COOL SEA CREATURE ENCOUNTERS!!!

Posted by 30 June, 2011 (1) Comment

Hi Everybody!!! Welcome back!!! We’ve just finished up our third week of double session Adventure, and as usual, we had a BLAST!!! When I arrived at the dock bright and early for the Tuesday morning session I could tell we had another great group and were going to have another fabulous week!!! The kids were […]

Hi Everybody!!! Welcome back!!!

We’ve just finished up our third week of double session Adventure, and as usual, we had a BLAST!!! When I arrived at the dock bright and early for the Tuesday morning session I could tell we had another great group and were going to have another fabulous week!!! The kids were all there, early no less, excited and raring to go, smiling from ear to ear. And that’s just the way I love it!!! I hopped onto the dock to meet the parents and greet the kids, and the FUN began! As I walked, I looked down into the shallow water along the seawall and saw a 9 armed starfish burrowing out of the sand, variegated urchins along the wall, 2 octopus peeking out from their holes under the rocks, an eagle ray, 3 stingrays, a school of jacks and a striped burrfish swimming by. What a way to start the session!!! What a way to start any day!!! The morning group was already having FUN and we hadn’t even left the dock yet!!! And so was I!!!

Morning group

We spent the week boating, exploring and having non-stop adventure, morning and afternoon!!! It didn’t make a difference what session you were in. It was FUN FUN FUN, all day long!!! We explored the Rock Garden, the Big Sandbar, the South Jetty, Little Munyon Island, Starfish Prairie and more. We even went a bit offshore on one totally calm, flat day looking for sea turtles. And not only did we see sea turtles, but we saw something MORE!!! MUCH MORE!!! One of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen, but your going to have to keep reading to find out WHAT!!! Of course, we also spent a day Fishing where it was non-stop action from start to finish!!!! And did we Ever LOVE IT!!! The whole week was a blast and each session seemed to end way to soon!!!

Afternoon group

At the Rock Garden we saw the usual…. Hundreds of fish in every size, shape and color imaginable! From small barracudas to snook, seargent majors, porkfish, parrotfish, sheepsheads, grunts, snappers, angelfish, damselfish, butterflyfish, blennies and more. Every where you looked there was something else to be seen! There were fish in every direction!!! We didn’t know which way to look!!!

Rock Garden

We spent hours searching under the shallow rocks and found all types of hermit crabs, box crabs, rock crabs, porcelain crabs, swimming crabs, stone crabs, pistol shrimp, popping shrimp, blennies and more!!! We had so much fun finding, chasing and catching swimming crabs, we almost couldn’t stop!!! What a fun day underwater!!!

Fun day on the water

There was a plethora of things to discover, and discover them we did! One day, while swimming along the shallow rocks of the Rock Garden, AdventureKatie looked into a crevasse between 2 rocks and came up with a giant Measled Cowrie. The shell was totally covered by its mantle and looked more like a slimy short-spined sea urchin than a beautiful shiny brown and white, polka-dotted shell that is was. It gave the art of mimicry a whole new meaning! Nice find Katie! Way to Go!

measled cowrie

By the end of the week at the Rock Garden, we had found 4 different species of sea urchins, numerous species of brittle starfish and conchs, almost a dozen different species of corals and sponges, 8 different species of crabs and hundreds of different species of fish. The water was crystal clear all week, and everywhere you looked there was something to see and something new to discover!!! One of our favorite discoveries was a beautiful striped burrfish that we found hiding among seaweed along the bottom of the rocks. It was so darn cute, we just wanted to kiss it. That is, if it wasn’t so spiny and didn’t have a parrotlike beak that could nip you good!!!

Pucker up burrfish

We all spent a good bit of time taking turns checking him out and taking photos along the way. We loved the way it would puff itself up and become a short, stout, spiny pin-cushion. After we released the burrfish, it began to deflate, and then swam a few circles around AdventureLily as if to say, “goodby” before moseying on. They are always a great find and the kids love them! And so do I!!!

