Category Archives: In The Water

The morning dip

A whitetip reef shark passes below looking, I think, for a quiet place to get some rest.
A fourspot butterflyfish swims by a patch of cauliflower coral, some living, some dead. There are two spots on each side, but this fish was very small so the second spot was still filling in as space allowed.
A blue goatfish cruises by.
A green linckia sea star and lobster molt. Most green linckia have five arms but can have four or six. They’re able to reproduce by detaching an arm which will eventually develop into a new star.

This week’s Friendly Friday challenge theme is ‘Morning Rituals.’ See more responses here.

Most mornings, I try to get in the water, as conditions and schedules allow. Morning is the best time for snorkeling as the water is usually calmer before the wind picks up as the day wears on. Visibility can vary from day to day and it can help to check surf reports to see if there are any swells moving in. But calm water doesn’t guarantee good visibility just as swells don’t always mean bad visibility. There’s only one way to be sure and that’s to jump in.

My favorite thing about snorkeling is that every day is different and I never know what I’ll see. Going to the same spot means I become familiar with some of the regulars, but there are always transient creatures passing through including rays and dolphins. And while those big creatures are great to encounter, it’s equally interesting to watch the activities of smaller fish and marine invertebrates.

It’s a rare day indeed that I don’t emerge prattling on about something I saw while I was in the water. And on those rare days, well, I’ve still had a good swim to set me up for the day ahead.

It wasn’t until I processed this photo of a goldring surgeonfish that I noticed the stocky hawkfish resting motionless below it.

Flowery flounder juvenile

One day, while I was in the water, I ran into a couple of snorkelers who were watching this creature. It was high up in fairly deep water in the middle of the bay. It looked almost translucent and very small, only 2 or 3 inches long. It wasn’t even clear whether this was a live creature or just a bit of floating debris. They took photos, I took photos, but I wasn’t optimistic on how they’d turn out because it’s hard to get the focus right on something like this.

After they left, I hung around and saw the creature swimming, coming up in the water. I took a couple more photos before it descended again. When I got home I was thrilled that, out of the photos I took, this one turned out pretty well. From it, I could see that this was a very small flowery flounder. The general shape and details are a very small version of the adult fish. What’s interesting about this is that flounders start out life looking like regular fish, swimming upright and with an eye on each side of its head. But within a few days, flounders start to lean to one side and one eye begins to migrate to join its partner on the other side.

This tiny, very young flounder has already completed that transition.

Place of Refuge and Two Step

There’s a good variety of fish at Two Step including raccoon butterflyfishes, seen here mingling with goatfishes and yellow tangs.
A barred filefish swims by with a startled look on its face, which is just their usual look.
Ki’i at Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, better known as Place of Refuge.

This week’s Friendly Friday challenge theme is ‘Anniversaries.’ See more responses here.

Often, on our wedding anniversary, my wife and I go to Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden (formerly Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden). This year the garden was shut, and still is, probably until tourists return to the islands. So a different anniversary is my birthday, which is not marked with candles on a cake, since that would be prohibitively expensive, but usually by a trip somewhere and a meal out. This year we went down to snorkel at Two Step and then had a wander around Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, otherwise known as Place of Refuge, which is right next door.

Two Step is a very popular snorkeling spot on Honaunau Bay, south of Captain Cook. This is a marine reserve so no fishing is allowed and the fish tend to be more numerous and mellow because of this. It’s a popular spot to see and swim with dolphins, though I haven’t done either of those things there. Currently, it’s not nearly as busy since there are very few tourists on the island and those that are here are diligently following quarantine rules (I’m trying to keep a straight face writing this!).

After our swim we made the short walk to Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park. The park is on the south side of the bay and, at the moment, is fully open only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. However, on the other days, pretty much everything else is accessible, it’s just that the parking lot and visitor center are closed. What this means is that there’s basically nobody there so our visit was quiet and uncrowded. The park is an important place in Hawaiian history, and the location is beautiful. What’s not to like?

For more information about Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, visit https://www.nps.gov/puho/index.htm.

Palm trees reflect in one of the fishponds at Place of Refuge.

Clumpy nudibranch

My local snorkeling spot has been roiled with excitement lately over the appearance of a couple of clumpy nudibranchs. Well, it’s exciting for us.

Nudibranchs (pronounced noo-di-branks or noo-da-branks) are members of the sea slug family. Granted this doesn’t sound too exciting, but nudibranchs are strange and exotic and often wildly colorful. The reason I haven’t posted photos of a nudibranch before is that I’ve never seen one before, let alone got a photo of one. That’s the downside of nudibranchs; they tend to be on the small side. One to three inches is typical for most of them. But clumpy nudibranchs are big, up to 10 inches long. In nudibranch world they’re like King Kong, visible from space.

When they were first spotted, I didn’t see them, but I was on high alert. And then, one day, I saw my first nudibranch. I popped up and called to my wife, only to see her waving at me to come see the nudibranch where she was. So this established that nudibranchs are like buses; you wait and wait and wait, then two come along at the same time. Since then, I’ve seen one or both of them most days I get in the water. Each time I’ve seen either of them they’ve been motoring along at speed, at least for a slug.

Clumpy nudibranchs have some color variations which can be seen in these photos. One has more yellow coloring, the other (second photo) being browner. The order’s name, Nudibranchia, means naked gills. These are the feathery clumps to the rear of the nudibranch. The two protuberances at the front are sensory organs. Clumpy nudibranchs feed mainly on sponges (not the cake variety).

Hawaiian silverside shoals

I’ve posted photos of shoals of little fish before, making the assumption that these were juveniles of some fish species or other. However, this year the local snorkeling spot has been thick with these fish. It’s not been unusual for me to get in the water and find myself surrounded by a swirling ball of fish. It can actually be quite disorienting.

Because of this bumper crop, it occurred to me that I really should try to identify these fish. I think the answer is that they’re Hawaiian silversides, an endemic species. The problem is that there are a couple of other possible species, the goldspot sardine and the Hawaiian anchovy. Short of catching a few and examining them in the light of day, it’s hard to tell them apart.

Regardless of species, it’s been fun interacting with the shoals. Swim toward them and the shoal will part, then recombine behind. Point a camera in their direction and they jet off in another direction. It’s best just to float in the water, with the camera pointed in the right general direction. Then they’ll get quite close and I’ll snap a photo or two hoping something will turn out.

In the top photo, a shoal surges by in front of me. Below, the silvery stripe along their bodies can be seen.

Humpback whales

This week’s Sunday Stills challenge theme is ‘Winter.’ See more responses here.

There are seasons in Hawaii, but they’re not as markedly different as they are on the mainland. So when it comes to a seasonal challenge theme I tend to fall back on migratory creatures. When it comes to winter, I think of humpback whales.

Humpbacks spend their summers in Alaska, which is their prime feeding ground. They come to Hawaii to calve and to mate. The first humpbacks arrive in Hawaii in October or November, but the high season for them is January through March. They can be seen anywhere around the island, but the prime viewing spots are on the more sheltered west side, from Kailua Kona all the way up to Upolu, at the island’s northern tip.

Abstracts: Water painting

Recently, I’ve been taking photos of shoals of little fish I see when I get in the water. I thought I’d try shooting them from underneath and, while this hasn’t resulted in decent fish photos, I rather like the look of the water that’s shown up in some of the photos. This one has the added bonus that even the fish can be seen, too.