Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why 'Gregory'?

With its dual rhinopores at the front and gill fronds at the back, this astonishingly coloured Nudibranch can slither around in broad daylight (this one off Gaya island on 18th February 2009), safe from predation because of its toxicity - as advertised by the wild & wacky colour scheme!

As I've noted before, even snorkelling in TARP can throw up surprises - 14th April at Sapi island was no exception. As well as a much better picture for Sergeant fish Abudefduf septemfasciatus and my first sighting of an adult of the Damsel fish Chrysiptera unimaculata, three new guys appeared: tiny, unafraid Dragonet Anaora tentaculata, the Gregory Stegastes fasciolatus, and an initial phase form of the Wrasse Stethojulis bandanensis. And I'm hoping to go again this coming weekend - maybe I'll get a better shot of the latter; nice!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mellow Yellow

A Yellow-lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina, family ELAPIDAE) poked prodded and slithered its way across and under shallow corals off Gaya island. Reserving its deadly venom for small fishes and invertebrates, it ignored me. It's was my first ever sighting of this species and if my air supply wasn't borderline, I'd have given it more of my attention. The day was the 4th of April 2009, a day with enough else of interest to report that I'm sorry I can't dawdle:

It ended with my first sighting of the elusive but iconic and brightly coloured Dragonet Synchiropus splendidus soon before finally surfacing; it began with a first sighting of the weird and camouflaged Flathead Platycephalus indicus (save for flashes of bright yellow in its tail when disturbed). In between I counted another 6 new species for my TARP Fishes list (now sitting at 423; the TARP collaborative list will then read 548 confirmed + 4 probables when I update it): Gobies Amblygobius nocturnus, Cryptocentrus caeruleomaculatus, Mahidolia mystacina, and the astonishingly beautiful Cryptocentrus leptocephalus; Blenny Salarius guttatus; lastly (with a rather poor photo) a juvenile specimen of Wrasse Halichoeres podostigma.

As well as some improved pictures for several old fish friends, some new colour phase fishes also presented themselves for inspection: the juvenile Boxfish Ostracion cubicus and the Dottyback Pseudochromis fuscus (both bright yellow); also a juvenile of Scolopsis margaritifera sporting its second set of colours (along with the first, they mimic different poison-fanged members of the Blenny genus Meiacanthus only one of which I have seen meaning the other is probably around somewhere in the Park yet to be discovered).

Incidentally, since posting information about my last dive in February, I have been able to identify a fish from back then which had been vexing me: Glassfish Ambassis miops.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fangs, Babies & Butterflies

Just think - this beautiful baby sponge seen off Gaya island on 30th August 2008, may already be well on the way to being a giant barrel sponge capable of hiding Porcupinefishes or Lionfishes...

Anyway, I'm still catching up on my fish observations - this time data from 20th February this year. First a confusion to clear up: Until now, I have persisted in calling a certain type of Wrasse Oxycheilinus orientalis because a significant authority suggests it. However, having read further, I am pretty certain that what I have seen is actually called O. rhodochrous even if the first authority doesn't recognise it. And whilst reviewing my photos of the suspects, I realised that one was just wrong. Further investigation convinced me that in the past I have actually seen a second species (not yet listed for TARP by myself nor by Gerry Allen previously) called Oxycheilinus bimaculatus.

Alongside this are three more fishes not previously listed in TARP by either of us: Moray Gymnothorax zonipectis (normally only visible at night so very nice to spot on a daytime dive), Wrasse Pseudocheilinus hexataenia (which hides most of the time and only appeared to me in the background of a photo of another fish), and yet another large Grouper species (hooray!) Plectropomus leopardus.

Lastly, there were two special fishes which Gerry had already seen but I hadn't: Butterflyfish Chaetodon auriga (I sometimes wonder why the Butterflyfish presence seems to have dwindled since 1992), and the very localised (known only from the coast of Sabah and Palawan island) Fangblenny Meiacanthus geminatus; with its poison fangs, it has prompted some very good mimics - at least one of which (the juvenile of Scolopsis margaritifera) can also be seen in TARP.

