9 Amazing animals from the cold waters of Southern Australia
Well everyone, 2015 has been a rather hectic year. No rest for the wicked, some say. Right after leaving the Wet Tropics, it was straight down south with my favourite biologist and partner Linda for a “meet the family.” Yes, she did very well, but no doubt you’re more interested in what we saw under the sea… More information for each image can be found by following the Flickr link.
9 Dragons of the Sea
Now these little guys are about the most amazing members of the Seahorse and Pipefish family (Sygnathidae). There are three types of Sea Dragon found in Southern Australia, two kinds of Weedy and one kind of Leafy. The common Weedy Seadragon is far more abundant than you may realise. In one snorkelling session I spotted over 40 of them! It does take a trained eye, and they sit at a depth of 3-6m among seagrass and sea nymph beds. Like other seahorses and sea dragons the male is the one that looks after the eggs under his tail until they hatch. This was the first thing we saw on the first day. Not a bad start!
The long tubular snout is used to suck up tiny shrimps
In the sea nymph beds they can be a little tricky to spot…
8 Little Sea Dumplings
Unknown to most people that visit the beach, at night a strange little character emerges from the sand, peering out with big, bulbous eyes.
With a coating of sand stuck to their bodies, they switch on a light from an organ within to cancel out their shadows from predators and prey below.
If disturbed, they become even more adorable.
Dumpling or Bobtail squid are relatives of true squid and cuttlefish. Many species are found around the world’s oceans, and they are nocturnal, coming out after dark to hunt shrimps. The sand sticks to their bodies and can be shed in one lump with a spurt of ink if the animal needs to make an escape. The sinking blob of sand must look and smell like the squid and may distract a predator long enough for the little dumpling to jet away to safety. These little critter live only about 3 months. I had to brave the freezing cold water by myself to get these images after dark!
7 Colourful Cowfish
I really don’t know how a six-horned fish with a tiny mouth and psychedelic fingerpaint coating got the name “cowfish” but these Temperate Boxfish are very common on deeper reefs and seagrass beds in southern Victoria.
There are two species, the Shaw’s
And the Ornate.
They get around picking at small invertebrates on the pylons of piers, rocks and reefs. We saw loads of these on the dives and some while snorkeling. Shaw’s were most common on reefs inside Port Phillip Bay and the Ornate was abundant on the seagrass beds around Flinders Pier.
6 Blue Devils
There is no need to explain the reason these fish are the major bucket list species of the Southern Sponge Gardens. At Portsea Hole we saw a number of Blue Devils just hanging around at about the 20m mark. On slack tide they emerge to sit in midwater to feed. Blue Devils grow to about 40cm.
Hard sounding fish, no doubt. Leatherjackets are also known as Filefish. Allied to the tropical Triggerfish, they are prolific in Southern Australian waters. They are all carnivores, feeding on worms, jellyfish and anything else that they can scavenge. Like their Triggerfish cousins they have a sharp, barbed spine on the back of the head which makes it hard for predators to swallow them. The skin is usually rough, like sandpaper. Here is an overview of some of the species we saw: Pygmy Leatherjacket
The only Gunn’s Leatherjacket I have ever seen
Bridled Leatherjacket. A small species often seen in huge swarms in warmer weather.
Female Southern Leatherjacket
The unusual Mosaic Leatherjacket – a juvenile
Male Southern Leatherjacket
The very distinctive Horseshoe Leatherjacket
Yellow Striped Leatherjacket
Well, the Occies didn’t disappoint either. On every night dive we found them. In the freezing cold, we tried our luck at Mornington Pier. It was blowing a gale from the north which is very bad news for conditions. However we did manage to find a few nice creatures, but the octopus were the real treat. This Southern Keeled Octopus sat patiently for photos before vanishing down a hole in the mud.
And anywhere we went on the sand on any other night we were rewarded with the Sand Octopus, a species that hides under the sand by day, emerging after dark.
They are absolutely everywhere! Especially at Rye. We found them hunting in ankle deep water.
3 Sealing the deal
What trip to southern waters would be complete would goofing around with the resident seals? These playful mammals are easily found at Chinaman’s Hat in Southern Port Phillip Bay.
As soon as we arrived they greeted us, leaping into the water and rolling around, stopping to check us out before jetting away at full speed. They were too fast for any good images, but it was a blast.Actually, on second thought they might be Sea Lions. I’ll have to check…
2 A lonely cuttle
It was a surprise to only see one Cuttlefish this trip. We were diving at South Channel Fort and I saw him in a little cave. He came out and just sat there, in a miserable looking cuttlefish pose. I did get some cracker shots though. The wide angle lens worked a treat.
1 Deadly beauty
Without a doubt the most attractive of the octopus is the Blue Ringed. There are several known species, all of which have saliva loaded with a cocktail of toxins that will kill you (after making you completely paralyzed in no time flat) if you handle one and get bitten.
They are shy and retiring creatures, the Southern Blue Ringed has been a major bucket list species for me for a long time. Here are three I found in as many days: This little fella is doing his best not to be seen. They do not like coming into contact with people and usually sneak away quietly.
When disturbed they do change immediately, turning yellow with black blotches. In each blotch is a bright blue ring.
This one was spotted on the bottom under Rye Pier late one night. I was the only one in the water as it was too cold for anyone else. This one was so big I thought it was a Keeled Octopus. It was about the size of a tea saucer- far larger than I thought they reached.
Well, that’s about it for now. There is more coming when I get some more spare time, but in the meantime enjoy my Flickr album for more images. (Opens in new window)