Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#723: Like a Virgin... Dove for the Very First Time

No, this won't be an account of the very first time I used SCUBA way back in 1962, nor will it be a tale about my very first dive in Catalina waters back on August 24, 1969. I do remember both events pretty well (for an old geezer). Today I'll babble on about my very first dive since my cancer surgery last July.

I knew my gills were becoming quite dehydrated. I feared that after 7+ months, I might need a SCUBA refresher course. My friends said diving was just like riding a bicycle... or another activity that I can barely remember. So when conditions looked good and dive buddy Andrea Bill (no relation to Dr. Bill) said let's go, I did. Andrea and I suited up in our matching Jean-Michel Cousteau wetsuits and hit the dive park. I was not about to resume solo diving until I had logged a few more dives.

As it turned out, the dense fog topside combined with the newly recovered kelp forest made for rather dark conditions down under. I had decided not to bring my video camera to avoid task loading so I didn't have my bright video lights to illuminate the scene. I hadn't tested the o-rings to make sure the camera housing was water tight and I let my flood insurance lapse since I was not diving.

Returning to King Neptune's realm was not perfect. My buoyancy control was a bit off, perhaps due to the loss of weight in the hospital. Otherwise I did reasonably well. So I guess it is a bit like riding a bike... or engaging in that other activity I forget about. But you want to know what I saw down there, not how I felt or performed.

I was amused as a garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus) swam right beneath me carrying a variable sea star (Linckia columbiae) in its mouth. These starfish are also known as the fragile or comet sea star. Many may wonder what our state salt water fish was doing with a sea star in its mouth. Well, I knew right away from my many decades of diving. It wasn't trying to chow down on the sea star... it was effecting a relocation of the potentially pesky echinoderm.

Over the years I've observed a number of garibaldi performing this very same task. I knew two things immediately. First, male garibaldi remove these sea stars from their territory because they are known to eat fish egg. I prefer mine scrambled or in omelettes and from hens, but the variable star will chow down on yummy garibaldi eggs. So, by logical deduction, Sherlock (er, me... Dr. Bill) could tell that at least one garibaldi must be preparing his nest to entice the ladies in for that activity I can barely remember.

Although I've observed many natural examples of this behavior over the years, I've also engaged in some non-rigorous scientific study of it as well. I've hovered near a garibaldi's nest after locating and capturing a variable sea star. They are quite common and easy to take. Then I'd place the sea star next to the fish's nest and watch the reaction of my frequent dive buddy, Gary Garibaldi.

Initially Gary would pick the starfish up in his mouth, carry it off a few feet and drop it on the reef. I would retrieve the star and again place it near the nest. Gary would once more pick it up and carry it a bit further away. Over the course of several iterations, Gary carried the sea star farther and farther away from the nest. On my last test, Gary appeared quite agitated and swam off with the sea star, dropping it at least 15 yards away! I decided my little experiment was over.

So, for the divers who read this column, I may have solved a mystery you've been mulling over for quite a while. Next time you see that orange damsel carrying a variable star in its mouth, you'll know why. You may also be wondering why we call this one the variable star. The reason is that it may often be observed with anywhere from one to seven (or more?) arms. When threatened it may break off (autotomize) an arm, but it can also do so to reproduce asexually. So I've now cleared up mystery #2 for you. However, as Einstein once said "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." Fortunately plenty of that left even if you read all 700+ of my columns.

© 2017 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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Gary Garibaldi picking up variable sea star from near nest and carrying it off... far, far away. .

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