Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#696: The Big Ones Are Back

Come spring a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of love. Unfortunately that seems to be a long forgotten memory for this old geezer, but I'm not giving up! Around the same time fish of many species sense the same longing. Garibaldi males start building their nests to attract the ladies in for a tryst. Eventually the various surfperchs begin showing their dance steps in an effort to woo their ladies. But few compare to the amorous advances of the male giant sea bass (GSB), Stereolepis gigas. Although they are referred to as "bass," they are not nor are they grouper. They belong in the wreckfish family.

Many divers were seeing these gentle giants in our waters nearly two months before I did. I wasn't entirely surprised as early in the mating season, they tend to bolt through the dive park as they head from point A to points B, C, D, and beyond. On top of that, I often descend to depths and spend the dive with my camera pointed to the bottom and eyes focused on my viewfinder.

Memorial Day weekend my son Kevin wanted to come out for a dive with the "old man." I asked him who the heck he was talking about... then realized my birthday was coming up and I fit that definition! We did two boat dives with Catalina Divers Supply, but he was anxious to do a third in the dive park. He asked if my spare tank was full and I said "of course."

We drove down, suited up and assembled our kit. Kevin made some wise ass comment like "You consider this tank full?" Like father, like son. It turned out there was a mere 1,200 psi left in that tank... barely enough for a short shallow dive. Since my son is a trooper, we decided I would descend while he followed me at the surface until I found a GSB. It wasn't long before I encountered a pair of them and Kevin descended to join me.

The following day we did two dives in the park and saw an additional dozen or so. Of course none of them had name tags on, so I wasn't sure how many of those were duplicate sightings. Mission accomplished... GSBs located... son (and father) happy. Ever since then I've seen GSBs on every dive just by altering my dive strategy a bit.

One reason the gentle giants are being seen in the dive park and not that many other dive sites around the island is that we actually have a true kelp forest present in half the park. During the day, GSBs like to hide in the kelp from potential predators like great white sharks, and enjoy a little amore. If you like pasta and pizza, I'm sure you understand.

To my knowledge no one has actually observed them mate in the wild, but once the males find a suitable object of their affliction... er, affection... they tend her closely. If a diver approaches too quickly or starts getting too excited, the male may shove his partner in an effort to get her moving off. They may also issue a loud bark as a warning cry. Only the patient and clever diver, like yours truly, can get up close and personal with a pair.

During the day the GSBs tend to hover in midwater, often just on top of the thermocline. The denser, cold water below most likely makes it easier to achieve neutral buoyancy and their upper body can enjoy the warmer water above. When they aren't just hovering, the male seems to focus on foreplay. For the youngsters, that's like what I do when I'm on a golf course... "Fore!" He nudges her underbelly and vent gently

I'm writing this column shortly after a rather chilly dive in the park. I descended to 99 feet and my minimum temperature was 53° F, the coldest I've experienced in over two years. Since there was a strong SE wind blowing, my scientific mind knew that it would draw surface water off the harbor mouth. In response, colder water from the depths would rise and be drawn into the dive park with the current. I did see three giant sea bass, but they were not holding still. I'm guessing they were acting just like me... exercising their muscles to generate heat in the cold water! At least it will be good for the giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera).

© 2016 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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Head of female giant sea bass and my son Kevin facing off; male nuzzling female and
male telling his lady "we gotta get out of this place"

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
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