Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#539: Rhinopias Rule

I've explained to my readers why I spend more time filming the "commoners" of an ecosystem than I do the rare species. However, there are exceptions to that. On one of our dives in Anilao, guide Ben Castillo located a rare species of scorpionfish known by the scientific name Rhinopias frondosa (or, if you prefer, its common name, the weedy scorpionfish). Now this critter looks nothing like the scorpionfish found in our dive park... or most other scorpionfish I've seen and filmed throughout the world!

I was filming some abundant species, a soft coral if memory serves me, when Ben swam over to me with the word Rhinopias written on his dive slate. I followed him over to the spot where all our other divers were waiting patiently for their turn to shoot it (with cameras, of course... not spear guns). I got my turn and zeroed in on it. Physically, the scorpionfish blended in pretty well with the patch of Halimeda algae so it was not an easy "spot" at first. However there was enough difference in color to make it out once my eyes focused.

I patiently waited my turn. Since Evie and Erik are still photographers, they had to adjust their still cameras and wait for the perfect shot. You know, the Ansel Adams school of underwater photography. Debra and Hugh took video from a number of angles. Finally it was my turn and I spent a good deal of time trying to get different perspectives on this interesting fish. Now still photographers with digital cameras can easily review their shots to see if they got "it..." a form of instant gratification. Gone are the days when you returned from a dive trip with dozens of rolls of film and waited for them to come back from processing. However, I can't review my video as easily so I just cross my fingers.

Now the weedy scorpionfish has a pretty extensive distribution like many other tropical species. It extends from eastern Africa and Mauritius to Indonesia and then north to Japan. These solitary fish are found on soft bottom habitats like those in Anilao. They tend to hide among algae during the day, just like the one we found. Like other scorpionfish, they hunt other fish and small invertebrates during the cover of darkness. In fact Debra got a great sequence of the Rhinopias burping up a fish it had swallowed! Because it relies on camouflage during the day, ours pretty much just sat there by the algae pretending it was invisible.

The individual we located was greenish to slightly orange in color. They can be quite variable in pigmentation. The maximum length is believed to be about nine inches. Their bodies are covered with weed-like appendages when on shallow reefs but they may be lacking in individuals at the deeper depths (to 1,000 ft) where they may be found. Like other members of the family, they are venomous. The snout is upturned in a strange way (at least strange to me, probably not to the Rhinopias). This in fact is the reason for the genus name Rhinopias which means "nose" and "appearance" in Greek. Occasionally it would "yawn," but not because it was bored of having its picture taken. This behavior, common to many fish, is designed to back flush the gills of any debris taken in during respiration.

When we returned to Club Ocellaris we were asked not to reveal the dive site we found the weedy scorpionfish at. Because there are so many dive resorts in Anilao, if word got out the site might be deluged by divers and the constant attention might freak the poor critter out. We complied. In fact I not only did not post the dive location but I kept secret the species itself, just saying we had seen something pretty rare that day.

A few days later we were back at the dive site. During my dive I happened to come upon the Rhinopias and I had it all to myself, filming to my heart's content. Off in the distance I saw a group of divers slowly heading my way, but assumed they were my dive group. Just minutes later I sensed a shadow and heard a loud grunting noise. It was coming from the dive guide for another group of divers. All of a sudden all the divers dropped onto the bottom with their strobes flashing wildly and sediment stirring up from their flailing fins, ruining any chance to take further video.

I was rather miffed and angrily turned away from the group. About 10 yards away I saw an ornate ghost pipefish in midwater and excitedly began filming it. As I did, one of the bozo divers swam up to me and stuck his camera into my face and flashed the strobe. Incredulous, I pulled back and raised my clenched fist in an obvious threat gesture. The other diver backed off but I was ready to pop him if need be even though I was out numbered and the rest of the group might have pulled a Mike Nelson on me and cut my regulator hose.

I swam as far away from this group as I could. Later, after we all returned to our bangka, I heard that they had picked up the Rhinopias and carried it up into an open area in the shallows where they could get better pictures. We were all rather... um, ah, er... ticked off at this inappropriate behavior. Unfortunately it appears to be common among divers from this particular country and they are even banned from many of the resorts in Anilao. It may be prejudicial, but I think I'll avoid places they dive in the future. I know several American divers whose ancestors originated in that land, but they are all very courteous and respectful people so I don't wish to reveal any more.

© 2013 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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The Rhinopias or weedy scorpionfish before it was so rudely disturbed by "those" divers.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
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