Striped burrfish swims by

On the Big Sandbar we found hundreds of Florida and West Indian fighting conchs and noticed they were all laying eggs. Cool to watch! We found dozens of squat lobsters and netted olive shells, and quietly observed tube worms slowly filter sand to digest the algae off each grain. One morning we found a huge Scaly Mantis Shrimp totally out of his hole, lying still in a tiny pool of water. It was a great discovery, and only the second or third time I have ever witnessed it! What LUCK!!!

Scaly mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimp get their name for the way they resemble the preying mantis insect with their large, stalked eyes and long spiked foreclaws which, when not in use, fold back into a claw slot in the leg. These powerful claws can easily slice a finger as well as capture prey! They are known as “thumb splitters’ by Caribbean fisherman. Bet you’ll never guess how I found that out, when, long ago, I wriggled my finger in one of their holes! OUCH!!!

mantis shrimp close-up

We found numerous box crabs and juvenile blue crabs and a couple of small chocolate chip sea cucumbers along the way. The kids had fun trying to find as many, and as many different species of hermit crabs they could find! Most were living in the discarded shells of fighting conchs that made for a great home. AdventureAlex and Max sure loved finding this one that wasn’t a bit shy!

Finding hermit crabs

We found a variety of starfish everytime we visited the Big Sandbar, from Beaded Sea Stars to Cushion Sea Stars and sometimes even the unusual 9 armed starfish that is mainly nocturnal. Always a great find and a wonderful treat for the kids! Of course I would have to make the most of this opportunity and take a few photos of the group with a 9 armed starfish on their heads. I could tell AdventureJacob was having a good time wearing this one as a hat!

Jakob & starfish

One afternoon we stopped to snorkle and explore a small vessel that had recently sunk just north of the Big Sandbar. It was already covered with barnacles and tunicates and loads of fish. There were dozens of juvenile blue crabs hiding underneath the boat and a few arrow crabs clinging towards the stern out of the current. It didn’t take AdventureMaxwell long before he caught one in his hand and held it up for us to see. Nice job Max!

Maxwell finds arrow crab

From here we swam to another smaller sandbar and explored along the shallows to see what we could find. Before long we had found dozens of netted olive shells, plenty of mantis shrimp holes and even a few more starfish. One afternoon little Max found a really cool beaded starfish that was in the process of regenerating the tips on 3 of its arms. It was neat to see how a starfish could grow its arms back after some other creature decided to have one for lunch! How cool is that!!

Max finds beaded starfish

Another morning while exploring the Big Sandbar we found an octopus that had been caught out of water by the falling tide and had died. We felt bad for it and wished we had come by sooner to have found it alive. We did love checking it out up close and personal, even when dead, and somehow this led to another photo opportunity to take some different photos of octopus that we hadn’t done before. That’s right! You guessed it! Dead octopus head photos!!! You just have to admit, AdventureBrett looks like he’s loving this! Well sort of ???

Brett with octopus head

One morning when the ocean was totally flat calm we drove the boat around to the South Jetty and parked a few feet off the beach. The water was crystal clear and there seemed to be thousands of tropical fish all along the shallow rocks. It was absolutely Great!!! There were so many different species of fish you couldn’t keep count! As we swam thru them, they would swirl all around us, sometimes just inches from our nose! We all just loved that!!!

South jetty

A bit further along the jetty we started seeing large numbers of short and long-spined burrfish swimming along in pairs. I found a nice big long-spined burrfish hiding in a crevasse between 2 rocks, seemingly uncorncerned that I was there. I carefully reached in and gently took hold around its midsection and pulled it out for the group to look at. A split second later it inflated itself like a ballon and became so full of long, sharp quills that I could hardly hold it. It poked me good a few times and I think the kids loved that too! One look at the photo and you can tell how it got its name and why it wasn’t too concerned I was there! I sure wasn’t going to try to eat it!!!

Long spined burrfish

On the way back to the boat, AdventureKatie found a cool Hairy Clinging Crab clinging to a rock with all its might. She called me over and it took all I had to pull that crab off that rock! Not only was it hairy, it was thorny like all get out and could hang onto that rock like Arnold Swartzencrab!!! And Arnold Swartzencrab it was!!! I think we could have used that crab as an anchor if we could have could tied a rope around it and dropped it on a rock where it could hang on! It was about that strong!! Nice find Katie!!!

