Blue Barred Orange Parrotfish
When the visibility is poor most divers concentrate on the small creatures that hide on the reef. The reason is simple, the murkier it is the closer you need to be to your subject. The conditions on last week’s night dive at Shiprock Aquatic Reserve were poor enough to reduce all us divers to a slow and painstaking search of the nooks and crannies along the reef.
That search produced the usual Hacking River species, including Estuary Catfish, Sydney Cardinalfish and lots of large Numbfish. I always try to steer well clear of Numbfish—a bump or touch triggers a strong electric shock. Numbfish prefer places where they can cover themselves in sediment, so I swam along the steep mid slopes of the reef where the sediment doesn’t collect.
Peering into a long horizontal crevice I spotted a sleeping blue and orange fish. The fish’s outline was obscured by a bubble of transparent filmy material. It was a Blue Barred Orange Parrotfish, and the bubble was the protective bag they secrete each night.
Parrotfish are a group of tropical reef fish. Those tropical reefs have many species of nocturnal predators, including moray eels, which hunt by scent. Parrotfish reduce their vulnerability to scent hunters by enclosing themselves in a bubble of their own mucus.
Blue Barred Orange Parrotfish appear as vagrant juveniles on the Sydney coast, and in sheltered locations such as Shiprock some survive the cold winter months and grow to adult size. They probably don’t breed this far south, although this may change with rising sea temperatures.
I’ve seen sleeping parrotfish a few times. When the water is clear you hardly notice the mucus bubble, but in poor visibility floating particles adhere to the surface of the bubble making it easy to see. This time I could even see the small hole near the fish’s mouth that gave access to oxygenated water.
Later on the dive I found a relative of the parrotfish, a Gunthers Wrasse. Similar in appearance to the parrotfish, the wrasse wedges itself tightly into a gap in the reef to sleep.
Strong westerly winds are often followed by glassily smooth seas. From the top of the sand dune I could see a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins a couple of kilometres away, moving parallel with the beach and in my direction. I headed down to the water’s edge and a few minutes later the pod swam past, the dorsal fins of around twenty dolphins arching out of the water.
The pod included at least two calves, one still showing the characteristic ‘folds’ of the newborn along its flanks.
Soon after a jet ski drove into the middle of the pod, a smart phone in the driver’s hand. She spent the next ten minutes following the pod, which sped up and moved further out to sea. No doubt it was an amazing experience for the driver, who seemed oblivious to the impact her behaviour might be having on the dolphins.
It’s illegal in NSW for a jet ski to approach within 100m of a dolphin or whale, that distance increasing to 300m if they have calves. Hundreds of walkers got to see the pod that morning, yet the actions of one irresponsible person put the welfare of those animals at risk, and ruined the opportunity for the everyone else to experience them.
White Lipped Snake
White Lipped Snake are a small poisonous snake that eats skinks. They’re one of the most common snakes in Australia, notable for their tolerance of cold environments in the Australian Alps and Tasmania. They also occur around Sydney, often seen basking on firetrails in the early morning.
None of which explains why two White Lipped Snakes were lying a few centimetres from the water’s edge at the beach. Maybe they supplement the skinks with a ghost crab or two. Whatever the reason, they were lying on a section of beach where dozens of 4WDs drive every day, making their perplexing behaviour also perilous. Fortunately it was early and they were still unsquashed, so I slid a stick under the belly of one snake to lift and carry it up into the sandhills then returned to repeat the rescue operation for the other snake.
Odds and sods