Whenever you visit the same dive area several times, some dive sites seem to consistently deliver more than others, and, correspondingly, some less than you would wish. Here in Lembeh my favorites are the Aer Bajo sites and Hairball, where many uneventful starts of dives have been turned around to glorious experiences. The different TK sites on the other hand have for some reason not really caught my interest that much, despite that if I really think hard I actually have seen some really neat animals there. My expectations for yesterday´s morning dives were less than stellar, as the first dive was in Nudi retreat (coral dive, why??) and TK 3. Nudi retreat delivered a couple of cool Xeno crabs as well as a beautiful soft coral crab, which was fine, and perfectly OK. Happy with that. TK on the other hand, in the words of a well known dive resort owner, just kicked the balls out of any kind of negative feeling about that site.
Paulus, my dive guide for the day, first found a weird flat crab buried into the rope sponges that are so common in TK (pictures coming in a later blog). Just after that a great Janolus nudibranch posed nicely,
followed by a number of “commoner” nudis, and a beautifully colored devilfish, showing of its pectoral fins.
A couple of minutes later in a small patch of rope sponges and debris, two beautiful frogfish and one common sea horse were found.
That was just the start. After that, less than 5 meters apart, a flamboyant cuttlefish was hunting,
a hairy frogfish came walking by, and, finally,
a coconut octopus did his (or her) amazing show with a couple of beautiful shells, hiding, digging, watching me and walking around with the shells.
So, TK, I am officially sorry for my negative attitude. TK after this climbs significant steps on my favorite dive site list. Simultaneously, my wow for this trip of concentrating the photo shooting to a few of the best subjects on each dive, was blown to pieces. But what can you do, this was like letting kids loose in a candy store, Danes loose in a beer pub, Djengis Khan loose in a village of pacifists or Simon loose in a camera store!
Lembeh is a very good place for seahorse hunting. Not only does Lembeh have several “proper” seahorses, which is medium-sized fish, looking like a seahorse should look like but also at least three pygmy seahorses, a number of pipefish and the almost iconic Lembeh sea dragon as well as their relatives, ornate ghost pipefish and the sea moths.
The coolest and maybe best known feature of the seahorses and pipefish is that the males takes care of the eggs. Why is this such a big deal? Well, as we define the two sexes, males produce tiny mobile sex cells called sperm numbering gazillions, while females make a few energetically expensive, immobile sex cells called eggs. Thus, males can get to father a lot of offspring by getting their sperm placed in contact with eggs, while females are limited to much fewer offspring. Of course the mean number of offspring for the two sexes will be the same, indicating that some males have great success, and others none, while females have much less variance in their number of offspring than males. Also, in most cases, as females have a large investment in each mating, females may often be more motivated to invest in offspring.
Not so among seahorses and pipefish. Seahorse and pipefish males, for some reason, are the caretakers of the eggs during development. In seahorses eggs are transferred to a pouch on the males abdomen and the male there fertilizes the eggs. Eggs are kept in the pouch until they hatch and the small seahorses, that look like miniature versions of the adults, are expelled by the male by contractions of the pouch. Pipefish on the other hand, do not have a pouch and “glue” their eggs to either their abdomen or to the base of the tail. As most seahorses and pipefish are monogamous, it does make sense for the pair to let the male take care of the eggs and juveniles, as the female then can invest all surplus food in a new batch of eggs. As far as I know, little is known about the sex roles of the pygmy seahorses, but researchers are currently working on both their ecology and their systematics.
Ghost pipefish females in contrast take care of the eggs. The eggs are held between the pelvic fins of the female and held until they hatch. The male, often much smaller than the female, hangs around and waits for the eggs to hatch.
Quite common here in the strait are the sea moths, close relatives to the seahorses. They are almost always found in pairs, with the more distinctly coloured male leading their walk around their territory in search of food.
Finally, it is interesting that there still are both a number of known but scientifically undescribed species, and news species that are found on a continuous basis. In the north Sulawesi region the Pontohi seahorse and the Lembeh seadragon have been found during recent years. It is highly likely that more species will be found here in the years to come. In fact, the first of the pygmy seahorses were found not too long ago by a sea fan researcher, that took a sample of a particular sea fan into his laboratory, and there much to his surprise, saw the small, pink Bargibanti seahorses swim around the fan.
