Friday, February 20, 2015

Underwater monsters

Bitten by a fish. Stung by jellies. Attacked by a bristle worm. Our underwater adventures took a decidedly dangerous turn this February as we returned to Thailand. And also an incredibly beautiful one.

Last week Josh and I lived aboard Wicked Diving's M/V Mariner based out of Khao Lak about an hour north of party town Phuket. Our dive time was split between the Surin Islands and Similan Islands, both top dive spots in Southeast Asia and new haunts for us. In the big blue ocean we spotted dozens of giant moray eels, plenty of octopus, school upon school of yellow and blue and silvery fishes, long skinny trumpetfish, and acres of colorful corals.

Josh also got into an altercation with a mean old Titan Triggerfish. Triggerfish are very territorial, especially when they have a nest of eggs. This is their nesting season and we got unlucky when I unknowingly floated over the nest, angering a two-foot long mama or papa triggerfish. A whooshing feeling on my leg was the first indication of something of gone awry. The next was a large eyed fish starring me down as it charged towards me. I turned and swam in the opposite direction, fortunately away from its nest. Josh, meanwhile, just looked on in awe as the triggerfish swam full speed in his direction. For some reason, Josh was convinced the fish would turn away at the last minute, a game of chicken of the sea I guess. But, alas, the triggerfish had other intentions and slammed into Josh's bicep, taking a bite out of his wetsuit and a leaving bloody teeth marks on his arm. I watched it all happen, too shocked to intervene. Happily, triggerfish bites are not poisonous. So while Josh lost a bit of his arm that day, we were able to continue the dive and just smear some neosporin on his arm when we returned to the boat.

Then they were the jellyfish on the surface. As we bobbed along awaiting retrieval by the boat after another dive, a current filled with jellyfish mangled in the boat's prop flowed towards me. I was getting stung repeatedly and it turns out so were other divers in group. By the time I climbed back on board, I had a series of bumps the size of a #2 pencil eraser all up and down my arms and legs. And that was the end of my shortie wetsuit dives. From then on out, I covered myself head to toe with neoprene and polypro and delighted in admiring the jellyfish without getting stung.

On our last night dive, Josh and I discovered a new type of sea worm, one that is drawn to the light, glows with iridescence and is covered in tiny spines like a cactus. As we swam along, holding hands and searching for the red reflective eyes of crabs, shrimp and lobsters in the dark, this evil little creature drifted down from the surface into our clutched hands. I was oblivious, cloaked in long sleeves, but Josh thought the weird sensation in his hand was my wedding ring drifting away. Sweet man that he is, he grabbed at it only to be stung by a hundred microscopic thorns which embedded themselves into the palm of his hand as the bristle worm attempted to flee its captor. In the scuffle the worm landed on the back of Josh's leg, which he then grabbed at resulting in more pricks to his hand. Eventually Josh got free of the two-inch tiny bugger and was able to dislodge most of the spines from his hand before we continued our dive. Later I spotted a second one drifting down from the surface. When it landed on a rock, it curled into a ball, then laid flat with its spines folded down. It reminded me of a porcupine or hedgehog, except underwater and not nearly so cute!

The highlight of our dive trip was seeing a manta ray at Koh Bon. Although we later learned it was small compared to some of the other mantas our dive master had previously seen, I was awestruck by its immensity. With wings spanning more than 12 feet, the manta glided through the waters back and forth, up and down, giving us quite the show! One of our fellow divers (Peter from Germany) took some incredible photos of the manta ray and is letting us share them here. Enjoy!

Massive manta ray surrounded by schooling fish. (Photo by Peter)
Mantas are so majestic. We were giddy with excitement to see one on our last dive! (Photo by Peter)

A Titan Triggerfish nibbling on the hard coral, rather than Josh's arm. (Photo by Peter)

Pretty coral and jagged clamshell.

So many fish!

Tomato clownfish among the obscenely shaped sea anemones.

Tiny fish on colorful lichen-like hard coral. I love the colors underwater!

Sea cucumber with its ruffly black feeler thingies (technical term, I swear!)

Josh showing off his bouyancy skills. Did I mention that he flew me like a kite when I was underweighted? At least one of us is good with bouyancy.

One of many creepy giant moray eels we saw. (Photo by Peter)

Believe it or not, there is an octopus in this picture. No matter how many I see, I am still amazed at the way they change colors and textures to blend in with the rocks.

Least you think we lived under the sea, here's a cool shot of our dive boat and home for 6 days. (Photo by Peter)


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