One of the defining features of nurse sharks is a brown coloration that is present over their entire body. However, earlier this year, recreational divers in Utila, Honduras stumbled upon a unique individual with a rare condition that completely alters the typical pigmentation pattern in the skin.
The finding was recently published in a new study, “Observations of hypomelanosis in the nurse shark Ginglymostoma cirratum,” in the Journal of Fish Biology, led by researchers at Beneath The Waves (BTW). Working with members of the Caribbean Shark Coalition, the team at BTW saw this reported finding as an opportunity to emphasize the value of citizen science for shark and ray conservation. The diverse, non-traditional author list of this publication demonstrates that science can and should be made accessible to those beyond the scientific community in order to add to the scientific database of sharks, marine life, and marine habitats.
This sighting became the first documented account of a nurse shark with piebaldism, a rare skin condition that results in a partial loss of body pigmentation, with eyes remaining as their regular coloration. The unique coloring made this nurse shark easily identifiable, and the divers saw it on two different dives in two different locations.
Piebaldism is part of a larger suite of pigmentation deficiencies called hypomelanosis. This includes albinism, which results in a complete loss of pigmentation in the skin and iris, and leucism which causes total or partial loss of body pigment and a blue coloration to the iris and body.
Hypomelanosis is incredibly rare in the animal kingdom, particularly in sharks, skates, and rays. Only about 5% of these species have been documented with these conditions, one being a tawny nurse shark with albinism, and another being a nurse shark with leucism.
In nature, if an animal relies on camouflage to hunt or avoid predation, unusual skin conditions could affect its ability to do this successfully, ultimately impacting its chance of survival. With the rarity of these conditions in sharks, little is known about their effects.
This particular individual was about an average size for the species, at approximately 6 feet in length. Because of this size, we can assume that it has been able to hunt and avoid predators successfully to reach maturity. Since nurse sharks have a generalist lifestyle where they eat a wide range of foods and can survive in a variety of conditions, this was somewhat expected. Even so, this rare observation calls for more research on the potential consequences of hypomelanosis on the survivability of sharks, skates, and rays. This is only the second time this species has been scientifically documented to have a skin condition that can affect their pigmentation.
Photos: Ellie Hopgood.
Diving with Frogfish in Costa Rica: A Hidden Gem Underwater
In the vast and vibrant underwater world of Costa Rica, there’s a peculiar creature that often goes unnoticed but holds a special place in the hearts of divers: the frogfish. This enigmatic and somewhat odd-looking species is a master of camouflage and a marvel of marine life. Diving with frogfish in Costa Rica is not just a dive; it’s an adventurous treasure hunt that rewards the patient and observant with unforgettable encounters. Let’s dive into the world of frogfish and discover what makes these creatures so fascinating and where you can find them in Costa Rica.
The Mystique of Frogfish
Frogfish belong to the family Antennariidae, a group of marine fish known for their incredible ability to blend into their surroundings. They can be found in a variety of colors, including yellow, pink, red, green, black, and white, and they often have unique spots and textures that mimic the coral and sponges around them. This camouflage isn’t just for show; it’s a critical survival tactic that helps them ambush prey and avoid predators.
One of the most remarkable features of the frogfish is its modified dorsal fin, which has evolved into a luring appendage called an esca. The frogfish uses this esca to mimic prey, such as small fish or crustaceans, enticing unsuspecting victims close enough to be engulfed by its surprisingly large mouth in a fraction of a second. This method of hunting is a fascinating spectacle that few divers forget once witnessed.
Where to Find Frogfish in Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is dotted with dive sites that offer the chance to encounter these intriguing creatures. Bat Islands (Islas Murciélagos), Catalina Islands (Islas Catalinas), and the area around the Gulf of Papagayo are renowned for their rich marine life, including frogfish. These sites vary in depth and conditions, catering to both novice and experienced divers.
The key to spotting frogfish is to dive with a knowledgeable guide who can point out these master camouflagers hiding in plain sight. They’re often found perched on rocky outcroppings, nestled within coral, or even hiding among debris, perfectly mimicking their surroundings.
Diving Tips for Spotting Frogfish
Go Slow: The secret to spotting frogfish is to move slowly and scan carefully. Their camouflage is so effective that they can be right in front of you without being noticed.
Look for Details: Pay attention to the small details. A slightly different texture or an out-of-place color can be the clue you need.
Dive with Local Experts: Local dive guides have an eagle eye for spotting wildlife, including frogfish. Their expertise can significantly increase your chances of an encounter.
Practice Buoyancy Control: Good buoyancy control is essential not just for safety and coral preservation but also for getting a closer look without disturbing these delicate creatures.
Be Patient: Patience is key. Frogfish aren’t known for their speed, and sometimes staying in one spot and observing can yield the best sightings.
Conservation and Respect
While the excitement of spotting a frogfish can be thrilling, it’s crucial to approach all marine life with respect and care. Maintain a safe distance, resist the urge to touch or provoke, and take only photos, leaving behind nothing but bubbles. Remember, the health of the reef and its inhabitants ensures future divers can enjoy these incredible encounters as much as you do.
Join the Adventure
Diving with frogfish in Costa Rica is just one of the many underwater adventures that await in this biodiverse paradise. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or taking your first plunge, the waters here offer an unparalleled experience filled with wonders at every turn. Beyond the thrill of the hunt for frogfish, you’ll be treated to a world teeming with incredible marine life, majestic rays, playful dolphins, and so much more.
So, gear up, dive in, and let the mysteries of Costa Rica’s underwater realm unfold before your eyes. With every dive, you’re not just exploring the ocean; you’re embarking on an adventure that highlights the beauty, complexity, and fragility of our marine ecosystems. And who knows? Your next dive might just be the one where you come face-to-face with the elusive and captivating frogfish. Join us at Rocket Frog Divers for the dive of a lifetime, where the marvels of the ocean are waiting to be discovered.
About the Author: Jonathan Rowe
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Save the Manatee Club launches brand new webcams at Silver Springs State Park, Florida
Save the Manatee® Club has launched a brand-new set of underwater and above-water webcams at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, FL. These new cameras add to our existing cameras at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida, and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, in Homosassa, Florida, which are viewed by millions of people worldwide. The cameras are a collaboration between Save the Manatee Club, Explore.org, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, who made the new live streaming collaboration possible via support of their interpretative program.
The above-water camera is a stationary pan/tilt/zoom camera that will show manatees and other wildlife from above water, while the new underwater camera provides the viewer with a brand new, exciting 180-degree viewing experience. Viewers can move the cameras around, trying to spot various fish and manatees.
The Silver River, which originates at Silver Springs, provides important habitat for manatees and many other species of wildlife. Over recent years, more manatees have been seen utilizing the Silver and Ocklawaha rivers. “The webcams provide a wonderful entertainment and educational tool to the general public, but they also help us with the manatee research,” says Patrick Rose, Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club. “We have learned so much through observing manatees on our existing webcams, and the new cameras at Silver Spring can add to the existing manatee photo-ID research conducted in this area, as well as highlighting Silver Springs and the Silver River as an important natural habitat for manatees.”
The webcams are streaming live during the daytime, with highlights playing at night, and can be viewed on Explore.org and on Save the Manatee Club’s website at ManaTV.org.
Save the Manatee Club, established in 1981 by the late renowned singer-songwriter, author, and entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett, along with former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, is dedicated to safeguarding manatees and preserving their aquatic habitat. For more information about manatees and the Club’s efforts, visit savethemanatee.org or call 1-800-432-JOIN (5646).
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