My son Kevin is unable to dive due to asthma. Although we've enjoyed snorkeling together, it would be great to take him a bit deeper to see the things I see. It is nice when a father and son can enjoy some of the same activities together. Fortunately he and his friends enjoy Dad's underwater videos by "diving dry" in their easy chairs in front of a gigantic screen which dwarfs poor Dad's 27" set (I guess that's the benefit of his having a real job with something called a "celery" and a paycheck). However, this past week I had an opportunity to dive with not one, but two of my relations. My nephew David and niece Kara from Atlanta surprised me by coming out to the island last week just for one day of diving with Uncle Bill. I've dived here with David, who although recently certified has more experience in different areas of the Caribbean than his uncle. Kara is not certified but has done some Discover SCUBA dives in the Caribbean. They brought their own instructor (Becky) from PrivateScuba.com in Huntington Beach.
We met at the dive park Monday morning. Becky got them set up to dive while Uncle Bill did the same. We talked about our dive plan for the first dive. I suggested we go out over the sandy flats where the old diving bell used to be located decades ago. Divers had been seeing black sea bass in that corner of the park and I thought it would be awesome for them to encounter one. Once suited up, we headed out staying a few feet above the bottom. The visibility started to decline due to clouds of sand and silt in the water column. Had this been a busy weekend dive, I'd have suspected "buoyancy control challenged" new divers taking classes to be the cause. However, there wasn't a class in the water.
That left one other option... bat rays hammering the bottom to feed on clams, crustaceans and Chaetopterus tube worms. Soon the tail of a bat ray emerged from the cloud. As I slowly drifted closer, I could see it hammering its head into the "soft" sand and gravel bottom (well softer than hammering your head against a wall like some of us do daily). Of course my finger was on the "trigger" of my video camera to catch this fine example of the "other" thing all species do... feed (you know, munching)! It didn't spook until I was right over it, then it swam away with my camera panning up to follow it.
We continued looking for the elusive black sea bass in that corner, but all we encountered were more bat rays feeding. It did give me an opportunity to add a fair bit of new footage to what I already have. However, it was the bass we were looking for. But like SCICo's tours, this is Mother Nature's trip... she writes the script, not me. My niece and nephew have been in the water with the big stingrays off the Cayman Islands, so these bat rays were small fry for them. I looked everywhere I had heard divers mention encountering the bass. A few days before, I had a courting pair nearly run me down in the last area we checked. Apparently the bass were so focused on one another (you know, doing that "other other" thing that all species do... reproduce) they didn't see me until they were literally 8-10 feet away and steaming forward towards my chest.
We exited the water without seeing the object of my desire (the black sea bass, not a mermaid... although Becky would have qualified in that category). However, for me a group of feeding bat rays means a pretty good dive. Besides, David looked like a pro underwater (where he is a "natural") and Kara more than carried her weight (a bit too much of it on the weight belt she was given I'm afraid). Even if we didn't spot our elusive quarry, I thought it was a great dive. But then any dive I come back from is a great one!
After waiting a sufficient time to off-gas some of the nitrogen in our bodies, we prepared for our second dive. I always enjoy going along the edge of the kelp forest towards the wreck of the Sujac at the harbor entrance. It is a beautiful stretch which allows a diver to go down at moderate depth and return in the shallows between the inner edge of the kelp beds and the Casino breakwater. Everyone agreed that sounded like a great dive to end our day. We started off and as we neared the Cousteau Memorial plaque, I debated whether to swim around the reef tip or simply go up and over it. I chose the latter.
As we were swimming over the reef, I noticed motion to my left. I turned and there was a courting pair of black sea bass hightailing it for the other end of the park. My niece Kara was able to see them for the few seconds they were visible. If we had only gone around the reef, we would have run right into them (well, since they outweighed us, I guess they would run right into us). We continued on into the kelp forest. Kara was having difficulty with her over-weighted belt, so she and Becky turned back towards the stairs. David and I continued onward and combed through the kelp looking for fun things.
As we started back after our mid point, I happened to see a dark shape in the depths of the upper kelp forest just below the canopy. It looked odd, so I moved slowly towards the large shape with my camera rolling. WOW... it turned out to be a good sized (350-400#) black sea bass! It wasn't in a big hurry to leave so David and I were able to hang with it and observe it for quite some time. As we followed it, moving slowly through the kelp, two smaller black sea bass (about 125#) joined the big one, but quickly departed. David and I continued to follow and film the large bass until our air began to ran low.
What a fantastic second dive. If I remember correctly, seeing FIVE black sea bass on one dive in the Casino dive park is a record for me. I've seen that many or more in Lover's Cove and Italian Gardens, but never here. Many divers have reported sightings of them starting over a month ago. Until this weekend, I had been skunked, striking out every dive. Undoubtedly this is a function of the fact my eye is glued to the camera viewfinder 90% of the time. Because I was diving with my niece and nephew rather than solo, I did less filming and paid more attention to my buddies. Maybe I should take my eyes from the camera more often!
Kara and David left on the afternoon boat for the mainland where David visited USC as a potential college to attend. Afterwards they flew to New York so David could look at more colleges, and then home to Atlanta. However, my jet setting nephew is returning this week with his friend Allison so he can do another week of diving with "Dr. Uncle" Bill! Looking forward to it and welcome back to the island. Of course I really need to go with him to the Caribbean... maybe when the water turns cold here this winter!
© 2005 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 49, 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays. Buy my "Munching and Mating in the Macrocystis" DVD so you can take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!
Kara and David suited up at Casino Point, bat ray feeding
on the bottom with sheephead waiting for scraps;
"close encounter" with the black sea bass in the park's kelp forest.
This document maintained by
Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2005 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia