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.
We 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.
With 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.
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.)