Monday, March 19, 2012

Fiji: One trip and ten lifers

For the past several years, the New England Aquarium has participated in a joint expedition to Fiji, along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and other conservation-minded groups and individuals. The last expedition took place in October and November 2010. Stay tuned to this blog to follow the team as they dive to collect data on the health of the coral reefs, pick up trash where they find it, check in with the villagers to see how some conservation initiatives are faring and further develop connections with the people that live on these beautiful Pacific islands. 

Guest blogging today is Mark Rosenstein, who also took the fantastic photos below.

If you know anyone who is a bird watcher, or have seen the recent movie The Big Year, you know that some birders keep a life list, a listing of every species of bird they have ever seen. As a self-proclaimed "fish geek," I keep a life list of fishes I have seen. For the Indo-Pacific Ocean, that list had 719 species before this trip. While I don't claim that I can recognize and name every one of these fishes when I see them again, for more than half of them I can. And I at least recognize when I'm seeing something new. 

Something new: Clearfin lizardfish

This is my sixth time in Fiji on this itinerary, yet I continue to see new things. Whenever I see something unfamiliar on a dive, it catches my interest. I try to make mental note of what I've seen, and take a picture if I can. Besides pictures that (I hope) will turn out beautiful and people will want to see, I take "documentation shots" of fish to prove I saw something or to aid in identifying them later.

Adding this curious wormfish to the life long list

Bailey is aware of this predilection and will sometimes help point out unusual fish during a dive.  Occasionally, reviewing photos and notes after the dive, we decide it wasn't what we thought it was during the dive. Or my memory is faulty, and I had seen before what I thought was new. But surprisingly often, a "What the heck is that?" during the dive turns into 15 minutes research in the many reference books on the boat, and a life fish for me. Occasionally, it will be a fish that the reference books say isn't in Fiji. If there's no photo, I'll then doubt what I saw. But occasionally the photo proves that a fish was there that the experts don't expect us to find.

 Wass' jawfish

My first new fish for the trip was Wass's jawfish, Opistognathus wassi.  Several of us saw this fish on Day One’s checkout dive, though only the top of its head was showing. The photo wasn't good enough to be certain of the identification, but this is one of two species of jawfish (Opisthognathus parvus Smith-Vaniz is an obscure record) expected in Fiji, and the photo is a likely match for Wass’s.  Too bad none of them showed more of themselves so that we could be certain. Another new fish for the trip was pearly dartfish, Ptereleotris microlepis. A small unmarked fish that hovers over the sand plain, it's easy to overlook. Especially since several other dartfishes have spots or other markings making them more noticeable. Both Bailey and I noticed them, and a photo helped clench the ID after the dive.

In all, I had ten lifers on the trip. One was spectacular: a great hammerhead shark, Sphyrna mokarran cruised past us off the wall at Wakaya--unfortunately too far away for a photo. Others, like the threeband demoiselle, Chrysiptera tricincta, took seeing them on multiple dives and studying the reference books and videos before deciding that's what we saw. I will be back to Fiji, and I'm sure there are more fish waiting that I still haven't seen.

-Mark Rosenstein

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