school of Seabass Dicentrarchus labrax circled around me quite closeby. (After I left the water I heard a seal was near too but it would have had to be right in front of me for me to see it.) All in all it was a very interesting shallow dive close to home and I will definitely try to return soon.