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Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#512: Spectacular Night in the Park

I've really enjoyed the opportunity to dive frequently at night in the warm waters of our kelp forests during summer and fall. I'm hardly a "warm water wussie," but it is so much more comfortable to drive the Dr. Bill Mobile home in my soaked wetsuit when the air temperature is higher than that of the water. And one great thing about the recent time change is I can do a night dive early and still head out to karaoke at El Galleon! Try that during Daylight Savings Time!

I've been diving intensely this year, chalking up well over 300 dives so far. Lifting those heavy SCUBA tanks did me in and I had to have minor surgery to repair a hernia. First time I'ver ever been "sliced and diced," but the surgeon did a great job." Facing that, and the unwelcome prospect of not being able to dive for four weeks after, I was determined to do one more night dive before going under the knife. The time change caused me to arrive a wee bit early for the cover of darkness, and I met up with Angie and Cynde of CDS who were just exiting the water. They told me conditions were great. I chose well.

I usually focus on munching at night. Most critters do too... with the exception of those amazing spawning worms, the southern kelp crab holding tightly onto its mate and possibly our giant sea bass. The larger kelp or calico bass, called bulls, come out of their daytime hiding places in the breakwater to devour blacksmith, kelp surfperch and other smaller fish. Morays do the same, focusing on the blacksmith which shelter in the rocky reef at night. And, of course, the "bugs" are out in force to scavenger to their heart's content. No, I'm not talking about mosquitoes or flies... I'm talking lobbies (aka lobster).

But those I see on every night dive. That night dive was simply spectacular... perhaps the best one I've done in my 50 years on SCUBA. In addition to seeing all those critters, I saw ones I'd never filmed at night before. Let me explain in detail.

I see round stingrays occasionally on my night dives. This time I had one swim toward me as I was filming bugs. I seem to have this sixth sense about things and often turn in a direction dictated by this sense to find something unusual to film. When I looked over, I saw the ray swimming toward me. I ended up following and filming it for about 5 minutes. Now these are the same stingrays that cause so many injuries to people who don't do the "stingray shuffle" over on mainland beaches as they enter the water. I've seen dozens of them during the day at dive sites like La Jolla Cove. However, here on Catalina they are rarely observed in most places during day. The most I've ever seen was from the pier at Howland's Landing while visiting Jean-Michel and Murph at the Cousteau Family Camp last August.

Shortly after that encounter, I came across a giant kelpfish. It appeared to be a male that was guarding its nest of eggs. Just like the garibaldi, the women are liberated and the men watch over the eggs which are laid in dense seaweed patches. For many species of fish, the male is more "disposable" than the female. They don't nurse their young like mammals, which requires the female to tend the kids. In fact they give almost no care to the young after the eggs hatch. The loss of a male only limits reproduction in a minimal way. One male can inseminate many females, so a few less due to predators does not impact the species' survival as much as the loss of a few females. Glad I'm not a giant kelpfish!

A few seconds after that, my sixth sense acted up again. I pointed my camera in another direction and started it rolling... but all I saw was darkness. I thought I had taken leave of that sense... or it had taken leave of me. But a second or two later a strange object came out of the void heading straight toward me. No, it wasn't a great white... thankfully. It was a cormorant, one of those insane "birds that swim" (to compliment Catalina's "fish that fly"). I was utterly shocked when the cormorant swam right into my camera housing. Maybe it was "blinded by the light." However, my housing was attacked several times by a crazed cormorant during the day a few weeks ago. Hmmm. Fortunately I caught the whole thing on film... er, tape... I mean flash memory.

Although there were other sightings, the last one was almost as good as the demented duck-like bird. I was in shallow water looking for a moray in its usual haunt when that sixth sense reappeared. It told me to look up. When I did, I saw the Starship Enterprise coming directly at me. Maybe I was the one who was daft,, not the bird. No it was not an apparition or a sub-marine dream. It was a Pacific torpedo or electric ray. Had I not seen it, I might have ascended right up into it. Now that would be a shocking experience! I captured over three minutes of continuous video footage as I followed it. Several times it turned toward me as if to warn away this pesky paparazzo.

So what was probably my last night dive of the year turned out to be a fantastic one. By the time I'm able to descend again, my thoughts will not be on diving cold water but on escaping the brutal southern California winter. I have a free flight on Air Tran thanks to mechanical problems last fall, and I'm looking at Aruba or the Bahamas for my next adventure. I've also committed to spending about a month diving in the Philippines and enjoying the company of some lovely Filipina dive buddies. I'll write about those adventures, too... but after so many dives here this year, I have plenty of material to continue focusing on our kelp forest critters while warming my body in the tropical sun!

© 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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Round stingray and Pacific torpedo or electric ray; crazed cormorant approaching
and making contact with my camera housing.

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