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Weekend culling, and a reef shark

14 May 2016

I went for the regular monthly cull with Ocean Frontiers, a three tank, nitrox dive. My usual buddy had cried off with a hangover for too much corporate golf the afternoon before so I was a bit nervous about whether there would be reliable buddies on board.

These used to be very popular dives, booked well in advance, culling 150-200 fish.  However, since they switched to requiring nitrox the numbers in attendance have really dwindled. Nitro is sensible for a three tank cull, where you can easily get distracted and push the limits on your bottom time.  Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t take the time for the extra training necessary to dive with nitrox.  There was also the small fact of Batabano, the local Caribbean carnival, a drunken parade of scantily clad women (and a few men) later that day.

There were only five on the boat (plus two staff) so it wasn’t hard to learn everyone’s name, even for me (I am dreadful with names) and I offered to go with an American couple, the wife of which was just taking pictures and “spotting” fish.  I often wish I could take my camera – when I’ve got the spear and no camera is often when I see the best things, so I also carry a GoPro, just to ensure I don’t see anything too cool.

The weather was overcast and windy, the sea quite rough for the first dive, at Lost Wall. Lionfish usually come out more in these conditions, they are shy of the sunlight. But unfortunately we didn’t see many and I was on dreadful form – of the five I saw, I only managed to get two.  Everyone else struggled in equal fashion, so we only caught eight for the boat.

The swell had really picked up, so we moved down South to the Blow-holes for the second dive.  We had a great dive here last month (see the last report) so I was quite excited, but didn’t recall an abundance of Lionfish (good for the reef, but not so good for culling and effectively affecting the population). We agreed to go into the shallows, but no sooner had we jumped in, than the husband in my dive group dropped his spear.

I descended quickly in an attempt to track it, but we were hanging over the wall.  Nitrox is great at giving you bottom time, but the increased oxygen content becomes poisonous at depth.  The mix I was on has a safe operating limit of 112 feet, which I quickly hit in the pursuit of the spear, with still at least twenty feet below.  Lost spear!

Fortunately, on such a quiet boat, I had borrowed a spare spear – Lionfish are tough to kill and sometimes a second spear is useful.  I handed it over to the American so he wouldn’t waste his dive and then proceeded to swim through a finger, seeking shallower water.

In all the excitement, perhaps he/they forgot the plan, but I soon found myself diving alone in the shallows, exploring nooks and crannies with a good degree of success, and a much better strike rate! Although standard protocol when losing a buddy diving is look for a minute, then surface (something I have failed at before – see a lonely night-dive), but culling is a different deal, you often lose sight for minutes, then gather back together.  I kept looking around, progressing into the shallows, looking out for bubbles to signify my dive team.

As I said, I was having some success, spearing several Lionfish in deep crannies, and coming across large crabs and lobster to otherwise keep me entertained.  Then, looking back once more, I realised that I was no longer alone.  An inquisitive reef shark was marking my progress.  All thought of culling was gone and I whipped out the GoPro, but the shark was camera shy.  Camera shy, and remarkably efficient.  I swam as hard as I could to get a full frame shot, but he just carelessly finned away from me.

I haven’t processed many GoPro videos, and need to practice more.  I’m quite pleased with the videos I have, two of which are posted below, but I need to either learn how to shake the camera less (you try pegging it after a shark carrying a GoPro in one hand and a spear and container of Lionfish in the other!) or learn how to reduce camera shake in processing.  YouTube has an algorithm for it, but as can be seen from some of the distortions in the shark alone video, it is not perfect.

I got a bit low on air, and a bit turned around while following this chap around, and eventually surfaced a long swim from the boat. Still, it was all worth it!  Although I was more successful on the percentages I only had 4, which matched the number on the boat.

The last dive was the least successful of all in terms of Lionfish, but what a dive! Log Anchor, so named because of an old large anchor lost at the site, it was the kind of dive that reminds you why we look after the reef. It was a shallow dive site, and I continued to look under overhangs to try to seek more Lionfish. One after the other, these overhangs turned into a series of gorgeous swim throughs. Such a shallow site, with few Lionfish around, we split up, bubbles emerging from the hard pan as divers explored swim throughs and overhangs. There were turtles, crabs, pufferfish and fun exploration to be had, but I only saw one Lionfish, retreating into the darks of a narrow tunnel that got too tight for my shoulders.  Still, not many Lionfish, but an awesome dive.

I got excited a took a number of videos through the swim throughs but these require time to process.  I tried a montage of some of the wildlife below, but need some practice developing the videos.  Any processing or filming tips would be gratefully received!

 

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