THE HOVERING DUSK DIVE

The Courtship Streak -- As they finish their rapid courtship dance ritual in some 10 feet of water, this pair of Spanish hogfishes streaks off side by side, sending their gametes together into the water column.

The Courtship Streak — As they finish their rapid courtship dance ritual in some 10 feet of water, this pair of Spanish hogfishes streaks off side by side, sending their gametes together into the water column.

I LOVE DUSK DIVES, watching what happens as darkness comes to the reef and many fishes hunker down for the night. On Bonaire this January, I found myself with the luxury of doing solo dusk dives off the resort in which I could simply remain hovering over a particular patch of coral for a whole and watch what went on.

AS DARKNESS CAME ON:

  • The little black & white damselfishes moved closer and closer to the coral, nervously trying out crevices to hide in for the night, darting in, darting back, eventually disappearing.
  • As if on an unseen signal, the gangs of smallmouth grunts that spend each day hanging out around coral heads began to move to other coral structures, as if preparing move out into the sand flats to scrounge for crustaceans in the bottom. I knew they did this; what I didn’t know was that the sand flats they would  move to were right next to the corals. Written sources always seemed to imply that they went to areas some distance off. But it was the sandy bottom right next to their corals to in which these guys foraged.
  • A spotted eel emerged from its hole and began – hesitantly – to move into in the open to start the night’s hunt. Fishes — seemingly potential prey — came near but the eel didn’t acknowledge them.
  • In the fading light, lines of stoplight parrotfish and tangs moved by in single file, heading off to traditional landmarks on the reef for the evening’s broadcast spawning rendezvous.
  • The group of gray snapper that spends many daylight hours tightly packed beneath the resort dock milled about in a group just above the reef/sand flat margin. In the murky light it was hard to tell what they were about, but they went to the same place each evening.
  • And right in front of me a pair of Spanish hogfishes met up and began darting about in a high-speed courtship dance, up and down in about 10 feet of depth in maneuvers reminiscent of a Blue Angels aerial routine, ending by streaking side-by-side directly towards me as they spread their seed into the water column. By luck I had my camera ready at that time and was able to shoot one photo, which worked. It’s possible having a flash go off as you finish your courtship is a mood killer – they immediately separated, although they (or at least two Spanish hogfishes) came back and began the event all over again later.
  • A few minutes afterwards, the area’s entire population of brown chromis, with several wrasses mixed in, rose in the water column in one great aggregation. For a moment, I thought that I was about to see brown chromis broadcast spawning. But no. It became clear that these planktivores were picking something juicy out of the water – little, tiny Spanish hogfishes, I surmised, that had just been created by my hogfish friends’ exertions. Presumably some survived for the journey from embryo to fish. And other contributed to a healthy chromis population. Such is nature.

All in all, right or wrong in my interpretations, in 15 feet of water, in one place for 45 minutes, one of the most interesting times I’ve spent in my 650 dives over 20 years.

– Ralph Fuller