Weird creature of the month – October

Dugong Trang Thailand
Dugong is a large marine mammal, together with manatees, they belong to order of Sirenia, which  today has only four living species.

Dugongs can weigh as much as 380 kg and reach up to 3 m in length. They can live long, oldest recorded specimen reached age of 73. They have several nick names like Sea Cow, Sea Pig, Lady of the Sea, the last one comes from the Malay word duyung. Dugongs have been on the hunters list for thousands of years due their meat and oil. Closest relative to dugong, the Steller’s sea cow was hunted down in the 18th century. Today authorities are trying to save dugongs with different conservation and protection projects.

In some cultures they are legendary for their medicinal purposes. In Southern China catching dugong was thought to bring bad luck.

Did you know that actually dugongs are considered to be the inspiration for Mermaids?

Dugong populates more than 37 countries throughout Indo-Pacific. Biggest population you can find is from coast of Northern Australia. The sea of Trang province in the Andaman Sea is home to dugong as the area is rich with sea grass.

Dugongs have few natural predators, although animals such as crocodiles, orcas, and sharks pose a threat to the young.

Dugongs are called as “sea cows” because their diet consists mainly of sea-grass. Occasionally they eat jellyfish, sea squirts, and shellfish. Dugong can spend all their life in sea water, without having need for fresh water.

Due to their poor eyesight, dugongs often use smell to locate edible plants. They dig up an entire plant and then shake it to remove the sand before eating it. Sometimes they collect first a pile of plants before eating it. The muscular upper lip is used to dig the plants out, witch leaves furrows in the sand in their path. They may travel long distances to find food. As they need a lot of sea grass then usually we can’t find many dugongs in the same area. They spend most of their lives solitary or in pairs.

Dugongs may stay under water up to six minutes, dive down to 39 meters, but most probably you can meet dugong at depth of around 10 meters. Most of the dugongs in Thailand we can find in Trang province (2013 about 110-125 individuals), where a much smaller population lives in Gulf of Thailand.

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Weird creature of the month – August

pistol shrimp diving thailand koh lanta phi phi islands,

Gobies is by far the largest family of fish with approximately 1,500 known species over the whole world. Just like its near relative the blenny, the goby usually lives in burrows and holes and are territorial, were most species are around 10cm in size.

The goby is a relatively social animal that lives with its partner for a longer period. The male goby attracts the female by making noises, and it is proven that these sounds are crucial for the choice of partner. The sound is made by the male gathering an amount of water in the mouth and quickly spurting it out with a massive force.

Another very interesting feature many of the gobies have around our dive sites is their partnership with shrimps. They live in a symbiotic relationship and depend on each other for survival. The shrimp is very skilful in digging, finding food and making a burrow. However, since it is blind, it makes the shrimp a very easy snack for predators.

The goby on the other hand, has very good eyesight but lacks the skill of digging, hence also making it an easy target. To survive they work together with the shrimp where the fish sit outside the excavation site as a lookout.

If you look carefully at the shrimp you can see the tentacles in close contact with the goby. If a predator would close in the shrimp can wiggle the tail, alarming the shrimp. The shrimp will then move to the side so the fish can swim in and hide.

If you avoid exaggerated movement and breathe carefully, you can see the shrimp and the goby on the sea floor all over Phi Phi Islands and Koh Haa.

Weird creature of the month – July

garden eel diving thailand

While scuba diving sandy sea beds you may come across what initially appears to be a colony of sea grass sprouting from the sea bottom, but as you get closer the grass begins to shrink and eventually disappear like it was never there to begin with. What you just witnessed was not a mirage, the effects of narcosis or your mind playing tricks on you, but simply one of the most interesting varieties of conger eels known as the Garden Eel.

Garden eels live in large groups in underwater sandbanks. Each eel has to make its own burrow that goes straight down into the sand. They dig these burrows with their tails using a gland in their tail which secretes a slime that makes the sand stick together. This technique ensures that the eels burrow does not collapse. The garden eel eats without leaving its burrow keeps its tail inside and sticks the rest of its body out. With its head exposed garden eels spend most of the day attempting to capture zooplankton that the current delivers them. When it gets scared, it takes its whole body into the burrow closing the burrow with a mucus plug to protect itself. This is the secret to the Garden Eels vanishing act, leaving no trace of the burrow as it retreats.

