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Jumping Sunfish

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It’s been quite a few years since I have dived in the UK. I guess in many ways I have been spoilt with tropical destinations. I decided to leave my old drysuit in the cupboard and embrace this lovely summer with a wet suit. As it turned out, I almost regretted it but the dive was quite shallow and not too cold. I was diving with Mark Milburn from Atlantic Scuba near Falmouth who knows the coast here like the back of his hand and was taking us to the wreck of the Hera where I was giving an introductory session for my underwater video courses.

jumping-sunfish-1We were gradually getting ready to go in the water when I saw out of the corner of my eye a good sized fish jumping out of the water. As I shouted, all four people on the boat looked around only to see the remains of a splash where the fish had disappeared. There was something odd about it. The shape was wrong and the splash slightly different from any fish I might have expected to see leap from the water. Then as we were talking about what it could have been, it jumped again. This time we all saw it and to my delight recognised it immediately as a very large Sun Fish (mola mola). It came fully out of the water and flopped back in on its side. I had no idea they did that. I have since looked up other possible instances on the web and Wikipedia tell me that yes they do this occasionally and recount a story of a young lad being knocked over in his boat while fishing with his family off the coast of Pembrokeshire, Wales. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/4192566.stm The 30kg fish had leapt from the water and landed on top of him. Amazing. Wikipedia has a picture of 1600Kg sunfish caught off South Africa. We don’t see them that size any more – same old story of over fishing to near extinction. Its specific name, mola, is Latin for “millstone”, which the fish resembles because of its grey colour, rough texture, and rounded body. Its common English name, sunfish, refers to the animal’s habit of sunbathing at the surface of the water.

 

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jumping-sunfish-3With the Sunfish now in the back of our minds we dived down to the wreck. Visibility wasn’t too great but as the wreck came into view I was greeted by a lovely array of bright Dead Mans Fingers with their delicate polyps gathering food in the slight current. I had forgotten just how spectacular they can be.

 

Moving on across the wreck site I saw a large wrasse disappear into the kelp and under a piece of wreck plating. I stuck my head in to look for it. A miniature forest of kelp stalks and fronds filtered the sun light and gave a feeling of a secret world, quiet and protected from the sea above. It was enchanting. Kelp is used for so many things in our society, from food proteins to cosmetics. It is used on the land for fertiliser and as a food in its own right. It is also and more importantly a stable ecosystem for many marine species.

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A brief search revealed the wrasse taking refuge from me in the wreck’s man made cave. It was quite relaxed and I would have liked to spend more time with it but as my air was short I had to make my way back to the shot line for my 3 minute safety stop.

There is so much life here. Of course the water is cold and the visibility is often poor, but the diversity of life in our temperate waters is immense.

On the way back into Falmouth we noticed a small Dory type boat circling with the people in it pointing to something in the water. We headed over to see what was happening and saw a very small Basking Shark trying to head away. Seeing us, the people in the Dory obviously knew they were doing wrong by harassing the shark and so turned away and disappeared. Listed as endangered in the North East Atlantic Ocean, basking sharks are now protected by UK and international law. In the UK basking sharks are afforded full protection from intentional capture or disturbance in British waters (up to 12 miles offshore) under the 1998 Schedule 5 listing of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). It makes sense really, so if you see these gentle sharks while out boating, please give them space. If they come to you then all well and good. It is a wonderful wildlife encounter when they do come near so please drive slowly and respectfully giving the shark plenty of room to avoid you if it feels threatened.

(Except for the Sun Fish, the photos in this article are taken from video frames on a Sony XR550.)

Jeff Goodman is the Conservation editor and also the Underwater Videography Editor for Scubaverse.com. Jeff is an award winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

Marine Life & Conservation

Review: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

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Regular contributors, CJ & Mike from Bimble in the Blue, review the Netlix documentary: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

David Attenborough’s latest and arguably most important documentary to date is now showing on Netflix.  It is, in his own words, his “witness statement” of a unique life exploring and documenting the wonders of the natural world.

Attenborough looks back and realizes that the previously gradual changes he witnessed (animal species becoming harder to find and fewer wild spaces) have now become vastly more widespread and noticeable. As the human population increased, so has the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, while the amount of wilderness has decreased.  His conclusion: human activity and man-made climate change have accelerated the pace of biodiversity loss.  This not only imperils the majority of natural habitats and creatures on Earth, but also the very future of humankind.

