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Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#493: Gary Does "The Wild Thing," Part I

On a recent weekend we had a wonderful free concert of real music... none of the (c)rap, country or electronic nonsense that you hear on radios today. I'm talking about music from the Woodstock era! It brought back painful memories for me though. My college buddies and I were planning to go to the festival and had bought a block of tickets (yes, actually paid for them) to attend. However, a call from Catalina changed all that. Turns out that even back in the 60s in the days of free love, one had to be certified to SCUBA dive. Back in the Midwest we had no clue about such requirements! So instead of attending Woodstock, I ended up coming out to the West Coast to get certified by Ron Merker at the Aquatic Center in Newport Beach. And you probably wondered if I was just having a flashback. No, there was a link between Woodstock and diving for me! But, as usual, I digress.

Weeks ago Walt Puffer informed me that Bob Meistrell wanted to talk to me about an undersea project. Bob called and left a message while I was submerged (cell phones don't work underwater). When I talked to him, he said he was interested in helping to put an underwater web camera in the dive park so folks could log on via the Internet and watching the amazing things we divers see every day. For those of you who don't know Bob, he is a true diving legend compared to whom I wouldn't even be a footnote! He and his twin brother Bill co-founded Body Glove back in 1953 and are credited with creating the first wetsuits for surfing and diving. They were also partners with legends Bev Morgan and Hap Jacobs in Dive N' Surf, later buying out their partners. Bob and Bill taught "Sea Hunt" star Lloyd Bridges how to dive and provided gear for the show. They also taught actors and actresses like Gary Cooper, Charlton Heston, Richard Harris and Jill St. John (I would have liked being her dive buddy).

I could write a column or three about Bob and his brother, but for the next two weeks I want to focus on what triggered Bob's interest in the Casino Point Dive Park web cam. He was aware of the bald eagle web cams that attract a lot of viewers and thought many people would tune in to watch our state salt water fish, the garibaldi, doing "the wild thing." I have spent many of my dives the past month filming their mating behavior.

To everything... there is a season, and garibaldi mating season appears to have started a little late this year but is in full swing now. Spawning may begin as early as March and may go as late as July or even October. My guess is that the alternating cool and warm water confused my fine finned friends since it requires a temperature of about 59 degrees F to trigger the "urge to merge." Well, we're in that range now and I've filmed a lot of activity in the dive park lately! Both males and females defend a territory needed to ensure a food supply. During mating season, the male tightens his focus to his nest site and works hard to make it attractive to the ladies.

Males are sexually mature at between three and six years and 8-9 inches. Early in the season both males and females may congregate in groups that some scientists believe allow for practicing some of their courtship rituals. In spring the males start tending nest sites which are often used year after year. The boys become gardeners, or perhaps farmers would be more accurate. They selectively remove all but a few types of red algae from the nest site which then takes on a dark reddish color. I've seen nests that are circular, oval, rectangular and even saddle shaped.

Usually the nests are on the vertical faces of rocks or in hidden areas in the shallows. At first I thought this might be to reduce direct sunlight on the eggs which might "fry" them into a "sunny-side-up" state. However, further research informed me that it was due to the light requirements of the red algae making up the nest. So do female garibaldi go bonkers when they see red? I'm not sure, but since red is filtered out of the water column in relatively shallow water, perhaps they only see a dark patch that may be as large as 10-15 sq. ft.

Male garibaldi are wise to the value of "advertising." They want to attract the attention of the ladies (don't we all!). When a female swims by, scouting for an appropriate nest to lay her eggs in, the male goes into action. He starts swimming around rapidly in vertical circles, or more accurately ovals. I've seen this same behavior in clubs here on Saturday night. It is known as "dipping," and if the lady finds the nest to her liking she will swim over and "enter" it. As she does, the male often emits a low frequency clicking sound. An individual female may lay as many as 15,-18,000 eggs, although they are not necessarily laid in just one male's nest. By spreading her potential progeny over several nests, she increases the chances that her young will hatch. And the male may have several of the ladies visit his nest, so both genders experience the joy of polygamy.

Stay tuned for a future column continuing the story of the amazing sex life of Gary Garibaldi and his kin.

© 2012 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 29, 10:00 AM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. You can also watch these episodes in iPod format on YouTube through my channel there (drbillbushing). Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

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Dive buddy Gary Garibaldi ready to do the wild thing, unusual rectangular nest showing red algae;
Gary leading his lady to the nest, the female laying her eggs.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2012 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia