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Discussion in 'California' started by drbill, Mar 24, 2019.

  1. drbill

    drbill The Lorax for the Kelp Forest Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Santa Catalina Island, CA

    Back in 2013 I was once again escaping the harsh California winter by heading down to the toasty Bahamas for another dive trip. A cancelled flight earlier on Air Tran Airlines resulted in a free ticket anywhere they flew. I spent a week aboard the Blackbeard's liveaboard Morning Star and then stayed afterward to do the famous shark dive at Stuart Coves.

    Now I greatly prefer Asia and the South Pacific over the Caribbean due to the much higher biodiversity there, but I really enjoyed this trip. The liveaboard was advertised as "camping at sea." However, it really was fun, in part due to my fellow divers on board and most of the crew. I didn't click with the divemaster as she didn't seem to be that interested in diving. I had checked with the main office about diving solo and was approved, but the DM said no. At least there were some good buddies on board such as Anabael Tou, a pilot for Air France.

    At one site we dove an old DC-3 that had been abandoned after a drug run. It was in relatively shallow water and a fun dive both during daylight and at night. Anabel had to climb on top of the fuselage and pretend she was flying the plane! Now filming a sunken plane was a kick in itself, but my primary objective is always filming the critters I find underwater.

    During the day dive, the most interesting critter proved to be a member of the lizardfish family Synodontidae. These somewhat sinister looking fish have a long cylindrical body. Fortunately most of them are small although one species may reach 24" in length. They get their name because the head looks like a lizard. The mouth is fairly large and some species display a pretty good set of dentures! The dorsal fin is set fairly far back on the body.

    The lizardfish family lives primarily in the tropics and subtropics although we have one species here, the aptly-named California lizardfish (Synodus lucioceps). There are approximately 57 species, like the 57 varieties of pickles originally marketed by Heinz. Lizardfish prefer soft bottoms such as sand or mud in shallow water, although there is a deep sea species (Bathysaurus ferox). The body is usually blotched or mottled to match its surroundings.

    The individual I observed was apparently a sand diver (Synodus intermedius). There is a black spot at the top of the operculum and the lateral line shows yellow-gold coloration. It can darken or lighten its body color. They are found in the western Atlantic from Bermuda south to Brazil. I was surprised to learn that they, along with many other bottom-dwelling fish, have an irridescent layer in the cornea which protects them from very bright light. I guess I no longer have to fear eye damage to these fish when I film them.

    This voracious carnivore was resting on part of the aircraft's fuselage looking out past me. I turned around to see a very large school of fish. Suddenly the lizardfish literally "flew" off the plane and into the school of fish. When I caught up with it, it had grabbed one member of the school (apparently a "D" or "F" student) and was swallowing it. Interestingly, their upper jaw contains two rows of teeth and the lower jaw has three. Even the tongue has five rows of them! I wouldn't have to see my dentist at all if I had the same configuration!

    These ambush predators feed mainly on other fish. However, they occasionally like a change in entrees and will take bottom-dwelling crustaceans, squid and cuttlefish. Lizardfish are quite bony and are therefore not good eating, at least for humans (especially if I'm the chef!).

    © 2019 Dr. Bill Bushing. For the entire archived set of over 800 "Dive Dry" columns, visit my website Star Thrower Educational Multimedia (S.T.E.M.) Home Page

    Image caption: The sand diver on the plane and the school of fish; lizardfish taking off and swallowing its prey out on the sand.

    DDDB 805 lizardfish sm.jpg

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