Getting sub aquatic in the freezing cold part I

I’ve been back a week now, and I am only just thawing out after some awesome diving in the far south of Victoria.

I arrived at Dive Victoria Group‘s Portsea office and was fitted out for the gear. Now, I live in the extreme north of Australia, well into the tropics, and this location is about as far from that as you can get on the mainland. Wetsuits and hoods are not things I wear into the water very often in the hot North. Waddling down the short path to Portsea Pier, the cold wind froze the exposed skin on my hands, feet and face. This was going to be a real challenge!

To make matters worse, the dredging and opening of Port Phillip Bay’s heads have caused nasty erosion along the front beach of Portsea, so there is earthworks to stabilize it all, muddying up the water. Also, more swell can get in on the incoming tide, which stirs up the water significantly.

Life on the pylons

Looking towards the surface

Life on the pylons

Life on the pylons

Piercing cold needles of sea water seeped into my wetsuit as I eased myself in, but once fully submerged, the wetsuit did its job and I was warm, except for the hands and feet. Never mind, as I continued down and out, the murky water gave way to better visibility.

One of the first sightings was a wonderful Giant Cuttlefish (Sepia apama). It didn’t like the attention, and stayed just out of range of the camera. I did manage one snap shot but it is slightly blurred, no good.

Giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama)

The giant cuttlefish that would not stay still

As always there was a heap of ascidians (sea squirts), bryzoans, sea weeds and sponges growing all over the pylons. Picking away at them was a Magpie Perch (Cheilodactylus nigrans) which is a species of morwong; perch like marine fishes mostly found in cold southern waters. They feed on small invertebrates in the sand and among the marine growth.

Juvenile magpie perch (Cheilodactylus nigripes)

Juvenile magpie perch (Cheilodactylus nigripes)

By no means rare were swarms of porcupine fish (Diodon necthemerus). Closely related to the puffer fish, they are covered in sharp spines, if given a fright they inflate with water to create a spiny ball most predators can’t even hope to eat, though in the tropics I did watch a giant toadfish preying on one a few years back on the surface.

Porcupinefish (Diodon nicthemerus) schooling

Porcupinefish (Diodon nicthemerus) schooling

Porcupinefish (Diodon nicthemerus) inflated

Porcupinefish (Diodon nicthemerus) inflated

At the corner of the pier was a Scaleyfin (Parma victoriae), a species of cold water damsel fish. This male was guarding his clutch of eggs laid in an old tyre.

Male scaleyfin (Parma victoriae)

Male scaleyfin (Parma victoriae)

A beautiful male Senator wrasse (Pictilabrus laticlavus) was paying attention to a nearby female, darting in and out of the weeds. As quick as a flash, they both raced towards the surface, spawning in a split second, returning to the weeds again.

Senator wrasse male

Senator wrasse male

Senator wrasse female

Senator wrasse female

At the end of the pier a bright orange fish caught my attention. Scribbled with blue, the Mosaic leatherjacket (Eubalichthys mosaicus) paid me no attention, going about his business picking at things unseen amongst the sponges.

Mosaic leatherjacket (Eubalicthys mosaicus)

Mosaic leatherjacket (Eubalicthys mosaicus)

A cousin of the leatherjacket is the Shaw’s cowfish (Aracana aurita). This is a male, females are shades of brown.

Shaw's cowfish (male) (Aracana aurita)

Shaw’s cowfish (male) (Aracana aurita)

I moved out over the sea nymph and algae beds in search of other things when I noticed right in front of me was this awesome little Ringbacked pipefish (Stipecampus cristatus). With the appearance of a rotting sea nymph stem, it sits on the bottom, rolling around with the waves, snapping up tiny shrimps.

Ring backed pipefish (Stipecampus cristatus)

Ring backed pipefish (Stipecampus cristatus)

The star of the show were the sea dragons. (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus). Cousins of the seahorses and pipefish, they drift about over the weeds and sneak up on tiny shrimps, snapping them up with the long tubular snout. Without the aid of diving lights, they are not overly colourful, but light up wonderfully when light is available. Orange body with yellow spots and blue-purple bars they are one of the most spectacular of all the southern fishes. Like all seahorses and their relatives, the male carries the eggs until they hatch.

Weedy sea dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus)

A weedy sea dragon hovers in midwater

Weedy sea dragon camouflaged in weeds (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus)

Despite their colours, the weedy seadragon is well camouflaged when they want to be.

A freezing cold first dive for this trip in Victoria, but not one I regret. Two more dives to come…

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