On a morning swim with my wife a couple of days ago, we were lucky enough to see a spotted eagle ray cruising around looking for breakfast. It stopped often, to probe the sand and rocks for food, and was successful at least once, since it emerged from its efforts chewing and swallowing. This eagle ray looked a bit battered, with damage to its tail fins and a chunk missing from its right wing, but it didn’t seem to be affected by this at all.
As we continued swimming, I saw the ray heading the same way. For a while it followed us, got ahead, then we followed it. On the way we saw a couple of flowery flounders, a couple of day octopuses, a crowned jellyfish as roughed up as the ray, and an oriental flying gurnard. It’s not a great photo of that, but it’s the first one I’ve seen here.
Near the spot where we planned to turn around and head back, I passed over a hole in the rocks and, glancing down, saw the distinctive shape and colors of a green turtle. I think it must have chosen this spot to take a rest, but my appearance startled it and it clambered out of the hole and swam away.
Shortly after that, the turtle encountered the eagle ray. The two of them crossed paths a couple of times before going their separate ways.
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.
Time for an eye test as in spot the flowery flounder. I don’t think this one is too hard. Not like the last flounder I saw which settled on a sandy bottom, churned up a bunch of sand, and disappeared beneath it leaving only a tiny, inconspicuous bit of tail identifying where it was.
When I saw this flowery flounder swimming, it promptly plopped down on this rock where it didn’t blend in quite as well as flounders usually do. It watched me as I took a few photos. I swam away and when I looked back the flounder had gone.
As you would expect, fish that rely on camouflage for protection are hard to spot when they’re at rest. The best bet to see them is to spot them on the move.
Sometimes I notice the final motion of one of these creatures before it settles in one spot and blends in. In this case, this flowery flounder was trucking along over a sandy bottom for quite some distance before it rested on the sand. Even in motion, and casting a shadow, it’s easy to see how hard it will be to spot this fish when it stops on the sand below.