A three and a half hour drive south on I-95 from our home in Jacksonville, Florida takes us to the Blue Heron Bridge—what we consider the critter hunting site in the Western Hemisphere. The bridge spans the Intracoastal Waterway connecting the mainland with an endless strip of luxury condos lining Singer Island, located just south of West Palm Beach. The shallow sand and shell-rubble bottom spilling out from Phil Foster Park beneath the bridge, attracts a weirdly wonderful community of sea creatures that changes with the seasons. Here are a few of the animals that we found during our last four visits spanning the spring, summer and fall. Critter hunting had been a bit slow at the Bridge in late May, so when we entered the water from the beach at seven in the morning to take advantage of high tide, I’m not expecting much action. As it turns out, I didn’t have to travel more than 30 feet from my entry point or descend below 8 feet to strike gold.
A Northern Stargazer, one of the Blue Heron’s classic oddities, gives me a quick look before burying beneath the sand.
For the best part of an hour an Atlantic Longarm Octopus nonchalantly hunts the shallow sand among the dancing feet of swimmers. Occasionally it stretched its body into what I call a “slim Jim” pose.
Egg-laying fishes are typically reproductively active during the early morning hours. Anna found this pair of Molly Millers a foot below the surface on a concrete bridge piling laying and fertilizing a nest full of bubble-gum pink eggs inside the male’s hiding hole.
Not much more than an inch in length, a juvenile Blue Searobin, which in a few months will reach a foot in length, would from time to time spread its pectoral fins in the hope of frightening me away.
Recently settled lionfish not much larger than my thumbnail.
Even though rare, juvenile Short Bigeyes are your best chance of sighting this beautiful species. Platter-sized adults typically live below 200 feet.
Sheltered in the cup of a hand for protection, it is hard to image this juvenile Crevalle Jack will, with luck, one day measure more than three feet and weight as much as 60 pounds.
A young octopus makes its home in a discarded beer bottle.
In 2011 South Florida experienced a large Moon Jellyfish bloom. The incoming tides brought an influx of the pie-sized jellyfish to the Bridge.
Who doesn’t love a bumblebee shrimp? However, the little crustaceans have a darker side. Recently we found out that they hang around urchins, sea cucumber and sea stars to feed on the echinoderms’ tiny tube feet.
Golden Coral Shrimp are typically secretive, so when I saw one pop out of some bottom debris it caught my attention. As I began focusing for a photo an octopus eye appeared behind the shrimp. Evidently the octopus had chased the shrimp out from its hiding place. In a flash, the octopus shot out an arm and popped off first one of the shrimps’ claws then the other before pouncing on its unarmed dinner.
In May, Nudibranchs are as common as we’ve ever seen them under the Bridge.
On a night dive in 2011, I witness a my second pair of Striated Frogfish spawning. This time around, it turned into a rather sloppy affair with the female momentarily wrapped up in her own egg raft.
Seaweed Blennies not only display a number of different colors and patterns, but their branching cirri also vary dramatically in size and shape. The rack on this fine fellow is so outrageous that they stopped me in my tracks.
A male Seaweed Blenny guards his nest of eggs laid inside an abandoned clamshell.
The Bridge has quite a substantial population of Lancer Dragonets scurrying around bottom. Because of their small size and camouflage coats the little fish are easily overlooked. Beginning at sunset each evening during the warmer months of the year males, with their large dorsal fins raised, court and eventually spawn with each member of their harem, which usually number from two to four females.
When Diane Randolph showed me her video of a male Dusky Jawfish incubating a clutch of eggs inside its mouth, I was bowled over by the ripening eggs’ size. Following her directions, I was able to locate the belabored father the next morning.
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Filed under: Blue Heron Bridge, Fish Spawning, Florida Diving · Tags: blue heron, dragonets, frogfish, intracoastal waterway, phil foster park, sea creatures, shallow sand, singer island, stargazer, West Palm Beach