I’ve seen lots of weird and wonderful, strange and dangerous, beautiful and hideous creatures underwater, but there is still a lot I’d like to see.
I was recently asked where in the world I would like to dive, but really, the creatures I want to see will dictate where I want to go, so this is my Top 10 Fish wish list.
Sunfish (Mola mola).
These are enormous flattened disks of fish, something like a giant fish head with fins attached. They can grow up to 3 metres in length and weigh over 2,000kg, which is impressive considering that they feed mainly on jellyfish. I first heard about them being spotted in Bali, so that’s where I’d like to see them, however I recently read that they live in both tropical and temperate waters and have even been seen off the coast of Britain.
Schooling Manta rays (Manta birostris, M.alfredi).
I have seen rays before; an occasional ghostly shadow moving through the blue water on the limit of visibility, so next on my wish list is to see one the enormous schools of mantas which migrate around the open ocean looking for nutrient rich areas to feed. The larger species M.birostris, can reach 7 metres in width, while M.alfredi can reach 5.5m. They are filter feeders, swimming with wide-open mouths and filtering plankton from the water as they go. They have also been known to breech, leaping out of the water in a behaviour, which is thought to rid them of external parasites. Baja, California seems to be the place to see them in the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, although they can also be found near Kona, Hawaii, in the Maldives, and in Micronesia. Any of these places is OK with me.
Hammerhead Sharks (Sphyrna spp.).
I once met a hammerhead at close range when it came to investigate our group of divers who were trying very hard to look like lumps of coral. Undeterred, I would like to see one of the schools of hammerhead which can be found in the so-called ‘hammerhead triangle’ between the Cocos Islands, Galapagos Islands and Malpelo. There are several different species of hammerhead, ranging in size from about 1m to over 6m, and weighing up to 600kg. The strange shape of their heads is thought to improve their vision, however they mostly feed on fish, squid, octopus, crustaceans and other sharks. They are also said to be fond of stingrays, which they pin to the ocean floor before eating.
Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus).
This is a photo of my son diving with a Whale shark in Thailand. I am extremely envious! These giant sharks can reach lengths of over 12 m and are filter feeders, living mainly on plankton and small fish. They are generally pelagic, living in open water, and seasonal schooling is sometimes found. Apart from Thailand, they can also be seen in Donsol, Southern Leyte in The Philippines.
Mandarin fish, or mandarin dragonet (Synchiropus splendidus).
These are small, brightly coloured fish only reaching 6cm in length. They live on sheltered reefs and in lagoons, feeding on small crustaceans and other invertebrates. In spite of their psychedelic appearance, they are quite hard to spot as they are slow moving, bottom dwellers. They are found in the Pacific Ocean, from Indonesia, Malaysia, and The Philippines, to Australia.
Weedy Sea Dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus).
How cute are these little creatures!? Related to seahorses, they can reach up to 45cm in length, and have leafy appendages resembling seaweed, which provide camouflage. Endemic to Australia, the Weedy Sea Dragon is found in the Eastern Indian Ocean and the SW Pacific Ocean, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia, inhabiting coastal water to a depth of 50m. They are usually associated with rocky reefs, seaweed beds, seagrass meadows and areas of seaweed where they feed on tiny crustaceans and zooplankton.
Nautilus (Nautilus pompilius).
The association of this creature with Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo, gives it exotic and ancient connotations. They have survived unchanged for millions of years are sometimes considered to be ‘living fossils’. This is the largest species of the pelagic marine mollusks of the cephalopod family (octopus, squid etc) and the only member to have a shell. It can reach almost 30cm in diameter, although they are usually smaller. The beautifully marked, smooth shell lined with nacre makes them a target for overfishing although they are not yet listed as an endangered species. Inhabiting the Indo-Pacific Ocean on the deep slopes of coral reefs, New Caledonia, The Loyalty Islands, and Vanuatu are the places to see them in shallow water. Nautilidae are scavengers and opportunistic feeders, eating lobsters, hermit crabs and any kind of carrion.
Dugong (Dugong dugon) and Manatee (Trichechus spp).
Not fish, but large species of marine mammals, sometimes known as Sea Cows and have often been associated with the myth of mermaids. Both are members of the order Sirenia, (the Sirens) and are thought to have descended from mammals related to the elephant. While the Manatee ventures into fresh water from time to time, the Dugong is strictly the only marine species of herbivorous mammal and is found in the Indo Pacific region, Northern Australia, Borneo, Vanuatu. An isolated population is also found in Palau. Adult Dugong reach around 3m in length and can weigh 400kg while Manatees are generally bigger and are found around the Caribbean.
Kelp Forests of California ( Macrocystis pyrifera).
There are all sorts of things to see underwater, and the Kelp forests of California could be one of the most impressive. Just as forests on land provide an ecosystem for thousands of species, the 25m long fronds of kelp that form these underwater forests are home to marine mammals such as sea lions and sea otters, sea birds, fish, invertebrates including nudibranchs and sea urchins and much more. Although the waters required for this habitat range from around 5C to 20C, mean a dry or semi-dry suit are necessary, diving here would be a fantastic experience.
Tech & Wreck.
Yes there are wonderful creatures to see underwater, but technical and wreck diving is another aspect of the sport to be enjoyed and marveled at. Famous sites for wreck diving include Truk Lagoon, Micronesia, where more than 40 wrecks of WWII ships and aircraft lie at depths of up to 60m; The Thistlegorm, Red Sea Egypt; SS President Coolidge of Vanuatu; Scapa Flow, Scotland where WWII German fleet was scuppered; etc, etc, etc.
So, in answer to the question where would I like to dive? In the water!
(These are not my photos, they are taken from the internet, mostly Wikipedia.)