Did you know? The Garden Eel get its name from their practice of poking their heads from their burrows looking like they are growing as plants in a garden.

you can easily find garden eels at the Similan Islands

Weird creature of the month – June

Sea Angel diving krabi ao nang thailandSea Angel (gymnosomata)

Light reflects through tiny creatures fluttering their translucent wings. They seem to be flying, even thou they are in the blues of our seas. These beautiful organisms are the proof of the existence of angels, angels with horns. The angel-like appearance resembles that of their huge importance in ecosystem. They are a parts of the food chain serving as the food to fishes as well as whales. Their horns may symbolically remind of the “devilish” side of these angels as predators.

Sea angels are very small swimming sea slugs found around the world in arctic and tropic seas usually in the upper 0-20m of water. They belong to marine mollusks and are divided into six subgroups, with differences mostly due to a different geographical habitat. Sea angels lack the mollusks shell, which explains their scientific name: Gymnosomata (Greek: naked body).

Their body is gelatinous, like that of a jellyfish, and because of its shape, has been referred to being perfectly streamlined for swimming. Their gastropod has developed into a wing-or fin- like extensions, which allows them to perform a rowing or “flying” motion. Evolutionary adaptation on losing the shell and developing fins, unlike on other sea slugs, has given the sea angels the liberty of swimming freely in the oceans. Because of their unique swimming style and highly developed muscles and body shape, sea angels have been the subject to a wide variety of researches in the neurobiology of swimming.

Sea angels are carnivores and adapted in size and behavior to their main prey, sea butterflies or so called sea devils. They catch the butterflies with tentacles located in their mouth. Thus even the largest of sea angels grows only up to 5cm in size. They don’t have eyes, but instead use chemical detectors to find their prey. The chemical detectors are located in the head, looking like horns.

The Antarctic sea angel synthesizes a deterrent, which keeps the predators from eating them. Some other small sea animals use this unique benefit by carrying a sea angel around in order to protect themselves as well. The arctic sea angels have been reported to be found even in densities of 300 to a cubic meter, whereas southern areas densities don’t reach even close. Sea angels have both male and female reproductive organs. They fertilize internally and then release a mass of eggs to float freely until the eggs hatch.

Sea angels have been widely used as visual models in movies and cartoon characters because of their extraordinary looks. In Japan they even sell scientifically designed aquariums for those keeping the delicate arctic sea angels (Clionidae) as pets.

Weird creature of the month – April

Flatworm diving thailand kon-tiki krabi ao nang

Flatworms, also called “planarians,” are found just about everywhere there is water. There are many different species of flatworms, some live here, in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand.

Some flatworms can be more than 10 m long, the longest one have been 30 m. They have no body cavity and no circulatory and respiratory organs. With no restriction in shape means the worms can grow flat which gives them their name.

This flattened shape allows oxygen and nutrients to pass through by diffusion. The digestive cavity has only one opening for both the intake of nutrients and removal of undigested wastes, which means that the food cannot be processed continuously.

Flatworms are one of the simplest animal groups with a basic central nervous system and eyes that can only see the difference between light and dark. Some worms lack eyes as they are completely parasitic living in or on another animal.

They are hermaphrodite which means they “choose” their gender during mating. This procedure is quite particular as flatworms use their “penis” to fight each other. The first one to penetrate the other will inject sperm and become male. For the flatworms, this contest is serious business. Mating is a fight because the worm that assumes the female role then must expend considerable energy caring for the developing eggs.

Weird Creature of the Month – March

Catfish diving khao sok thailand ao nang krabiThe fish get their name for their prominent barbels that resembles a cat’s whiskers. Despite their name, not all types have those prominent barbels. Catfish range in size and behavior from the longest and heaviest, Mekong giant catfish from South-east Asia, to species that eat dead material on the bottom. Even to a tiny parasitic species that lives in the amazon basin, and are known to swim up through the human urethra.

There are some types that are armor plated and some types that are naked. Neither of them have any scales.In some species; the mucus-covered skin is used in cutaneous respiration, where the fish breathes through its skin.

Catfish are nocturnal, meaning they are active during the night and sleep during the day. They therefore have highly developed senses. Most catfish are bottom feeders. In general, they are negatively buoyant, which means that they will usually sink rather than float due to a reduced gas bladder and a heavy, bony head.

Catfish have chemoreceptors across their entire bodies, which mean they “taste” anything they touch, and “smell” any chemicals in the water. Their barbels and chemoreceptors are more important in detecting food, since the eyes on catfish are generally small.

