|Kristina: Texan, friend, photographer, snorkel buddy.|
ANYWAY. Last season, Nick and I cataloged about 20 species of fish who swam with us at local beaches, plus other creatures like sea hares, spiny urchins, anemones, crabs, eels, jellyfish and a bunch of different mollusks (whelks, mussels, periwinkles, etc.). Once we saw two baby shrimp, which may be the cutest things in the sea: just imagine swimming in a Pixar movie. After several trips, we saw the same few kinds of creatures again and again and again which is like visiting old friends: comforting but rarely exciting. Then after our Philippines trip, I was a little hesitant/reluctant to go back into the (boring) waters of Steel City. (Then again, this is WAY better than any snorkeling in Iowa.)
But today.... Ah, today. Today, Kristina and I scored THREE ENTIRELY NEW (to us) sea creatures. Allow me to set the scene. I know it's taking forever to get to the point, but be patient.
We originally set out to photograph fishing villages; these quaint traditional areas are fast being abandoned for high-rise apartments in the city (eew.). After stopping at a few places, we soon realized that the ocean was flat...FLAT. We'd never seen anything like it: it was perfect for snorkeling and we could do photos on land any old time. A quick trip home to get our gear and back we went to the beach at Odo-ri.
|Look at that glassy water. And the anachronistic Mondrian-style building decor in the harbor. |
And these sassy ladies cleaning fishing nets.
In our rush, we forgot to grab some anti-fog agent (a.k.a. travel-sized shampoo), and I'm reluctant to spit in my goggles (I know it works, but still. Yuck.). I remembered that the snorkel guy in Jeju picked sook for us; this common Korean plant (a.k.a. mugwort; a.k.a. stubborn garden weed) has miraculous anti-fog properties. So we picked some growing by the road, rubbed it on our goggles, and into the glassy water we finally went.
Spring time in the ocean apparently means everything is having sex and babies. Wow - slimy eggs sacs waved about like spiderwebby purses; orange egg ribbons dotted the plants; giant schools of baby fish just hung out, waiting to grow up. (You can swim right through schools of 10,000+ fish and not touch a single one - their flock mentality is pretty amazing.)
|Sea hare photo from sci-news.com|
As Kristina and I swam along (have I mentioned the joy of a buoyant body? I am an effortless athlete in this briny arena), we spotted an inexplicable object near the surface. About 5" long, this completely transparent and somewhat flattened rectangular object had, well, a set of electrified rainbows inside of it. I mentally ruled out the reasonable explanations (e.g., tiny neon signs in a ziploc bag) and was left with, well, nothing. What in the world could this be? Was it even alive? We spent some time looking at it, having enough wisdom not to touch a mysterious electrical thing while swimming (hey - childhood safety education WORKS), when we suddenly realized it was moving deliberately toward us (where "us" here means "my face"); I noticed its weird head, vaguely shaped like a plenaria (thanks, biology class) or a hammerhead shark (no thanks, Shark Week). We quickly (and perhaps a tiny bit hysterically) whooshed it (snorkel jargon for "madly pushed water to re-establish a comfortable zone of personal space"). Later, after much research ("neon baggie ocean" might not have been the most efficient Google search phrase), I finally identified this as a comb jellyfish. Which was kind of a disappointing name. As though someone thought this creature was as common and as boring as a pocket comb. Thus, I shall recommend to the International Jellyfish Naming Association some better options, like "Prism Jelly" or "Rainbow Glory" or maybe even "Rock-a-jelly." Anything, really, would be better. Comb jelly. Harummph.
|A "comb jelly." Photo from montereybayaquarium|
What an amazing morning. Tired, happy, and getting cold, we headed back toward the beach to find a coffee shop (kaw-pee, as it's pronounced here). Moving out of the rock zone back to the shallower sandy area, I spotted a strange blob amid the grasses waving below us. At first I took it to be a large sea hare until some part of my mind realized that it was vibrating. Like a football-sized hovercraft on a doily, with rapidly undulating edges. Oh. Oh my. It was a cuttlefish, which is the cuddly cousin of the octopus. I had only seen these in videos (not counting the cuttlebones I'd found while beachcombing). I dove for a closer look and as I got within arm's reach, it turned its strange, huge eyes toward me. It is an unsettling feeling indeed to be an intruder in an alien's land (oops - an alien's waters) and then to be noticed by said alien, who looks into your eyes and then makes a decision of some sort. I think we both held our breaths for that instant (literally AND figuratively) before Cuttlefish shot away, instantly changing his/her color and texture to precisely match the sandy bottom it now glided above. I was astonished at its quick-change: like clicking a new filter option on a digital photo. What a stunning creature.
|cuttlefish photo from darwinsreef pbworks|
|That is an anglerfish. With sharp pointy teeth. |
And a strong trigger for instant panic upon which was based
the scariest movie scene in animation history...:
P.S. If you might enjoy some hilarious (if sometimes crude) science videos about the octopus, cuttlefish, anglerfish, and other creatures, check out Ze Frank's "True Facts" video series. You'll learn far more (in a far shorter time) than you ever did in biology class. :)