These days we have been back to Pulau Abadi – a divesite in front of Bitung harbour, that has a nice rubble patch and also a beautiful coral reef. Our guest saw lots of cool things there including frogfish, flamboyant cuttlefish, ribbon eels and a wonderpus (that disappeared in its hole unfortunately). My personal highlight of that dive were these three though: A Cuttlefish eating a shrimp (he kept hunting it for quite some time while i watched it through the viewfinder), 2 Bargibanti Pygmy Seahorses cuddling and hitting each others heads and an algae with 7 (yes, 7!!) Picachu Nudibranchs in it (see 2 of them on photo). Oh … and there was also a beautiful school of barracuda. And all that just in front of Bitung’s Deep Sea Harbour … typically Lembeh 😉
All our dives on our 3 dive boats were really good today … but the second morning dive on Stargazer was a rather special one. We not only found many critters, we also found them in a very small area. Among several other critters, we saw a Painted Frogfish, a Common Seahorse, a Nudibranch with Emperor Shrimp, a Pygmy Pipehorse and some cool little shrimps within a area that was about 2×2 meters in size. We spend exactely 54 minutes exclusively on these four square meters … and then more Frogfish, Nudibranch and Shrimps on the way up. A dive that our guest Martin from Germany really enjoyed.
Hairy Frogfish, Rhinopias, Hairy Octopus, Blue Ringed Octopus – most Muck Divers coming to Lembeh have a “Holy Grail” on their Bucket List. Mine has always been the Zebra Seahorse. Our Dive Guide Paulus says that he has seen the last one something like 10 years back in Hairball – and this week he found another one. I don’t really have much to say about this critter as it was the first specimen i have ever seen. Compared to other seahorses like the common seahorse, the thorny seahorse or the mollukan seahorse this species seems to be more active: it was moving over the sand and looking for food constantly. According to books, there is a more yellowish-white striped (see picture) and a more black-white striped colouration. So my new “holy grail” will be the black-white one …
Our NAD-Lembeh BLOG is now running for about 4 months and reaches 100 posts with this post. We are very happy, that all you guys keep following our BLOG Posts – thank you very much. It is a fanstastic winter season here in Lembeh with many cool critters and good diving in the whole Strait. We are having great dives these days from California Dreaming all in the north to Madidir all in the south (this is also where i took this shot of this cute litle seahorse posing in the sand) – and we also found some new dive spots.
But we are also having a very productive period in our resort with a lot of improvement projects. We are changing a lot of furniture, making new garden paths, working on gardening, re-finishing bungalows, changing over to energy saving fridges and doing maintanance on one of our boats.
The Pygmy Seahorses are without doubt among the most attractive critters – they are cryptic, hard to find but yet beautiful. And for a lot of divers the Pontohi Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus pontohi or Weedy Pygmy Seahorse) is even more special than other Pygmy Seahorses.
The Pontohi Pygmy Seahorse was first seen in 2003 in Bunaken (by a local guide named Hence Pontoh) and officially described in 2008 – so it is a rather recently discovered species. No wonder, as the Pontohi is not as “easy” to find as other Pygmy Seahorses. While other Pygmies prefer specific hosts (like the hippocampus bargibanti for example likes the muricella seafan), the Pontohi hangs out in between small halimeda algae and hydroids – which means basicly everywhere along walls and rocks 😉 So looking for a Hippocampus pontohi means screening more area than just checking specific seafans.
The Pontohi grows to about 1 cm in size, lives mostly in pairs and comes in two general colour variations: White-Yellow with some red and Brown-Black with some red. The pontohi mimics dead halimeda leafs and therefor likes to turn his body with the surge – which makes it hard at times to take pictures of it. The Pontohi can be found in between 1 and 25 meters depth.
Best Places to see Pontohi Pygmy Seahorses in Lembeh Strait: Nudi Retreat 1-3, Angel’s Window, California Dreaming, Batu Sandar, Tanjung Tebal, Tanjung Kubur, Nudi Falls.
Photo Tips: Use a 100mm Macro or longer – please do not attempt to photograph Pontohis with a 60mm Macro, as they live on the walls and you will have to go so close that your camera and strobes will damage the reef. Consider also to use a Teleconverter or Diopter with the 100mm. Try shooting Pontohis only when there is not much surge or choose deeper living specimens – as they will move less. Try manual focus.