It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Boat Night Dive

There was a BAUE get-together planned for Saturday night at the Breakwater, and at the last minute, Beto had a great idea to see if we could get the Escapade for the dive. Suddenly the number of people signed up for the event swelled from about 6 to more than 12, and in the end, we had 10 on the boat and another 4 or 5 people met up at the Breakwater to dive there. Then we all met for dinner afterward. I've never been on a night dive off of a boat in Monterey before, so I was totally excited. Plus I got to dive a single tank, which is my fave. Rob and I were diving with Mykle, who is a renowned ocean geek (he recently explained to us the composition of "sea snow" which I refer to as "sea snot" -- trust me, you don't want to know!), so I was excited about that too. The forecast (at least swell) had been looking totally awesome, or I thought it was, but maybe I was confused. But on the way down to Monterey, Beto called Rob and said there was some swell so yada yada yada. Anyhoo, we ended up at Sammet's Spire, which I've never been to. We actually went past it a bit, to the back of the aquarium, where it was surprisingly rough! But it was nice and calm at the Spire.

We hopped in after a very informative dive briefing, which included a suggestion that on the ascent, we point our lights up so that they can see us coming. Rob was leading, which was good, because as far as I could tell, we were just randomly swimming around. Shortly after descending, right near the bottom, Rob found a juvenile treefish, which was super cute. He took his camera out and was about to take pictures when either he or Mykle found a little octopus in a crack. For some reason Rob decided to take pics of the octopus first (which made no sense to me, since he doesn't have any pictures of a juvenile treefish) and then of course the fish was gone by the time he was finished with the octopus. Note to self -- firing strobes at night tends to send fish away. As we swam around, I was feeling like it was a pretty unproductive critter hunt. I found another small octopus, and then Mykle found one, which was a bit bigger and way more photogenic than the earlier two. He was out on the sand with his legs swirling around him in that canonical octopus standing up pose. Rob also found a nice looking turbot, and while he was shooting that, I found a Limacia and showed it to Mykle -- that was probably my only slightly exciting slug find of the dive. I also found a neat yellow worm thingy, which I was pretty sure was actually a sea cucumber of some sort, and showed that to Rob. According to Leslie Harris, it is something of the genus Acrocirrus, which I think makes it just a worm, not a sea cucumber. That's about all we saw (that I was excited about) for the first half of the dive.

At some point I saw a fish bolt like a bat out of hell right past me, and I was thinking "what could he be bolting from?" just as Rob signaled me. I looked over toward Rob and I could sort of see him, but something was in the way. At first I thought it was kelp and then I realized it was a seal! The seal was totally into Rob's fins (and the fish that we were lighting up with our lights). Rob kept swiveling around trying to look at the seal, and he would swivel around with Rob, nibbling his fins and legs. It was awesome! After he disappeared, we looked for him for a bit, but eventually gave up.

Then I was swimming along and saw a sailfin sculpin sitting just outside of a crack in the reef! Yay! I was so excited. I was sort of paralyzed for a moment, because I didn't want to scare it with my light, but I managed to get the boys over for a look. But it of course swam into its crack before Rob got any shots. Oh well... we continued along and ended up over a sandy spot with some funny little bushy things sticking up. I have no idea what they were, but I wondered if there could be any cool critters hiding amongst them. So I got really low to the sand and was shining my light right next to my face, when thunk, I felt something swim into my mask and just generally trying to attack my face. I spazzed out for a moment and swatted it away from my face, and then I got a look at it... and was glad I spazzed out and swatted it away! It was some gross worm thingy (I believe the technical term is "Polychaete Epitoke" -- thanks Clinton). Just thinking of that thing swimming into my face totally grosses me out! Anyhoo, once it settled down, I showed it to Rob, but it immediately started burrowing into the sand to avoid having its picture taken. However, Clinton did manage to get a picture of the same thing.

The next totally awesome critter that I found was this weird little shrimp that had a pinkish red shell, which looked like a shell (like the thing a hermit crab would inhabit). When I first saw it, I was looking down at it from above and thought it was a hermit crab with a really pretty funny shaped shell. But then I saw that the shell had eyes. I had no idea what it was, but Rob got some pictures so he could ID it (Spirontocaris prionota, thanks again to Leslie Harris). And last, but not least, I found a completely transparent fish hanging in the water. It was totally cool. It reminded me of those documentaries you see from 4000 feet deep where all of the fish are translucent and you can see their organs. It was one of the coolest things I've seen underwater. Rob managed to get some nice pictures, and Tom Laidig provided an ID (juvenile speckled sand dab, Spirontocaris prionota). While we were marveling at that, Beto came swimming over and gave us the "sailfin sculpin" signal (not to be confused with the "shark" signal, which is rather similar, or possibly exactly the same). Yay! So we followed him back to where the sculpin was, just one nook over on the reef from where we found him, and this time he let us get some pics.

Very shortly after we finished up there, we called the dive and headed up. We knew we were close to the anchor line (and I say "we" in the loosest sense), so we just followed the kelp up. I was pointing my light up, which Rob was getting really annoyed about, until he realized what I was doing and why. Hehe. We surfaced like two body lengths from the anchor line :) "We" are so good at navigating. The swim step and ladder were engulfed in kelp, which made it slightly annoying/slippery to climb the ladder, but I managed to make it :P After collecting the rest of the divers, we headed back to the dock, then to Gianni's for dinner.

After the dive, Rob was telling Clinton that his 60mm lens worked great, and he never would have been able to get these pictures with his 105. So I guess I did a good job picking out his birthday present last year :) Okay, actually Clinton and Marshall (of Backscatter) did a good job :P

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