From images of lush green landscapes we journey with him over time to revisit these places, now wastelands. One of the most haunting is the contrast between early footage of orangutans swinging through the rainforest, to recent images of an orangutan clinging onto a lone tree devoid of all but one branch in the wreckage of a deforested site. Attenborough then makes a statement that has stuck with me since watching “A Life On This Planet”: that though we undoubtably have an obligation to care for the natural world, it’s not just about saving other species.  It is about saving ourselves.  His drive and determination to advocate and spread this message as much as possible at the age of 94 is both impressive and humbling, yet Attenborough manages to make this serious subject an unexpectedly positive learning experience.

In the final chapter of the movie Attenborough turns from the bleak reality of the destruction of Earth’s biodiversity, and offers a lifeline of hope and positivity. We can, he tells us, reverse the damage we have caused, we can save our species and the wonders of the natural world, and it can be done with just a few conceptually simple actions.  It’s enough to enthuse even the most jaded and pessimistic of conservationists!  Attenborough has an amazing ability to awaken our love of the natural world and now he shows us our future is in our hands. It’s time to act.  But we must start now and it must be a united effort.

You don’t have to be a scuba diver to be impressed with the eloquence of David Attenborough’s words, or his powerful yet simple message. We are self-confessed Attenborough super fans, but I don’t think anyone could contest that this is a stunning 1 hour and 20 minutes of hard hitting brilliance. The film closes with the comment, “Who else needs to see it?” The answer is all of us.  We highly recommend this documentary to everyone. Put simply if you watch no other documentary this year, watch this one.

For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Review: My Octopus Teacher

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Regular contributors, CJ & Mike from Bimble in the Blue, review the Netflix documentary: My Octopus Teacher

My Octopus Teacher is the story of how filmmaker Craig Foster befriends a common octopus in the kelp forests off of the Cape Town coast.  Mike and I love to watch all things underwater and nature-based and so eagerly sat down to this documentary film, a new September arrival on Netflix.

Watch the trailer here:

After burning out at work Foster finds fascination and a deep connection with nature when spending time freediving at his favourite local spot.  In a sequence familiar to those who watched the “Green Seas” episode of Blue Planet 2, he comes across an octopus camouflaging itself with shells.  With his curiosity piqued, he begins to seek out the octopus on all of his dives, finding delight in its seemingly strange behaviours, learning what he can from the scientific literature and slowing working to gain the mollusc’s trust on his daily visits to her world.

My Octopus Teacher portrays a very anthropomorphised view of our subject and Foster’s relationship with her.  His conclusions tend to be more emotional than scientific and his eagerness to find similarities between himself and the octopus shows a great sentimentality.  However, you cannot help but be captivated by the incredible mutual curiosity and bond developing before you.  This relationship, and the stunning scenes of the kelp forest with its diverse inhabitants make for a deeply absorbing viewing experience.  There is some fantastic cephalopod behaviour, from the octopus adapting her hunting tactics for different prey, to strategies for outwitting predators and incredible colour and shape morphology.  Foster is also keen to point out how little we know about octopuses and that there is a great opportunity to learn something with every dive.

One of my favourite observations made by Foster at the end of the film is that by going into the water for liberation from daily life’s concerns and dramas, he realised how precious these wild places are.  As he starts to care about all the animals there, even the most minuscule, he comes to find that each one is both important and vulnerable.  Foster finds that his relationship with the octopus changes him and he feels a part of the kelp forest rather than just a visitor, an experience he then shares with his son.  To me Foster’s insight that we must connect with an environment in order to be truly motivated to protect it resonated very strongly.  For those fortunate enough to fall in love with our wilder environments and connect with them, seeing it mirrored in this documentary is quite moving.

Overall we very much enjoyed the film, especially the weird and wonderful behaviours caught on screen and the story as it unfolds.  Though our first reaction was one of pure jealousy (that Foster has such a stunning local dive spot and coastal property!) we soon moved past the envy and found My Octopus Teacher to be a very relaxing and enjoyable evening’s entertainment, which we highly recommend.

For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

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