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Marine Life Blog » Indonesia » A crab living on an anemone living on a crab and “stubby” – the unidentified wrasse.

A crab living on an anemone living on a crab and “stubby” – the unidentified wrasse.

The Exotic Creature Tour: Maumere to Alor, Indonesia May 1-3, 2010: Flores to Adonara
After the last of our friends trickle in, the Komodo Dancer slips out of Maumere harbor and heads back east for the second leg of our critter hunting tour. Our new recruits to the Octopus Army are going to earn their arms during the next two-weeks; this is our last chance to find animals for the Tropical Pacific Reef Creature book. Besides, Paul’s much sought-after fugitive black coral crab remains at large, and he’s hoping that a new set of eyes aboard will be just the tight ticket to help him track it down.

During dinner cruise director Garry Bevan starts our trip off on a very high note by announcing that if the weather holds, at some point during our voyage, we will make an overnight run north, to the volcanic island of Komba. What exciting news. This is the site Burt Jones raved about just three weeks earlier over breakfast on Bali. It seems that after an extended dormancy the isolated peak recently became active once again, and Ned and I are chomping at the bit to see the fireworks show. And just as enticing, the island’s virgin waters reputedly harbor an interesting set of animals.

I’m stuck with a nasty head cold and have to sit out all the dives in Gedong Bay. Just my luck, skeleton shrimp, some of my favorite critters, are all over the place. Mark Willis and Ned both return with splendid shots, including some of the females carrying their newly hatched young.

Skeleton Shrimp

Skeleton Shrimp

In our March 2009 Lembeh blog I talked and posted video about the tiny porcelain crabs that live in the anemones carried on the shells of certain species of hermit crabs. Ever since I first noticed this interesting relationship of a crab living on an anemone living on a crab, I’ve searched all over Indonesia and until now had only seen it in Lembeh Strait.During this past year, while working on the Tropical Pacific Creature book, Paul received confirmation that the little crab is indeed an undescribed species. Just after describing it to our sharp-eyed guide, Claire Holman, she finds it during a night dive off Lembata – confirmation that often, knowing something exists is the key to seeing it.

Porcelain Crab on Hermit

Porcelain Crab on Hermit

At the Lembata ferry pier we find more Rhinopias and frogfish. A comparison of photos from two weeks ago confirms that these are different individuals – what a bonanza of charismatic fish we’ve seen! Shirley Westcott returns with a report of four mantis shrimp together – and two of them were fighting! I try to console myself that for every exciting behavior that I miss, I luck up on something else equally exciting, but it doesn’t help much this time. The swells coming off the Flores Sea have still not settled down so we opt to head south to dive Pantar. We’ll try again for the Komba volcano on our way home.

May 4-5, 2010 Pantar

Talk about quick changes! When we were in Beangabang Bay two weeks ago, the entire bottom was covered with tiny prawns – there were so many that their reflected eye-shine lit up the bottom on night dives. Today they’re gone and so are many of the fish that fed on them have also vanished. Claire saves the first dive by finding 2 beautiful green pipehorses.

Pipehorse Face

Pipehorse

Pipehorse

Pipehorse

The first day in the bay improves as we locate two pairs of ghost pipefish; possibly the same ones we saw two weeks ago. Everyone is coming back with reports of Wunderpus octopus. Just before the night dive (which I am sitting out), I comment that the first pearlfish I ever saw was four years ago during a night dive on the lava flow in this bay. Of course, the night divers return tonight with reports of pearlfish sightings! Ned and Claire score big with a bumblebee shrimp living on a sea apple and a basket star with about 20 symbiotic shrimp. A storm moves in from an unusual direction, making it impossible to make any dive in the bay, so Garry makes the decision to move to Alor, rather than waiting for local conditions to settle.

Bumblebee shrimp on Sea Apple

Bumblebee shrimp on Sea Apple

May 6-9, 2010 Alor

Two weeks ago, the water around Alor was in the low to mid 70’s – we were freezing! We have everyone prepared for the worst but find it surprisingly warm. Garry checks out a new spot and returns with new of nudibranchs by the dozens. There are so many nudis that Mark Willis names the site Slug Fest.

Unusual Nudibranch

Stomatoline

pair of halimeta ghost pipefish

pair of halimeda ghost pipefish

Mucky Mosque, one of our favorite sites on the first trip, continues to produce. The day dive is good, both Gede and Claire point out Halimeda and Ornate ghostpipefish and more Rhinopias. And the night dives are over the top! Ned finds a small, Brackish water frogfish (A. biocellatus) and a really strange mollusk, which turns out to be a stomatoline.The change in water temperature must have something to do with the change in critters – we are definitely seeing many more nudibranchs on every dive, including 5 different Tritonias. Gede finds a second biocellatus frogfish, and right after I comment that the only thing missing is Melibe nudibranchs, he finds several on the night dive. In sensory overload, I kneel down in the muck for a few minutes to re-orient and get my lights re-aligned. A small jawfish, awakened by all the commotion, pops out of his hole and begins feeding on the plankton, attracted by my lights.