Hairy clinging crab

The most wonderful underwater encounter of all for this week occurred just as we got back to the boat!!! One unbelievably cute manatee had decided to take a rest right underneath the boat while we were gone swimming along the jetty. As we got closer to the boat, it swam right up to us and just about laid right in our arms!!! It swam and rolled around us like we were long lost friends and brushed up against us over and over! It would come up right beneath us and almost lift us to the surface. It was just GREAT!!! It was one of the most friendliest manatees I have ever seen, and unbelievably cute too!!! Did we EVER LOVE that!!!

One cute manatee

Every now and then it would come right up to us and just lay there for us to scratch its back!!! It would gently roll back and forth underneath our hands while we scratched, like it just didn’t want us to ever quit! We spent a few moments appreciating every minute of that!! I could tell by all the happy squealing coming from the kids, this wondrously extra special manatee encounter would be something they would never forget!!! I know I won’t!!! What a GREAT DAY!!! It just doesn’t get any better than that!!! LOVE IT!!!

Friendly manatee underwater

Thursday was our fishing day, and of course, its hard to match the fun and excitement of that if you love fishing! Always non-stop action from start to finish and everyone caught a mixed bag of snappers, tomtates, caesars grunts, sailor’s choice, margates, spot-tail pinfish, porkfish and more!!! All in all, I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “I NEED MORE BAIT!!!” over and over and OVER!!! The sound of that is still ringing in my ears!!! I could sure tell AdventureJulia sure loved catching this nice one!

Julia catches fish

On another day, we spent part of one morning and afternoon heading over to Little Munyon Island to do some seine netting in the shallow grass beds. The tide that day was extremely low and the shallow bar to the south was exposed for hundreds of yards. This extreme low tide gave us the very best opportunity to seine net in some areas that we never had before. It was neat to see and we all were excited to get started!!! The full moon sure made a difference for the tides this day.

Extra low tide

AdventureLilly and Noelle were among the first group to go seining and before long, they were seine netting like pros! On the very fisrt pull of the net they caught sea grass filefish, pipefish, mojarras, juvenile snappers and grunts, a couple of tiny hogsnappers, pink shrimp, grass shrimp, small blue crabs and even a few small checkered puffers! What a great way to start your very first day of seine netting!!! Way to go girls!!! YOU Rock!!!

Lilly & Noelle seining

One of the neatest fish we got that day was a nice, big, striped burrfish that inflated on demand. It became a thorny ball with short, curved spines. They are common to Florida and generally inhabit sea grass beds and adjacent reefs. The stripes help them to camoflauge amongst the sea grass where they are difficult to see in brackish water. I know AdventureJack sure loved holding this one! We all did!

Jack with striped burrfish

We spent rest of that morning at Little Munyon Island finding more large sea grass hermits than you could count, and short-spined sea urchins in every color you could imagine by the hundreds. Almost every urchin was covered and camouflaged by little shells held tightly to them by their tiny tube feet. They looked more like the bottom than urchins themselves. Neat to see them this way. Give them a few quick swishes in the water and the shells fall off, leaving you with a handful of urchins in a variety of colors. It didn’t take AdventureTrevor long to find his favorites!

Sea urchin collector Trevor

We snorkeled almost the whole way around Little Munyon Island finding blue crabs, hermit crabs, juvenile stone crabs, some small beaded starfish, a few small 9 armed starfish, and a dozen or more West Indian Sea Eggs . We found just about every color combination of short spined or variegated sea urchins you could imagine. My favorites were the bright white ones with dark purple spines that are hard to find, and I wasn’t succesful on this day! AdventureLilly seemed to like every one she found. I don’t think she cared what color they were. She was having FUN either way!

Sea urchin collector Lilly

When we came around the south end of the island I took the group over to a cluster of rocks hidden among the sea grass beds. I wanted to show them another species of sea urchin called a long-spined or diadema sea urchin. These are the big black ones with long needle sharp spines that can easily puncture the skin and break off in the flesh. They are most commonly found on the near shore reefs but this cluster of rocks seems to have one or two almost every time I look. They are best left alone but over the years I have learned how to handle them without getting stuck. My advice would be to don’t try this on your own!!!

