Monday, May 3, 2010

Millions of Fish!

My personal record for the most fish seen on one dive was established last week at Traffic Circle. Even Yunis, Rantje’s seasoned dive guide, was impressed and that’s saying a lot because he dives practically every day in these waters during the dive season.

It all started when we descended into a brown cloud that was actually a school of Bennett’s tobies. Bennett’s tobies are small pufferfish that you probably wouldn’t even notice much on a typical dive. However, once or twice a year in Gorontalo their population suddenly explodes leaving the reefs covered with millions of them. They swam by in a constant stream. And when I say constant I mean it - we were underwater for nearly an hour and the stream never stopped. At one point I turned back to look at the reef behind me and it was literally covered with a living brown blanket. Every once in a while I would follow a slow moving toby to get a good look at the tiny electric blue stripes radiating from its eyes. It was pretty cool.

Going deeper, I was staring out into the blue looking at the snapper, tuna and TONS of schooling fish when all of the sudden four big forms appeared before me and I saw a flash of sharp teeth. Trevally! They were so close they were practically in my face. I thought maybe they were giant trevally because they seemed so big but Yunis thought they were big-eye trevally. Regardless, they were big and they were close. They took a quick look at me and then disappeared back into the blue almost before I had a chance to register the whole encounter.

A little while later Yunis pointed out a Napoleon wrasse. Watching it swim along the reef, I turned my head to the left and there was a bumphead parrotfish! Bumphead parrotfish are the largest of all the parrotfish and can grow to nearly a meter and a half in length. They are also distinguished by the prominent bumps on their heads. This one was only the second one I had ever seen in Gorontalo but what made the encounter even more remarkable was the fact that the parrotfish seemed to be following us! We first saw it mid-dive and then it stayed with us most of the way back to the boat. How extraordinary! It must have somehow sensed I was missing my diving buddies. Because there were so many of us diving and only a limited amount of gear available to rent, we staggered our dives on Saturday. Sarah, Jimmie, Anna, Mark and Joe did two dives with Rantje while I dived with Yunis during their surface interval. Having the bumphead parrotfish tag along made up for the fact that I couldn’t dive with my friends that day.

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