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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sea Things #23: White-Speckled Nudibranch

Sea Things is a regular feature on my blog where I profile a different sea creature. Look for it weekly, or something close to weekly.


For the month of November, Sea Things is going to be devoted to macro. That's right - all things small. One of the things that happens as you move from a newbie diver to a more experienced diver is that you start observing some of the smaller things on the reef. When you first start diving, it always seems like you're looking for the big guys - turtles, sharks, rays -- large things that are really exciting. However, there are many dives where you never see those things. Sometimes vis is bad, sometimes those big things are just not around. What then? Well, there are TONS and TONS of small, interesting things living all over the reef. They're often very common, and once you learn what to look for, they're easy to find. I love my magnifying glass, and I love looking at small things on a dive.

During our first full-fledged dive trip that Todd and I ever took together, which was in Bonaire in May of 2007, Todd got it in his head that he wanted to find a nudibranch. Well, it's possible that he had decided this before that, but the first I ever heard of it was while we were in Bonaire. A nudibranch is a sea snail with no shell, like a slug. They tend to be pretty small, and often have pretty good camouflage that prevents them from being seen. Many varieties of them are colorful and pretty, and they usually have "gills" along their backs, that make them unique.

The trick to Todd's nudibranch search, though, is that they're not all that common in the Caribbean. If you ask someone about nudibranchs in Bonaire or the Caymans, the response is usually that if you want to see nudibranchs, you should dive in the Pacific. Apparently, they're all over the place in the Pacific. So, looking for them in the Caribbean is a lot harder, and dive masters will usually shrug and ask you if you want to see a flamingo tongue instead.

After a while, he started offering $100 to whoever found him a nudibranch that he could take a photo of. Some dive masters really tried to find one, but in Bonaire and Little Cayman, we never found one. Then, on our trip to Turks & Caicos we were on the Aggressor boat, which allowed us to do many, many night dives, and also surrounded us with a huge amount of experienced divers and dive masters (I highly recommend the Turks & Caicos Aggressor II). Dive Master Amanda tried to point Todd in the right direction, and then Captain Scott finally told Todd to check on purple rope sponges during a night dive, since some types of nudibranchs eat them. Sure enough, we were only about 5 minutes into our night dive that night when I swam to a coral head with purple rope sponges, and found a White Speckled Nudibranch right there on it! All of that trying, all of those dives, and suddenly it seemed easy!

Amanda found another nudibranch later that trip, on another night dive, but there is something special about finding the White-Speckled one, and I'm so happy that I'm the one who found it (with kudos to Captain Scott, of course). There's nothing entirely special about the species itself, except that it is found in the Caribbean, and loves those purple rope sponges. The one in Turks & Caicos (pictured above) was about an inch long.

The diver hand signal for a nudibranch is to hold out your index finger and wiggle it, although most Caribbean-based divers probably won't know the signal. We have yet to find another White-Speckled Nudibranch on a dive, but we did find a Black Spotted Nudibranch in Belize. That's a topic for another Sea Thing article.

Is there a creature that you would like to see featured in Sea Things? If so, shoot me an email and if I can, I'll write about it. Photos on this post are courtesy of Todd Krebs.

1 comment:

Joshua Zimmerman said...

You're right, they are everywhere in the Pacific. Especially if you have good eyes. I did a dive this past year in Japan where all we did was take photographs of nudibranchs. They were everywhere. Amazing stuff. I took too many photos.

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