This year’s “Jetties of South Australia” Expedition™ is not our first time diving in South Australia.
My extremely patient wife Emily and I visited and dived Kangaroo Island in 2007 with Jim Thistleton (now retired) and saw our first leafy sea dragons. We were so fascinated by the diversity of endemic marine life South Oz has to offer that we returned in 2008 with Ron and Valerie Taylor to dive Edithburgh Jetty, Wool Bay Jetty and Port Hughes Jetty. But diving shore based/car-centric is really, really uncomfortable. First, you have your dive kit and tank and the amount of weights necessary to wear a semi-drysuit or drysuit. Second, add a camera. Third, add a hood. Lastly, add a long walk from the car parking lot, down a wooden planked jetty, dealing with surly locals (fishermen hate divers, vociferously claiming the divers scare away the fish…), climbing up and down stairs with gear and camera, coping with warm weather surface temperatures and, by the time you hit the water, you are sweating profusely, wracked with pain, and thinking maybe you are about to have a heart attack or perhaps wondering why you didn’t spend more time on your tennis game instead?
The solution is to use a boat, which we experienced on a trip with Howard and Michele Hall two and a half years ago. That trip was a mix of sharks, sea lions, leafy sea dragons and giant cuttlefish and this current expedition was shaping up to be a redux of that experience, minus the cuttlefish because it is the wrong time of year for the massive cuttlefish aggregation off Whyalla, and more importantly for reasons as yet unclear, the population of giant cuttlefish has dramatically crashed since our visit in May 2011. It is now estimated that perhaps only 10% of cuttlefish are observed aggregating at the only known giant cuttlefish mating aggregation site in the world.
And so, our intrepid band of a few friends, whose privacy is to be respected and hence shall remain mostly anonymous, together with Emily and I, have headed out with Andrew Fox onboard the Princess II. Aboard we also have Carey Harmer aka “That Dragon Guy” as we set out to see the great and small and the weird and wonderful of South Australia…
January 2014 – South Australia
We were very excited about our first dive beneath Port Hughes Jetty. It is my favorite “Man-Made Structure Dive” outside of the Blue Heron Bridge dive in my hometown in South Florida (where I learned to swim at the age of two and have been visiting ever since) or Samarai Wharf in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea.
Beneath Port Hughes Jetties are blue-ringed octopus, cowfish and anglerfish, oh my…
Actually, there is a veritable plague of Southern Blue-ringed Octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa) beneath the jetty. It seems that within every single razor clam shell that no longer houses a living clam, blue rings have taken up residence.
If you want to know the real story behind blue-ringed octopus, check out my feature on them published in DIVE a few years back. However, if you don’t have the time/thirst for knowledge/attention span, the executive summary is thus: although the blue-ringed octopus is given an extraordinary amount of press because its bite can be fatal to humans, there are “only” three confirmed deaths from blue-ringed octopus bites since the first recorded fatality in 1954. That said, the bite can be fatal, so don’t get bitten!
I am absolutely besmitten with frogfish (anglerfish in Strine). I really can’t explain my fascination, I just know that if there is a rumour of frogfish, I am absolutely going to dive in and check him or her out. For more details of my obsession, please again check out DIVE and to share the love, sign up on the Facebook frogfish page
Port Hughes is home to three types of frogfish: tasseled, smooth and prickly. Carey was able to find two of the three species in two days of diving.
In addition to the charismatic and cryptic critters of blue-rings and frogfish, Port Hughes this season has a bumper crop of warty prowfish. They are a cold water species that reminds one of the cockatoo waspfish and leaffish of the tropics, but are in fact an example of parallel evolution.
Another wonderful jetty habitué we were delighted to spend time with was the various species of cowfish. Both ornate cowfish and Shaw’s cowfish live beneath the jetty, pecking away at crustaceans and occasionally looking into the camera. Both cowfish species have differing coloration in the male and female forms, so the completists among us made it their mission to photograph the male and female of each species, leading Carey and Emily to suggest an “intervention” for me as this quest monopolized much of our time underwater.
Besides, the team was really keen to go in search of leafy sea dragons, so we….
To be continued.