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Marine Life Blog » Indonesia » Yellow-spotted Bandfish, Shortfin Puffers and Bigfin Squid in Maumere Harbor

Yellow-spotted Bandfish, Shortfin Puffers and Bigfin Squid in Maumere Harbor

The Exotic Creature Tour: Komodo to Alor April 27-30, 2010 Maumere Harbor
Years ago, during a dive in Lembeh Strait, Ned and our guide Liberty watched a coconut roll down a sandy slope. A tug on the two mismatched halves forming the orb indicated that an octopus was inside, tightly holding the two halves in place with all the strength its eight arms could muster. Ned, who has no patience above water, but can remain motionless underwater for an hour waiting for an animal to perform, decided to back off and see what would happen. The wary octopus finally losing the game of chicken, jumped out of its coconut home and to Ned’s surprise drew six of its arms tightly against its mantle and walked off on the remaining two arms. Shortly after returning home, we heard a story on NPR about the recent documentation of the same species, Coconut Octopus, Amphioctopus marginatus, walking on two arms. However nothing was mentioned about the animal using its globe of a home as a quick and efficient method for descending a sand slope. For years we wondered if the rolling octopus was an anomaly. Then our friend Edi Frommenwiler, owner of the live-aboard Pindito, sent a video contribution to Sensational Seas Two showing a Coconut Octopus, rolling down a sand slope inside the harvested halves of a coconut shell. Edi shot his sequence here in Maumere Harbor, located on north central Flores in southern Indonesia, where the Komodo Dancer is docked between voyages. 

Blue-banded Ribbongoby, a rare find form Maumere Harbor

Blue-banded Ribbongoby, a rare find from Maumere Harbor

Our friends who are joining us for the second leg of the journey are trickling in to Sea World Club, our land-based accommodations for the next four-days. Kreg and Margaret Martin, avid fishwatchers and REEF surveyors from California are first to arrive, anxious to take advantage of the muck diving in Maumere Harbor, a site they thoroughly enjoyed on a previous trip. Kreg has plenty of tips about unusual species we may find.

When we arrive back at the Komodo Dancer in the morning for our first dive, it’s as if a circus troupe has arrived. Gawkers of all ages flock to the waterfront as our neoprene-clad band tumble out of the dinghies on the count of three. When we pop to the surface an hour or so later the bemused gathering still stare in wonder at the otherworldly happenings.

Now Maumere Harbor is a classic “What am I doing here?” dive site. Its Milk of Magnesia water and silty, trash-strewn bottom would have little appeal to the average diver, but as any veteran critter hunter can attest, such uninviting terrain is often where many of the ocean’s most off-the-wall animals reside. We spend our underwater time poking around pier pilings and beneath fishing boats moored between the main fish market and the mouth of the dry river bed, which during rainy season, flushes the city’s ubiquitous trash out to sea. Everything is fine in the shallows along the retaining wall where schooling baitfish stream and bright tropicals dance, but the harbor’s real treasures inhabit the barren slope of black talcum-fine silt that drops from eight to over a hundred feet less than a stone’s throw from where the spectators throng.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzWscBGxR4o[/youtube]

Sand-dwelling animals by their nature are wary. Few venture far from the safety of their burrows where they disappear at the first sign of danger. Finding and sneaking up on them is one of the most challenging and rewarding games in the sea. Through the haze at 80 feet, I spot a pair of unfamiliar fish hovering like phantoms above a depression. I stop dead, drop to the bottom and inch forward, but when I’m still more than ten feet away they are on to me and disappear in a puff of silt. These are just the sort of weird wonders that inhabit the muck. I’m not only unfamiliar with the species, but can’t even place the pair in a family.

Weaving my way back up the slope, I sight a juvenile Coconut Octopus the size of a golf ball, far too small to commandeer coconut shells, but just the right size to squeeze inside a cold cream jar.

Inspired by the festooned dashboards of local taxis, I amuse myself during my safety stop by attaching a lime green fishing lure, ace of hearts playing card, soup spoon, yellow toothbrush handle and Hello Kitty shorts to my video lights and housing. Our dinghy drivers burst into laughter when I hand the camera up. Back on board, Ned sobers me up by informing me that he found a colony of Yellow-spotted Bandfish, Acanthocepola breviata. “They’re deep, it’s very dark and they’re spooked by the slightest movement but they can be had,” he states in his determined sort of way. A “top 10” on our fish wish list, bandfish have eluded us for over ten years. Not to be outdone, I grab an ID book from the ship’s library and flip pages until I find my mystery fish, which turn out to be Blue-banded Ribbongoby, Oxymetopon cyanoctenosum. Ned is duly impressed.

