Friday, 18 January 2013

Ryan's Technicolour Dream Critter List

Me, surrounded by whale sharks at Oslob, Cebu, Philippines, during my favourite underwater encounter so far. Photo: DD Virkki.

By Ryan Pearson
When I first embarked on my long-term love affair with the underwater world, I didn't really know what to expect, nor did I really have any goals as to what I wanted to see underwater. 200+ dives, and thousands of photographs later, my thoughts have changed. Here I present an ever evolving list of the critters I really think everyone should experience being in the water with (i.e. those that I have seen, and those that I still haven't checked off my list).

Let me start this by saying that when I first got my open water certificate, I was quite terrified of sharks. The fact that this list is dominated by chondricthyans (that's sharks and rays for the non-sciency types) should serve to highlight just how amazing these creatures are, and why they should be protected rather than feared. Anyway... here is my list (in no particular order)...

1. Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus)
Ryan's First Sighting: July 2012 in Oslob, Cebu, Philippines.
These beautiful and majestic creatures are the biggest fish in the world. They grow to a maximum of 18m in length and yet they feed on some of the smallest critters in the sea. For more information on the Whale Shark see their page on Divearound.

Whale Shark with two free-divers (DD Virkki & Matti Virkki) at the surface. Photo: Ryan Pearson
2. Leopard Shark (Stegostoma fasciatum)
Ryan's First Sighting: December 2009 at Manta Bommie, North Stradbroke Island, QLD, Australia

The leopard sharks are another 'harmless' shark species. In fact, they are often referred to as the puppy dogs of the sea because they have been known to nuzzle up to divers, encouraging patting. For more information on the Leopard Shark see their profile on Divearound.

A Leopard (or Zebra) Shark at their summer home of Julian Rocks, Byron Bay. Photo: Ryan Pearson.

3. Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
Ryan's First Sighting: T.B.D.

One of the ocean's apex predators. Often quoted as misunderstood, but still one of the more dangerous creatures in the ocean. These guys should be respected, but not blindly feared. In fact, some people regularly free-dive with Great Whites outside of a cage. You couldn't do that with a mindless killing machine could you? For more info on the GWS see their profile on Divearound.
A Great White Shark at the Neptune Island's. Photo: John Natoli

4. Manta Ray (Manta alfredi)
Ryan's First Sighting: March 2010 at Julian Rocks, Byron Bay, NSW, Australia
The Manta Ray is a special experience for most divers, completely harmless and yet massive. They grow up to 5m from tip-to-tip and yet are incredibly graceful and inquisitive in the water. An absolute must see! See Divearound for more!
A large (4m+) Manta Ray surrounded by Cobia at Julian Rocks, Byron Bay. Photo: Ryan Pearson

5. Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)
Ryan's First Sighting: T.B.D.
This is such a weird looking, and massive bony fish! They are the 'heaviest' known bony fish. I don't know what else to say about these guys... they're just awesome!

Ocean Sunfish. Photo: Daniel Botelho
6. Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus)
Ryan's First Sighting: July 2012, Malapascua Island, Cebu, Philippines
Despite seeing one, I don't have my own photo of this guy because my sighting was so brief that I barely had time to realise that I was looking at a mimic... this is a definite must see again (and for longer) for me!
A mimic octopus. Photo: Ken Knezick
 7. Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna spp.)
Ryan's First Sighting: T.B.D.
Hahaha... such a silly head. Everyone knows about the Hammerhead Shark... I really really really want to see one, or even better... MANY!
Hammerhead Shark Photo: Brian Skerry
8. Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus spp.)
Ryan's First Sighting: July 2012 at Malapascua Island, Cebu, Philippines.
Soooo tiny. There are a number of species of pygmy seahorses, but they all live on specific types of corals, and are super super tiny. The few I've seen were barely distinguishable to the eye... maybe 3-4mm tall. Cute!
A Pygmy Seahorse at Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines. Photo: Ryan Pearson

9. Thresher Shark (Alopias vulpinus)
Ryan's First Sighting: July 2012 at Malapascua Island, Cebu, Philippines.
One of the ocean's deep water, and mysterious creatures. This shark can grow up to 6m long, but half of it is made up by its tail. This is the shark with the longest body-tail ratio, and with good reason. They actually use their tail to hunt in schools of fish by 'cracking' it. This stuns the fish and the shark swings around to pick up the floaters. They are also known for spectacular breaching at the surface, an event I'm happy to say I witnessed shortly after returning from a dive with them. For more info see Divearound.

A Thresher we spotted on the dawn dive at Malapascua Island, Philippines. Photo: Ryan Pearson
10. Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)
Ryan's First Sighting: T.B.D.
This is another species deemed to be 'dangerous' that people dive with daily throughout the world... without being eaten. They are amazing, and I can't wait to see one!

A tiger shark checking out a diver.