Catfish are of considerable commercial importance; many of the larger species are farmed or fished for food. Many of the smaller species are important in the aquarium hobby. However, these fish will bite and can damage objects in the aquarium. Due to both its aggressive and its predatory nature, this species should be kept alone.

Various species of catfish can be found inland or in coastal waters. They can inhabit freshwater or saltwater, many prefer shallow running water and some live underground. Some species inhabit caves.

Native to the Mekong area in Southeast Asia, with recorded sizes of up to 3.2 m and 300 kg, the Mekong giant catfish currently holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s largest freshwater fish.

Thai and Laos anglers consider it a “spirit fish,” bringing good luck to those who catch them. The Giant Catfish has long been a great delicacy. Some years ago, Bangkok restaurants had to order the catfish one year in advance, and a small bowl of tom yam pla buak was priced at a minimum of 150 baht.

This catfish is in danger of extinction due to overfishing, as well as the decrease in water quality due to development and upstream damming, the species no longer inhabits the majority of its original habitat. Fishing for the Mekong giant catfish is illegal in the wild in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, but the bans appear to be ineffective, and the fish continue to be caught in all three countries.

Since the 1980’s, the Thai Fisheries Department has run a breeding program, and many are now stocked in reservoirs and private lakes. These fish have been released in some of the largest lakes in Thailand. The flooded valley which is Cheow Lan Lake in Khao Sok is one of the last places, where you have the chance to see one alive in the wild.

 

Weird creature of the month – February

Mermaids SCUBA diving thailandThe mermaid is a creature that has been fascinating the mankind for thousands of years. And since the earth contains approximately three quarters of water it’s really not that strange people believed that the mermaid existed.

Half men, half fish creatures go all the way back to the Greek mythology and even further than that. The one of the most famous ones from that time was probably Triton – the half man, half fish merman messenger of the sea. He was the son of the sea god Poseidon. You can actually see worship of mermaid goddesses in more modern religions as well, like Hinduism.

Christopher Columbus wrote about them in his log book from when he discovered America. He had seen, what he thought, were three mermaids outside the coast of the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately these mermaids were a bit of a disappointment for him as he described them as very manlike in some way. What Christopher Columbus probably saw was three Caribbean manatees (sea cows), as you can imagine he never thought of mermaids the same way again. If you saw a couple of manatees from a distance and were expecting to see mermaids they could perhaps be mistaken for mermaids, with their fin and their cubby little arms?

A mermaid is a creature that is half woman, half fish and the male species are called mermen. Their names come from the word “mer” meaning sea. The mermaid has for some reason been a big interest for humans, while the mermen is often forgotten. There are many descriptions of the mermaid, the most common one is that she is very beautiful, with long hair which she likes to comb. Sometimes she sits on a rock and sings the most beautiful of songs just to lure sailors to their destruction.

Behind each mermaid there is a story, so you can imagine there are plenty of stories. Some say they will bring fortune to humans by granting wishes. Others say they bring cure for deadly illnesses. Some mermaids even marry and live their lives with humans.

MermaidsMermen SCUBA diving thailand

One story like that we all know is Disney’s “The little mermaid”. The little mermaid is based on H.C Andersen’s story with the same name, but there are some big differences between them. In the original book the mermaid went through intolerable pain during the transformation when her fin was ripped apart to become two human legs. And for every step she took it felt like razor blades were cutting in to her feet. On top of that, the prince did not fall in love with her, as he married another lady. So the poor little mermaid ended up as foam on the ocean waves, as the spell said she would do, if she didn’t get her prince.

Like I mention earlier some mermaids brought good fortune and luck, but there were some of them who was accused of doing not so very nice things. The mermaids would swim up to the sailors and tell them there were doomed and caused ships to capsize. If you saw a mermaid it was a sure sign of a violent storm to come. Other mermaids would deliberately drag men down to their underwater kingdom or squeeze the life out of a drowning man.

So, do they exist? Probably not, but there have been some rapports around the world about stranded mermaids. The latest one was after the tsunami 2004, a mermaid had been washed ashore on a beach in India. It got enough attention that an English-language newspaper in Singapore, The Straits Times, eventually exposed the hoax for what it really was. To many people these stories illustrates a hope, that there is something out there that no reason or logic can explain. And with all the water surrounding us in the world, who really can say that there are no mermaids out there? ­­