Yellow-spotted Bandfish

Yellow-spotted Bandfish

On the afternoon dive, we come upon an unusual gathering of hundreds of Shortfin Puffers, Torquigener brevipinnes, under a pier. Some of the goofy little fish swim around but most simply rest on the bottom. Intrigued, Ned watches the peculiar aggregation for a long while trying to figure out what they’re up to.His curiosity is appeased when one of the millions of baitfish taking refuge in the shallows is knocked unconscious by a marauding jack and drifts toward the bottom. Even before it can settle a frenzy of four-inch puffers descend on the corpse and tear it to shreds. Later, out of the corner of my eye, I watch our Cruise Director, Garry, evidently unaware of the minnow incident, innocently wiggle his fingers in front of one the puffers and get nailed. Suddenly I don’t think they look so cute anymore.

Puffer Attack

Puffer Attack

Not far from the pier, we encounter a shoal of Bigfin Squid attaching finger-sized egg cases to the broken frame of a boat. The ghost-white cephalopods spook if approached too closely or quickly, but eventually everyone masters the art of squid watching and settles into front row seas for a most remarkable show.

Bigfin Squid attaching egg cases

Bigfin Squid attaching egg cases

The weird and wonderful keep coming in the form of such oddities as Snake Blennies, Xiphasia setifer,Frog-faced Sleeper Gobies, Oxyurichthys papuensis, and the biggest Ocellated Dragonets, Sybchiropus ocellatus, ever. Ned scores with a pair of rare Yellow Tilefish, Hoplolatilus luteus, another first for our life lists. Although the Komodo Dancer’s crew is more than willing to take us to different sites, we all find the critter watching so amazing just off the vessel, we can’t be bothered to move. In fact, we find it a welcomed change to be able to dive the same site. Soon everyone is happily sharing their discoveries. What great fun to be able to say, “Head down from the third piling, until you see a lone white gorgonion bush at about 50 feet. Make a 45 degree turn to 70 feet and look for the bright yellow fish.”

yellow-tilefish

Yellow Tilefish

Ocellated Dragonet

Ocellated Dragonet

I’m reading Mike Morwood’s A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia.It is full of information about the recent discovery of Homo floresiensis and has inspired me to take a look at some of the Flores countryside. Wendy McIlroy and I decide to hire a guide and driver to take us up to the Keli Mutu volcano to view its three lakes and Ned takes a rare day off to accompany us.

Ned, Anna and Wendy huff and puff up to a volcano caldera

Ned, Anna and Wendy huff and puff up to a volcano caldera

The restaurant at the Sea World Club can be reached by a path along the beach providing me with a grand opportunity to search for seabeans on the way to and from breakfast. (For information about these tropical drift seeds go to www.seabean.com).By the time breakfast is over the grounds staff is out raking the beach clean of the dead seagrass and debris that arrives with every tide. They watch intently as I poke along and one man offers me shells for sale. When I show him the seabean I’m after, I receive puzzled look. On the second morning, the beach is surprisingly devoid of sea beans – not one to be found even though Mark Willis and Park Chapman reported that a whole new “crop” had washed in on the evening’s tide. On my return, I see 20 people – men, women and children – poking along the wrack line about 100 yards ahead. When they spot me, they send an envoy who stands silently before me holding his t-shirt full of sea beans. I don’t know how to explain that the fun is in the hunt and that I don’t really want to purchase any. I don’t have the heart to discount their efforts at earning a little money so with a mixture of broken Bahasa Indonesian, English and hand gestures I indicate that I will pay for necklaces made from the beans. That afternoon after returning from diving, I am met by a seabean delegation, who proudly hold out two necklaces – and what necklaces they are – more suited for the neck of a caveman than my own. I purchase both, certain that someone in our group will find this over-the-top necklace as quaint as I do. I am correct, Mary Brown takes one without a second thought. Any suspicion that I might have paid too much is confirmed when I am met the following day with two more Neanderthal necklaces! Of course we buy them both, but secretly I am thankful that we depart in the morning.

Over the Top sea bean necklace

Over the Top sea bean necklace

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