Long-spined sea urchin and group

On the way back to the boat AdventureJulia came up with another large 9 armed starfish that was just crawling out of the sand and moving towards deeper water. They are fairly uncommon thru-out the Caribbean and seem to inhabit shallow sand or sandy mud bottoms. Exactly what we have here. It was another nice find and she held it up for us to see. Way to go Julia!!!

Julia finds a starfish

We spent some time taking turns checking it out.We watched as hundreds of tiny tube feet would wriggle non-stop, as if trying to right itself up from the palms of our hands. The kids loved that and it was just great to watch them all smile when it came to their turn to hold this starfish. I could sure tell AdventureNoelle was having FUN when her turn came around!!! Love that smile too!!!

Upside down starfish

One morning ,when the ocean was flat calm, I decided to take the kids offshore for a little bit to see if we could find a loggerhead or green sea turtle floating on the surface, catching its breath. Little did I know then what a wonderful decision that would be!!! We motored around for a bit in about 120 feet of water, then shut off the engines and drifted quietly. I had just got done telling them that on days like this, when the ocean is flat calm, and shiny like a mirror, you can sometimes see hammerhead sharks swimming lazily on the surface. Not a minute or two later, the ocean erupted a hundred feet in front of us, and a tremendous hammerhead shark came thrashing to the surface with another large hammerhead shark in its jaws!!! What a sight to see!!! So much for swimming “lazily” !!!

hammerhead 1

For the first minute or so I could believe what we were seeing, and I didn’t think to take a picture! I started the engines and quickly motored to within 20 feet of this unbelievable sight, wanting to see what was actually taking place! The ocean seemed to have come alive and walls of water were being thrown 15 feet into the air! We observed, what I would estimate as about a 10 to 12 foot hammerhead shark, being attacked by another monstrous hammerhead shark that I thought was closer to about 18 feet!!! It was just INCREDIBLE!!! and one of the neatest things I HAVE EVER SEEN!!! MAY EVER SEE!!! All this action taking place at about 30 miles per hour!!! What a SIGHT!!! As we came closer, the monster shark let go this shark, and swam deeper down, and just kept circling around us, below.

hammerhead 3

This 10 to 12 foot hammerhead shark, that seconds earlier was in the jaws of the other, swam straight towards the boat as if looking for something to hide behind! For two to three minutes it never left the vicinity of our boat while the other, much LARGER shark kept circling below. This shark appeared totally exhausted and spent, probably trying to flee for its life, and at this time could hardly swim! I did not get a photo of that monster shark as it never came up close enough to the boat for me to take a decent picture. Shortly after I took this photo below, this shark swam away from the boat down a bit deeper, and I watched as that monster shark came racing in and grabbed this one again, thrashing him in its jaws and swimming deeper into the depths, until they disappeared from our view!!! JUST UNBELIEVABLE!!!

hammerhead 4

To witness what we saw was most unbelievable to say the very least!!! One of the most EXCITING and INCREDIBLE things I have ever seen or may ever see in my life!!! I will always wish I would have thought to start taking photos sooner, but I was so awestruck I couldn’t think to take a picture, as I looked on in amazement!!! WHAT A DAY!!! WHAT AN EXPERIENCE!!! WHAT AN ADVENTURE!!! WHAT MORE CAN YOU SAY!!! WISH YOU ALL COULD HAVE BEEN THERE!!! IT WAS JUST GREAT!!! The kids summed it up perfectly when I asked them how they felt after seeing THAT!!! Their response was, ” IT WAS AWESOME!!!!” I FEEL THE VERY SAME WAY!!! AWESOME!!!!! WHAT AN INCREDIBLE WEEK!!! IT JUST DOESN”T GET ANY BETTER THAN THIS!!! AND I CAN”T WAIT TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, NEXT WEEK!!!!

See you soon!!!

AdventureMike

Let’s Go Have Some Fun!!!

AdventureMike

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