In total then, my TARP list stands at 414 fish species, and the combined list total at 548 (it will take me a while yet to update this list on line).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

2% More

It had to be done sometime: a photo of a nemo-fish - this one is Amphiprion ocellaris (family POMACENTRIDAE) photographed off Gaya island on 18th February 2009. All in all it proved a satisfying day including photos of 8 new fish species taking my checklist total up to 408.

Really satisfying was the Blenny Ecsenius monoculus (apparently strictly limited to Sabah and the Sulu islands of the far southern Philippines). Goby Eviota guttata was cute too along with Gazza minuta (a little Toothpony). Under a jetty drifted a silent shoal of the Cardinalfish Sphaeramia orbicularis (a black and silver version of the better known Pyjama cardinal), and loitering around its crevice in a big coral bommie in shallow water was my first Dottyback for TARP - Pseudochromis fuscus. A couple of handsome Filefishes - Pervagor janthinosoma - squared off against each other in the presence of a potential mate (otherwise normally they are very shy and retiring). Out to sea off Sapi island in a deep outer reef, I saw my first Greensnout parrotfish - Scarus spinus (it's a lovely site with many types of Parrotfishes, relieving some of my previous fears about their apparent scarcity in TARP). Lastly in a mixed shoal of Barracuda, I photographed Sphyraena flavicauda for my first time in the park (I've seen it several times before here but not got the camera to it).

That's not all though - as you might expect during such a productive day: I got a photo of the awesome bright yellow morph of the Trumpetfish Aulostomus chinensis, as well as the beautifully barred juvenile Wrasse Cheilinus fasciatus. I was also rewarded with better photos of the Fang-blenny mimic Petroscirtes breviceps (previously I had also misdiagnosed it as P. variabilis), Damsel Pomacentrus philippinus, and off Sapi again the Parrotfishes Scarus forsteni (Terminal Phase) and Scarus niger.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

400th Fish Species Caught on Camera

I'm pretty certain that the soft coral pictured here off Sapi island exactly a year ago (6 April 2008) is a member of the family Xeniidae. That should make up for yesterday's uncertainty.

I bought a digital video camera and housing a few weeks ago, in Singapore. A day or so after testing it out whilst snorkelling, it died on me. It's been awaiting parts from japan for repair ever since. However, the day I tested it (16th February) brought me a surprise: a new species of Sergeant fish (Abudefduf septemfasciatus) hiding right in front of my eyes - sure enough I'd misidentified it a couple of times in the preceding 1year. Sadly, my photo is complete rubbish, being pulled off a test-shot with the video. Still, I know where to go next time to get better photos.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Tourism 2008 Figures Equivocal

Preliminary 2008 Sabah visitor statistics are in. I've added them to my historical graph for ease of reference. Overall, numbers appear to be down around 7% on 2007. However the number of visitors from non-contiguous countries is barely down (less than 2%) and the number of non-Sabahan Malaysian visitors is up for the ninth year in a row: this time by over 7%. The apparent down-turn is actually caused by a big drop (60%) in the number of visitors from Indonesia (the drop in their actual numbers matches the total drop in all visitor numbers to within 1%) and I would be surprised if this represented a significant group of true tourists; given the global economic downturn I am quite surprised that non-Indonesian visitor numbers have not plummeted. Incidentally, the figures for the month of January 2009 appear to reflect this argument in comparison to the month of January 2008 as well (aside from a significant drop in South Korean visitors).

I'm a huge fan of these large soft corals (photographed on 30th August 2008 off Gaya island). I didn't touch them though so I can't confirm if they were from the family CLAVULARIIDAE (if so they would withdraw into tubes) or XENIIDAE (nowhere to hide).