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Clown Valley, off Pura is a site unlike anything we’ve ever dived. For over a kilometer, the entire bottom is carpeted with anemones of every color and size. Ned heads off to look for the Tiger anemone reported last trip by Mindy Cooper-Smith while I drift along, enjoying the color.

Clown Valley Anemones

Clown Valley Anemones

I have been waiting for two weeks to get back to Alor to dive the site where I saw the unidentified flasher/fairy wrasse. Lynne Van Dok, an expert fishwatcher who was with me two week ago, thought she saw one off Pantar, but the storm that drove us out of the bay prevented us from going back to look for it there. While we were in Maumere, I tried to send a video screen capture to both Dr. Gerry Allen and Dr. Hiroyuki Tanaka, but the internet service at the resort was up and down, so I left Maumere not knowing if they even received my inquiry. Ned is ready with his camera and I have also shown the video to Kreg Martin, an expert level REEF surveyor who accompanies us on this dive. We have all taken to calling the fish “Stubby” because of his short foredorsal fin. When we arrive on the site, Ned, who has just seen a few minutes of my video, spots the little fish immediately. It is so distinctive – obviously a Cirrhilabrus, but as Ned commented later, “This guy owns that reef!” My video didn’t do him justice; Ned’s strobe really brings out the colors of this little beauty. The question now is, “Have we found an unidentified wrasse?”

Stubby

Stubby

We dive the site again the next day so Paul can get some shots of the mystery fish and Kreg, Ned and I wander around surveying the other species. This place is rich with several other species of flasher wrasses (Paracheilinus). We are looking for the slingjaw wrasse (E. brevis) that was recently described by Bruce Carlson et al. Kreg has never seen one, so we are on a mission to add to his life list.

A floating crafts market visits us between dives and our group spends a lively hour bargaining for the brightly colored hand-woven Ikats created by the local women. I’m torn by wanting to purchase something – always good to contribute to the local economy – and dealing with what to do with it once I get it home. About the time I decide to pass, I see Ned hanging over the side of our boat, negotiating for a deal. He yells over his shoulder, “Anna! A Stegodon!”

And indeed it is. Instead of the traditional geometric designs, one woman has woven stegodons, the long extinct relative to elephants that once inhabited this area. We had just finished reading about stegodons in Morwood’s book, A New Human; how could we not buy it!

Ikat Shopping

Ikat Shopping

May 10, 2010 Komba Volcano, Batu Tara

Garry announces that the seas are fine for an overnight run north to the island of Batu Tara and the erupting Komba volcano. This is a fairly new destination for liveaboards. In March of 2007 the volcano rumbled back to life and villages on the north coast of Lembata were warned to be ready to flee; fishermen were warned to stay at least 3 kilometers away. Before this awakening, the only confirmed historical eruption was 1847-52. The National Library of Australia has a print in its collection, created in 1879 by artist T.G. Glover. The link to the drawing notes that it is 500 feet high. Today’s records note it as being about 750 meters high.

A 4:30 AM wake up call brings us all up to the top deck for a show unlike anything I’ve ever seen. About every 5 to 15 minutes, the volcano erupts, firing rocks and embers with a giant boom, and followed by what can only be described as a giant blowtorch, pointing straight up into the pre-dawn sky. As the boat edges closer, we volcano-watch until dive time.

Volcano

Komba Volcano

Underwater, the island’s lava flows are beautiful and dramatic; covered with the kinds of hard and soft corals we’ve seen on other volcanic slopes like those of Banda and North Sulawesi. Ned starts the day with a patch of acoel flatworms. Wendy McIlroy gets the winning shot of an unidentified dendronotid nudibranch.

Wendy's Unusual Nudibranch

Wendy's Unusual Nudibranch

There’s no night dive tonight; we have to weigh anchor and head back toward Flores, but our consolation prize is dinner at the base of the volcano. We settle in for cocktails and fireworks.

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May 11-14, 2010 Lembata

We’re working our way back to Maumere, which gives us a chance to revisit sites that we found particularly productive earlier in the trip. More Rhinopias by day and pearlfish at night! We’re up to 12 different Rhinopias now.

On one late afternoon dive, I join Lynne, who is watching a broadclub cuttlefish feeding in the shallows. Ned joins us and we follow the cuttlefish as it shoots its feeding tentacles out to capture damselfish. His images capture what we can’t see with our eyes:

Feeding Cuttlefish

Feeding Cuttlefish

We’ve had a splendid month; everything has exceeded our expectations, but Paul is distressed that no one has found Quadrella maculosa and he isn’t consoled by all the other new images we’ve captured for the Tropical Pacific Creature book. Gede, dive guide extraordinaire, saves the day by finding the tiny critter, on our second to last day. What a great trip!

Gede saves the day

Gede saves the day

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