Category Archives: In The Water

Seven-eleven crab

A Seven-eleven crab off Hawaii

I’ve only seen one or two seven-eleven crabs (Carpilius maculatus) before, and not for several years. My wife had never seen one. One reason for this is that the crabs are active at night. But we saw this one a few days ago, scuttling over the rocks and sand. It was quite early in the morning, so the crab was probably headed for its home.

These crabs are quite large and have the distinctive markings that give it its name. There are the two spots alongside each eye and three across the center of the shell. Four more spots are less obvious on the back edge of the shell.

In Hawaii, these crabs are called ‘alakuma. Legend has it that a god caught an ‘alakuma, but the crab struck back and drew blood. This happened a second time, before the god finally snagged the crab. But the crab’s descendants continue to bear the markings of the god’s bloody fingerprints.

Green turtle swimming in Kiholo Bay

A green turtle swims in Kiholo Bay, Hawaii
A green turtle swims in Kiholo Bay, Hawaii
A green turtle swims in Kiholo Bay, Hawaii
A green turtle swims in Kiholo Bay, Hawaii

The last time I was down at Kiholo Bay I saw this green turtle in one of the pools around the edge the lagoon. When the turtle saw me, it might have felt a bit vulnerable in such shallow water. It immediately headed for the lagoon proper, at a leisurely pace, before cresting a ridge and easing into deeper water. Once there, it popped up for a breath, then disappeared into the milky waters.

A green turtle swims in Kiholo Bay, Hawaii
A green turtle swims in Kiholo Bay, Hawaii

A great barracuda

A great barracuda off the coast of Hawaii

I’ve mentioned before that great barracudas give me the willies more than sharks do. But the truth is, that while they look menacing, I’ve yet to see one being aggressive. The black fish in this photo wasn’t far from the barracuda, but was ignored by it as it swam by.

Even though they unnerve me, there are times when I just have to laugh. A couple of weeks ago I was snorkeling, puttering along as I looked around for things of interest, and I happened to look behind me. One of the very large barracudas was following me, about a body length behind. The instant I looked back, the barracuda turned away. It could have been a great photo, but I wasn’t ready for it and then the fish was gone. It was also a good illustration of the fact anything that might attack me in the water is highly likely to take me completely by surprise.

Barracudas will follow spear fishers in the water, hoping to snatch their catch, and I think because of this, they’ll follow anyone in the water in the hope that they might be in the fish acquisition business, too.

Stareye parrotfish

A stareye parrotfish resting on sand in Hawaii

I saw this rather splendid stareye parrotfish sitting motionless on a patch of sand with its dorsal fin raised. It’s the first time I’d seen a parrotfish do this and I don’t know the reason. At night they will find a crack in the reef to sleep, but during the day they typically cruise around and are very skittish around people.

This photo shows the ‘beak’ of the parrotfish, which is made up of individual teeth that are fused together and are incredibly strong. It uses this ‘beak’ to scrape algae off rocks and also to dig into the coral. After grinding this up and extracting the organic matter, the residue is expelled. This parrotfish poop forms most of Hawaii’s fabulous white sand beaches!

Eye to eye with a curious manta ray

A coastal manta ray approaches
A manta ray approaches.
Close up of a coastal manta ray approaching
A close up view.
A coastal manta ray showing spots and gill slits
The spots on the underside are unique to each manta ray. This shot also gives a good view of the gill slits and cephalic flaps.

Yesterday, my wife and I went snorkeling at our usual spot. The visibility was pretty good so, on our way back, we decided to cross the bay and see how it was on the other side. The visibility got worse, not awful, but with more particles in the water.

Suddenly, I saw something large off to my left. I pointed to it and turned to my wife to see her pointing in the same direction. We’d seen this coastal manta ray at the same time. The ray was crossing in front of us and I snapped a couple of photos knowing they wouldn’t be good, but to at least have a record of the encounter.

A coastal manta ray close up
A close up of the manta ray’s head.
A coastal manta ray turning
The manta ray makes a turn.

The ray looked set to disappear into the murk, but then it turned and came back towards us. It passed in front of us again, turned again. Back and forth the ray went. On different occasions, it went by so close in front of each of us that we could have reached out and touched it. It was clearly as curious about us as we were entranced by it. Finally, it made one last pass and seemed to wave at us as it receded into the distance.

A snorkeler comes face to face with a coastal manta ray
Mutual curiosity as manta ray meets snorkeler.
A coastal manta ray approaches
The water was quite murky, so more distant photos show suspended particles.
A coastal manta ray diving down
The manta makes a dive and turn.

This was a smaller ray with maybe a 6- to 8-foot wing span and most of this time it was swimming near the surface, so we got great views of it. Manta rays are plankton feeders and have no poisonous spines so they’re amongst the least dangerous creatures in the ocean. I hadn’t seen one since last August so this made the occasion even more special for me.

After it left, we headed back in. It would have been hard to top that encounter.

A coastal manta ray waves farewell
Finally, the manta waves goodbye as it heads out into deeper waters.

Better Days: Dead fish

Dead fish among rocks at Kiholo, Hawaii

On a walk at Kiholo, I noticed a bit of a ripe smell in the air. When I got to the top end of the lagoon I found the reason for it. The shoreline was littered with clumps of these dead fish. There must have been several hundred of them all told. I don’t know the reason for the stranding, but the scene reminded me of images of fish markets or still life paintings.