For the last month or so dive conditions have been miserable. I've seen visibility underwater drop as low as five feet, essentially making it not worth descending. I can see better on a moonless night (although it's more fun on full moons when my fangs are long and sharp).
Fourth of July weekend is a time of topside fun and frolic for most, but I had to do two dives Friday just to get my gills wet. Conditions were somewhat better, but I spent the rest of the weekend high (as in elevation) and dry. I even re-read the Declaration of Independence which I thought quite appropriate for the weekend.
On my second dive that day, I decided to visit a corner of the dive park I rarely hit in summer. I'm referring to the shallow area NW of the stairs. This is close to the sandy bottom where beginning students are trained, and therefore it is often quite stirred up. No classes that day though. It is also relatively devoid of giant kelp so there is more light.
As I cruised slowly over the rocky bottom, I noticed a garibaldi with a strange white patch on its head. I started filming as I approached. Its behavior was a bit unusual as it moved erratically over the bottom. Surrounding it were a number of other fish including sheephead, rock wrasse and a few other garibaldi.
When I got close enough, I noticed the white patch on the right side of its body was a serious lesion. Tattered flesh was evident and it looked as if it had been raked by two sharp teeth (not mine of course). My best guess was that a small sea lion might have attacked it with its canine teeth. I guess they don't know the garibaldi, our state salt water fish, is fully protected.
I hovered over the bottom as I observed and filmed the injured fish. Then, much to my shock, a sheephead darted in and tore a small piece of flesh from the wound. It made a few more passes. Then another garibaldi came in and nipped at its injured cousin. It was literally being eaten alive. Of course I've seen predators such as barracuda, morays and large kelp bass take prey whole. It is the Mutual Eating Society after all. But this was a bit much.
Not far away I encountered an undersized kelp bass lying on the rocky bottom in a hole. It had a white patch behind its head and was obviously not very energetic. While filming, I detected a band that looked like thick string around its body. This was apparently the cause of the tear in its flesh. It also appeared to be holding the gill cover (operculum) closed making it difficult for the fish to breathe.
Dive instructor Ruth Harris said she had seen both of these fish earlier on her snorkel tours. I had to wonder how much longer they could survive in their condition. Years ago I saw a kelp bass that had been speared through its back just below the dorsal fin. I thought for sure it was a goner, but I encountered it for several years and the spear wound healed leaving a slightly distorted depression.
The ability for many fish to recover from injuries like these is impressive. I'm hoping the garibaldi and kelp bass will be successful, too. Perhaps the restorative power of the ocean will help me heal my wounds as well. Perhaps I shouldn't complain about the poor visibility and just do it! Dive that is.
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Injured kelp bass and injured garibaldi.
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