Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

065: Munching and Mating, Part II
Giant Kelpfish Mating

I know my readers have been anxiously awaiting this week's column since I promised the topic would focus on er, ah, um... mating. Well, read on for this thrilling tale of fishy erotica.

A few months ago I happened upon a giant kelpfish male and his seaweed nest hidden in a shallow recess in the Dive Park. Ever since then when I'm in that area, I've stopped by to observe this nest and the tending male's behavior. Like the garibaldi, male giant kelpfish are the ones who establish and defend their nests. Eight weeks ago I noticed that eggs had been laid in the nest. On this visit the male "attacked" me, biting my gloved hand although not as viciously as the garibaldi males do. I stood my ground (brave me... he was only a foot long!) and carefully showed the proud papa I meant no harm.

On subsequent visits the male kelpfish seemed to recognize me, no longer attacking but coming over and rubbing itself on my glove. I gently rubbed the fish back. It allowed me to touch the nest and closely observe the eggs without showing any obvious concern. Unfortunately my camera housing was still in the shop, so I was unable to get any video footage. I repeated this many times over the next six weeks. Then it struck me... eggs were still developing in the nest long after they should have hatched (12-17 days). The only explanation I could offer was that more than one female had laid eggs in the nest, and at different times. So the kelpfish was just like the garibaldi in this respect too! Seems some male fish are allowed to live out the fantasies we mere mortal men (or women) are not supposed to.

About a week ago I decided to dive with a "hot" camera. Because my housing controls still don't work, I simply turned the camera on before entering the water and left it running for my entire dive. Good thing I did, for on that day I visited the nest and found the male cavorting with not one, but two lady friends. The male was a dull brown in color, a good choice for camouflaging in the brown seaweeds they usually nest in. However, this nest was in a green alga known as "dead man's fingers." One female was red and the other one yellow, so this grouping made for very colorful footage.

I watched the action for the rest of my dive, recording more than 40 minutes of raw tape. Initially both females were entwined in the seaweed, wriggling their bodies as they laid their eggs. The male guarded the nest from other fish, including possible predators on the eggs like garibaldi or senoritas. At one point the red female left the nest and started to swim away. The male went after her immediately and brought her back to finish her maternal obligation. The yellow female left the nest several times too, but remained close to it... possibly just catching her breath after this long and arduous mating ritual.

Every so often the male would enter the seaweed nest next to one of the females and his body would spasm as he released sperm to fertilize their eggs. Most of the time he simply swam around the nest to protect it, the females and the eggs. Once my video tape ran out, I left them to their pleasures and swam back to the stairs. $$$ A few days later I returned with my camera to get video footage of the fresh eggs. The surge was strong and I bounced around so much my muscles were a little sore the next morning. The surge wrapped kelp around my tank and body, making it difficult to negotiate the narrow areas between the rocks where the nest was located. On three dives over two days I could not find the nest. On the last dive I saw the male being cleaned by two senoritas. I thought it a little odd that he was so far from the nest. Then I saw it... or what I think was it. There was just a tiny clump of the seaweed left, and no eggs visible on it. Apparently the surge had ripped the green alga off the rocks. All that effort for naught... but no one said reproduction of one's species was easy. The male actually seemed to be "relieved" at not having to baby-sit for weeks on end.

Although it apparently was not the male kelpfish's lucky day, I may have been more fortunate. No, I didn't win that $95 million lottery drawing. Much better... I met two nice lady divers. Who knows, maybe one could become my "ultimate dive buddy." When I dive with them, I'll definitely try to avoid strong surge and currents lest misfortune befall me as well. And maybe I'll even get as lucky as the garibaldi and giant kelpfish males. On second thought, maybe I will just try buying a lottery ticket... much better odds!

© 2003 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 49, 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays.

Yellow female entering the seaweed nest; yellow and red females in nest;
male guarding females in nest; male fertilizing eggs in nest..

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material © 2003 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia