About once a week, maybe more, I get an email from someone I know (relatives, friends), with a title something like “340 Things That Will Kill You In Australia Without You Knowing” or “54.3 Ways Australia Secretly Wants You Dead” or “How To Get a Job and Stop Being a Drain on Earth’s Resources” (wait crap that last one is unrelated). Anyways, there are apparently lots of poisonous things that want me dead on this continent, though so far they’ve been reluctant to go on the attack. Anyways, part of what freaks people out about Australia I guess is the number of things that are both poisonous and sneaky.
Enter the wobbegong- this Eucrossorhinus dasypogon is considered harmless (I’ll start you off easy) if unprovoked, but certainly startling to come upon. The Navy Pier at Exmouth (dive currently run by the Ningaloo Whale Shark and Dive Company, very fun crew, very cool dive!) hosted at least two different and fairly large wobbegongs, which was excellent- they’ve been on my list of cool fishes since I was a young Agent Red Squirrel, reading books about marine life under the covers late at night. It’s harmless to divers but looks sort of creepy- those white spots aren’t actually the eyes, though. Look closer:
But only because you’re a human- if you were a fish, you wouldn’t want to get that close. That wide mouth creates a lot of suction, and technically that fluffy carpet there IS a shark.
More fun facts about the tasseled wobbegong- its fringe is made of skin, and in the other two species of wobbegongs doesn’t go all the way around the chin. That’s why this name (Eucrossorhinus dasypogon) translates to “well-fringed nose with shaggy beard.”
All right, now that you’re nice and comfy down there under the pier, keeping a close eye on where the beams and columns are relative to your head but making plenty of time to listen to the humpback whales singing in the distance and look at the schools of silvery fish drifting through the beams of light in the cloudy water, take a look just off to the north:
Stonefish, like this Synanceia horrida (see, aren’t Latin names fun?) can kill a grown man with one stab of their venomous and invisible spines. Happily, I’m no grown man and can therefore get a lot closer in… just kidding, Mom. We kept our distance and used the zoom on our cameras, but I was terribly impressed by our dive guide, Wes (who is moving to London and had a touching farewell with another lovely friend under the pier, who I’ll tell you more about later) for spotting this guy in the first place. Even pointed out, photo-enhanced and zoomed in, the fish still looks like nothing much. That was the part of the dive when I was happy that all of my various dive instructors and buddies and wise old advisors had taught me to keep my arms in close, away from stingy and bitey hidden bottom-dwellers.
I love diving- even without my favorite dive buddy, I had a happy and safe (though a bit chilly) time under the man-made and ocean-encrusted pier that we see so often from our transects. Warning to photographers, though- don’t take your favorite camera, even in a fancy and expensive housing, underwater with you unless you’re very cavalier or very insured, as my little old faithful G11 has now probably closed its little lens for the last time. But so it goes. If it could think, I hope it would have enjoyed the quality of light down there under the concrete and coral, and the sleep of electronic death. I hope it dreams of nurse sharks and giant groupers, mantis shrimp and harlequin shrimp and hundreds of nudibranchs. I hope it remembers Nepal and India, Little Cayman, Costa Rica, New Hampshire, and California. And I hope it remembers Australia fondly, less in listicles of violent and painful deaths and more in images of red dirt and teal water.
Goodnight from a sleepy Agent Red Squirrel- we’ll be on the boat at 7 am tomorrow, dodging the migrating humpbacks and searching for some more Sousa, as we do. From the boat, I’ll salute my new pier friends below the waves and try not to yawn too much before morning tea.
There are a few dangerous things lurking about back here at home too. A couple of weekends ago, a 6 year out boy just out for a stroll with 10 other people in an open space park near Steven’s Creek Reservoir in Cupertino, was attacked by a mountain lion. This was at 1pm on a busy weekend at a hiking area right at the edge of a large city! The adults in the group managed to chase the mountain lion away and save the boy, but that could have been any of us. It is interesting that we have apex predators like mountain lions, and poisonous rattlesnakes and back widow spiders basically in our back yards and great white sharks off our beaches and earthquakes are so common that we name sports teams after them, but we think Australia is scary dangerous. I guess what you don’t know always seems scarier.
Oh yikes! I’m glad the boy is okay, but that’s super scary. And yeah, Australia doesn’t seem so bad now that we know what we’re looking for- the big spiders and poisonous fish really don’t bother you unless you bother them, unlike mountain lions perhaps.