Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Hunt For Sea Porn...Stoner Style

Estuarine Stonefish (Synanceia horrida). Photo: Ryan Pearson
By Ryan Pearson
Early last year, a few of us were on a dive in the Gold Coast Seaway, and saw something amazing. It was dusk early in the new year, the full moon was approaching, and we were diving on the high tide. The first thing we noticed was an abundance of stonefish - the most venomous fish in the sea - and they were acting strangely... 

I was the first one to find a giant stonefish with another less than half its size hopping around and over the large fishes back. This was quite unusual because stonefish are famous for not moving at all. They are generally so stationary, that it is possible to come right up to them and stick your finger in their mouth. Please note, this is not that this is not advised, but is also not as crazy as it sounds because all of their venom is located in the spines on their back, not in their mouths.

Anyway, being that this was some strange behaviour, we stuck around to watch it unfold. We noticed that the rear end of the 'giant' one was protruding and soon established that this was the female, bursting with eggs, and had a tiny male courting it. After watching for a couple of minutes, all of a sudden they both shot towards the surface, and about one metre from  fresh air, they each exploded, projecting a cloud of green goo out all around them. For anyone who is struggling to keep up, this was clearly the sperm and eggs required to make little stone-babies. After this, the female was about half the size she had been previously.

On this occasion, not only did I follow them as they ascended (getting stuck in fishing line directly below the explosion, leading to the nickname "Scuba Stoneface" by my buddies), but I had also not brought my camera on this epic dive. So, when I heard the other day that there were heaps of stonefish in the seaway again a couple of days ago, and I noticed that the high tide was around dusk, and the full moon was approaching, I jumped at the opportunity to try to witness this wonder once more, this time with camera in hand.

Estuarine Stonefish (Synanceia horrida). Photo: Ryan Pearson
For the last two afternoons, I have dived in the seaway to try to hunt down the stonefish porn once more, but alas, I have been unsuccessful. The first day, my strobe was playing up, so my photo's were relying solely on the light from my brand new Big Blue TL1800 dive light (thanks to Adreno: Scuba Diving Megastore). It's a fantastic torch, which provides excellent light for night diving (so much so that I was spotting tiny critters eye-shine from up to 15m away) and it's a great secondary fill light for photography. But it just doesn't replace a strobe, so my photo's were a little disappointing when relying on it alone on the first afternoon. But in the end it didn't matter, because I couldn't find any paired stonefish couples anyway. five or six small males was all I spotted.

The second night was more successful on the photo front, but epically unsuccessful on the stonefish front. One solitary female was all I found. The search will continue later in the week. But for now, please take a look at some of the shots I did snap on the dives.

Clear Cleaner Shrimp (Urocaridella antonbruunii). Photo: Ryan Pearson

Black-Saddled Puffer (Canthigaster valentini). Photo: Ryan Pearson

Pygmy Scorpionfish (Scorpaenodes scaber). Photo: Ryan Pearson
These honeycomb moray eel's are incredibly striking when you're lucky enough to find one, but this poor eel was clearly in trouble with fishing line and hooks tangled around his face.

Honeycomb Moray (Gymnothorax favagineus). Photo: Ryan Pearson
Honeycomb Moray (Gymnothorax favagineus). Photo: Ryan Pearson
Below is another reflection on the devestating effect recreational fishing is having on the Seaway with at least three types of discarded fishing line pictured in the one macro shot.

Fan-Belly Leatherjacket (Monacanthus chinensis). Photo: Ryan Pearson

Long-Finned Cod (Epinephelus quoyanus). Photo: Ryan Pearson
Marbled Rockcod (Epinephelus maculatus). Photo: Ryan Pearson
Long-Finned Cod (Epinephelus quoyanus). Photo: Ryan Pearson
Fringe-Eye Flathead (Cymbacephalus nematophthalmus). Photo: Ryan Pearson
Stars-and-Stripes Puffer (Arothron hispidus). Photo: Ryan Pearson
Eye-Stripe Triggerfish (Sufflamen chrysopterum). Photo: Ryan Pearson
The second dive was particularly good, and since I had the macro lens on I didn't get any decent shots of some of the highlights; a wobbegong followed us for a while, a turtle crossed our path, and right at the end of the dive was the major highlight... a gigantic Mulloway that was bigger than me. It sat right below the short pipe (as it was pumping) ignoring all of the fishing line and hooks being throw off the platform above him.