The Lion, the Guitar, and the Angel

No it isn’t a knock-off of CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe … rather it’s a roll call of some of the fish species we saw while diving and snorkelling on our recent trip to Moreton Island. I spent much of my childhood fascinated by the Great Barrier Reef and grew up with aspirations of being a marine biologist (and then joined the Army, go figure), but my fascination with marine critters has never waned, so I plan to document some of the marine life that we see during the odyssey here on the blog.

First up, the lionfish (Pterois antennata, aka firefish, butterfly-cod or scorpionfish) is a usual suspect on shallow reefs so you generally see a few when diving on the Tangalooma wrecks. This trip I spotted two, and both were floating around in full regalia, with all banners flying. They are a distant relative of stone-fish (which I’ve also seen on the Tangalooma wrecks) and while not deadly, I can personally attest that getting pricked by a lionfish spine is incredibly painful. The best remedy is to dunk the afflicted body part into hot hot water. In some parts lionfish have become pests and people are actually paid to hunt them so they don’t destroy the delicate eco-balance, but fortunately they aren’t pests around here (yet).

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The wrecks are also home to a stack of other reef fish, but high up on the favourites list are brightly coloured angel fish. There are lots of species of angels, and I have struggled to specifically identify the ones I saw this trip, but I think they may have been Pomacanthus semicirculatus. “Common to many species is a dramatic shift in colouration associated maturity”. In other words they change colour as they get older and we spotted the bright blue juveniles, as well as the less vivid but still beautiful adults.

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South of Tangalooma at the Big Sandhills, we discovered a colony of Giant Shovelnose Rays (Glaucostegus typus) and White-spotted Guitarfish (Rhynchobatus australiae). I’ve never really known whether they were considered sharks or stingrays, so I googled them. According to Wikipedia: “Guitarfish have a body form intermediate between those of sharks and rays. The tail has a typical shark-like form, but in many species, the head has a triangular, or guitar-like shape, rather than the disc-shape formed by fusion with the pectoral fins found in other rays” while “the giant shovelnose ray has a broadly triangular, opaque snout and enlarged denticles and thorns along its spine” (not sure what denticles are…). In any case, there were literally hundreds of juveniles about 10cm long hanging out in the sandy shallows and around the mangrove roots, while I discovered a gang of adults hanging out on a little wreck that appeared to be a cleaning station. Sharks and rays are normally really skittish, but these guys seemed much more relaxed with having a snorkeller hanging around, so I got to hang out with them for ages.

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We just bought an air compressor for the boat so I plan to do a whole lot more diving when we start the trip (in 2 weeks!!) and document all the cool stuff we see!

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