11. Mantis Shrimp (Order Stomatopoda) 
Ryan's First Sighting: June 2011 at Julian Rocks, Byron Bay, NSW, Australia
Mantis shrimps are pretty much the enforcers of the ocean. They can be 'smashers' or 'spearers' which means their front appendages either have a club like structure, or a spear like structure. These have been known to be used with such force that they can smash thumbs or aquariums. For their size, they really pack a punch, and can also be super colourful.
A mantis shrimp at Gato Island, Philippines. Photo: Ryan Pearson

12. Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus)
Ryan's First Sighting: May 2010 at Fish Rock, South West Rocks, NSW, Australia

These guys are critically endangered in Australia, so it is always an amazing experience to see an animal that is so rare. These guys have all of the pointy teeth that people fear in sharks, but rarely (if ever) use them on humans. They look menacing, but are really just placid and amazing! Check out their Divearound profile here!
Grey Nurse Sharks at South Solitary Island off Coffs Harbour, NSW, Australia. Photo: Ryan Pearson
13. Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas)
Ryan's First Sighting: T.B.D.
With the highest testosterone levels of any animal, these guys can be temperamental to say the least. But just like the great white, and tiger sharks, these known man-eaters are not as bad as the media makes out. People dive with them day in, day out, all throughout the world. They even hand feed them, and yet incidents are rare... and generally confined to murky waters where mistaken identity is the most likely cause. Personally, I can't wait for my first encounter!
A Bull Shark in the clear waters of a coral reef. Photo: Brian Skerry

14. Sea Snakes (any and all)
Ryan's First Sighting: March 2010, Hat Island, Vanuatu
Sea snakes have more potent venom than any land snake, and yet are incredibly placid and hesitant to use their dangerous bite on humans. I must admit, they're a little bit creepy to have investigating you underwater, but it's an amazing experience either way. I've seen a number of them now, but I've never been able to snap a good shot of one. So here's a great pic by DD Virkki of one we spotted in the Philippines.
Sea Snake. Photo: DD Virkki

15. Flamboyant Cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi)
Ryan's First Sighting: T.B.D.
WOW... these molluscs are incredible... read up on them. They are tiny, colourful, and toxic as hell. Seriously... I need to see one!

A Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Photo: Tim Rock

16. Schooling Sardines
Ryan's First Sighting: June 2010, Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines.
Seeing large schools of fish moving is absolutely mesmerising. Seeing a school 40m tall, that wraps around an entire island is another experience all together. I don't have any great pics of this (because it was before I got my dSLR wet, but it is definitely worth checking out if you ever get the chance.

17.  Bobtail Squid (Euprymna berryi)
Ryan's First Sighting: October 2011, Gold Coast Seaway, QLD, Australia.
I spotted my first one of these in the seaway, it was probably about 5cm long and I thought it was the cutest thing in the world... that was until I spotted my third, in the Philippines... which was about 2mm long... yes, they are sand grains you can see in the picture beside it!
A tiny bobtail (2mm) bobtail squid (Euprymna berryi) at Malapascua Island, Philippines. Photo: Ryan Pearson

18. Nudibranch's (any!)
Ryan's First Sighting: November 2010 at Julian Rocks, Byron Bay, NSW, Australia
Nudibranch's are a macro photographers wet-dream. They're incredibly slow moving, and amazingly colourful - an evolutionary byproduct warning would-be predators of the uber-toxins they contain. They can be hard to spot, but once you see your first, they're impossible to stop seeing! 

A Red-Lined Flabellina (Flabellina rubrolineata) at Gato Island, Philippines. Photo: Ryan Pearson
19. Whales (any!)
Ryan's First Sighting: T.B.D.
I have seen plenty of Humpback Whales while on the boat, but I've never yet experienced them while I was in the water. This is surely an unbelievable experience.

20. Weedy Sea Dragon's/Leafy Sea Dragons
Ryan's First Sighting: December 2012, Flinder's Pier, VIC, Australia
Closely related to seahorses, sea dragons are known only to Australian waters. Their unique camouflage makes them incredibly odd shaped, but also very beautiful. Check out their Divearound profile.

Weedy Sea Dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) at Flinder's Pier, VIC, Australia. Photo: Ryan Pearson

So, that's my top 20 and after looking through this, you'll notice that I've already seen many of them. But, that's another thing you'll come to realise about your underwater experiences... you just don't know how awesome some things are until you've been in the water with them! So, while it may seem like I've encountered almost everything I want to see, there's so many critters out there that I'm sure many more will be added to this list over the years.

Enjoy your diving, and don't forget to breathe...

1 comment:

Scale Free Network said...

Dear Ryan,
I am writing to inquire about the use of one of your stunning images:
Bobtail Squid_Euprymna berryi_DSC0848

I am part of an art-science collaborative that have crowd-funded and self-published a children's educational storybook about the symbiosis between the bobtail squid and Vibrio fischeri bacteria titled - The Squid, the Vibrio & the Moon.
More details about the book can be found here:

We are currently planning to print a small second edition (~2,000 copies) and create an e-book version of our storybook. We would greatly appreciate the use of your image, as a small part of one of our final pages, explaining the nocturnal behaviour of these squid.
We have a small budget to pay for the use of your image in our storybook, and wonder what would be a reasonable price for you to charge us?

Naturally, we would also be keen to acknowledge you as photographer alongside the image...and once our printing is complete, we would also be delighted to send you a copy of our book.

Kind regards,