It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Snorkelling for Nudibranchs

Saturday we did two dives at the Breakwater with Matt. The goal was to look for nudibranchs and other macro critters. Rob was shooting macro, obviously. Last time we did this at the Breakwater, I was pretty excited by the stuff that we found, so even though most of our dive buddies laughed at us for squandering a good conditions day there, we did it anyway. The plan was to do the first dive to the Metridium Field, or at least along the pipe and as far as we could make it. For the second dive, we planned to dive the wall. When we pulled up at 8, the parking lot was pretty empty. We got a great spot along the fence by the parking machine. We walked down the wall and were pleasantly surprised by the lack of redness in the water. It looked reasonably clear along the wall.

We got geared up and headed into the water. The tide was pretty high, which was nice since there was a short walk, but then the rocks were all hidden. The water was pretty clear close in. On the swim out, it got kind of brown though. As we were swimming out, Rob was looking for stuff on the kelp (a nudi geek technique he learned from Clinton). He found a bunch of egg masses, and then found a couple of Melibe leonina on the kelp leaf. I have never seen their egg masses before, so that was interesting. I was glad we found some, since I saw them last time I was at Breakwater and was hoping to show them to Matt. Then a little while later, we were looking at hydroids on a piece of kelp and Rob found some egg masses, but couldn't find a slug nearby. I finally managed to find a really tiny one, Cuthona lagunae, on some of the hydroids. I have only seen this one once before, when Clinton found one at MacAbee. I was having a lot of trouble showing it to Matt, since it was at most 5 mm in length. I think Matt thought I was crazy and pointing at nothing, but he finally saw it :) This was all while bobbing around on the surface. I tried to hold the kelp leaf so that Rob could take some pictures of it. So, we were off to a pretty good start, and we hadn't even left the surface!

We eventually descended in about 25 feet of water. It was dark and murky on the way down, but the viz was fine on the bottom. And it wasn't that dark. This was slightly unfortunate, since I'd been hoping it would be dark enough for some good octopus spotting. We headed to the pipe and hit it pretty quickly. We saw a couple Hermissendas, but nothing too exciting for a bit. I thought I may have seen a Dendronotus frondosus (picture above) surge by on one of those red leafy kelp leaves, but then I couldn't find it. A minute later, Rob signaled me from behind, and had a Dendronotus frondosus to show us :) We continued on, I found a cool crab here and there and a kelp fish hiding along the pipe, and Matt found a neat shrimp. Rob was scouting the sand along the pipe for some Dendronotus iris -- there were lots of their egg masses. Eventually I did come upon one that was actually sitting on the side of the pipe. It was a pretty average sized one. We also found a giant Peltodoris nobilis just off of the pipe in the sand. Shortly after heading out over the sand, we found a Hermissenda laying on the sand, and Rob got some shots of it. Soon afterwards, we hit the Metridium field. I wasn't seeing much of interest, when Rob started signaling me. I swam over to him and he had found a big beautiful Phidiana hiltoni (what can I say? I'm a sucker for pink nudibranchs).

We continued out a bit further and then Matt turned the dive on gas. I was actually about to turn the dive, because I noticed a current pushing us out away from the beach, so I figured the trip back could be longer than out. I hadn't really thought about it much, but on the way out along the pipe, we were definitely getting pushed out -- the trip back in was a little slower. The trip back in was pretty uneventful. At one point, I was pointing out a fairly big patch of lightbulb tunicates to Matt, when a translucent white shrimp crawled across them. It was pretty strange looking. I called Rob over to look, and I could tell he didn't think it was worth coming over to look at some tunicates, but he liked the shrimp too. We headed off of the pipe and ascended around 20 feet. It was pretty brown and icky during the ascent. 75 minutes, 50 feet, 55 degrees

For dive 2, we planned to dive the wall. What folly. I don't know if some red tide moved in or what, but the water was disgusting. We dropped just before the bend, and it was really gross on the way down. Then at the bottom it was a tiny bit better. We ran into the wall, and were inching along it, when we must have swam into a patch of even worse crap. Just like that, we were all separated. The moment before, I was right next to Rob, with my head at about his waist level, and he was right next to Matt, with his head at about Matt's shoulders. So pretty tightly packed. I looked at my gauge and when I looked up, gone! I waved my light back and forth for a little while, and noted how the crap in the water seemed to completely absorb the light. Pretty cool, but sort of inconvenient. So we met up at the surface and decided to swim out towards the Metridium field again on the surface and see if the viz was still better over there.

We dropped again in 30 feet of water, and the viz was slightly better. Rob swam us northwest, but the viz actually seemed to get worse instead of better. At one point I noticed a cool looking nudibranch on a piece of kelp, and signalled the team. By the time they came over, I couldn't find it again! (In hindsight, I suspect it was just a biggish Dendronotus frondosus). But while I was looking, I found something even cooler... a Polycera atra, which I have never seen before. I very excitedly showed it to Rob and Matt. I don't know if either of them got a very good look. Rob was trying to set up a shot, but between the murky 3 foot viz, and a bit of surge, I decided that just wasn't going to happen and thumbed it. Rob shot a bag and we went up. We swam in on the surface, and of course when we got in, the water has receded a lot, so we had a longer walk up the beach. It was still a short walk, but I considered it one final Eff You from Neptune after that dive :) 24 minutes, 30 feet, 57 degrees

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