Text and photography by David Oldale
I can't say that I was ever enthused about diving Octopus Cove; it was not that it was an undramatic shallow dive; it was just that I had never seen anything there to write home about. If there was anything to see, just like the week before when a rarely spied Manta ray cruised around the divers I was not there!
The water was flat calm as we chugged out on the hardboat. I had managed to borrow' Nev's close up kit that would fit my underwater camera I wasn't going to be defeated on this occasion, by not having the right equipment for the job!
We anchored in about 10 metres of water just out from sheer cliff-face of Los Gigantes; below I could look down through the crystal water to see volcanic rock and sand on the seabed. Inwardly I knew that this dive would be a disaster it always had been for me, down in Octopus Cove!
We descended as a group with Nev indicating to me an area of weed growth about twenty centimetres square. Straining my eyes I looked, I moved the green algae cum weed and saw absolutely nothing A thought flickered through my mind that the curse of Octopus Cove was with me once again!
Nev indicated that I should follow him and his intrepid group of divers to another patch of green mank before his group moved off to leave me alone (with a buddy) to explore the greenstuff. I carefully parted the fronds; my eyes straining to search and see something that was not there or was there, but I couldn't see it. It was then that a slight flicker of movement caught my eye; my heart started to race and then subsided as an extremely small octopus slid between the fronds. After three pictures taken I continued my search until an eye twinkled back at me from deep within a patch of algae. A Seahorse eureka! And next to it yet another, I clicked away with the camera as the Seahorses moved closer and yet closer still to each other; Hey calm down you two this is a story for Holiday Diver not Sun Sport.' A tentacle slid toward my two little friends; oh no you don't!' I thought. It might be your lunchtime but today Seahorse is definitely off the menu! With some gentle coaxing the Octopus was persuaded to leave the arena for pastures new the distant reef wall. Right, back to the Seahorses who had by now disappeared, and try as might I could not find time for a new location!
I finned over the seafloor to another distant, small but promising patch of greenery and begun the search yet again. Two minutes later I had found my quarry a beautiful but beer bellied orange male. No, he hadn't been with me in the Offshore 44 Bar just pregnant! Much to the total delight of all women throughout the World it is the male Seahorse that carries the burden of pregnancy and gives birth!
An hour later with still plenty of air left in my tank but out of film I thought that I had better make my way back to the diveboat I was the last diver to board and had kept all waiting I didn't care, I had a smile that extended from ear to ear, a job well done hopefully!
I dived the area again later that week, this time with the TV film crew from Ocean-Eye; we came to the conclusion that Seahorses (in pairs) existed on every patch of green-algae/weed within the confines of Octopus Cove. How I now loved what I had at first considered a mediocre dive site!
|Some months later........|
I received a phone call from friends in Tenerife, Dave, we've been contacted by The Seahorse Trust in the UK with a view to tagging the Seahorses around Los Gigantes.'
The idea of tagging Seahorses intrigued me! Would you like me to bring out my staple-gun,' I jokingly replied. The phone line went dead after a distant chuckle! But how the hell was one expected to tag a Seahorse?
It was mid-November when I landed once again in Tenerife, the temperature still in the very much middle twenties! However the sea state was by now slightly unpredictable for four days I was confined to land as the Atlantic Ocean exalted its venom on the shore. My time spent out of the water had not been in vain as I looked over the letter from The Seahorse Trust; which gave brief instructions on how to tag a Seahorse with an assortment of coloured-numbered tags. The tags had to be tied with thread around the Seahorse's neck not too tight (to allow for movement) and not too loose (so that the thread could get caught on weed or become detached etc.,). At all times the Seahorse would have to be handled by a diver wearing latex gloves. It was definitely going to be a two-man operation; with divers James (handler) and Paul (responsible for tying) practicing their techniques for hours on end.
Although I could quite appreciate the importance of tagging many creatures of our planet for scientific purposes as long as the procedure caused the creature concerned no ill-effects or undue stress; the tagging of a tiny Seahorse (did at the time) give me some cause for concern.
Over the night of the fourth day the ocean eased to an oily-calm reminiscent of high summer I was going diving!
Equipped with a plastic box containing small scissors, yellow thread, tags, tweezers and latex gloves, four divers James, Paul (in full-face mask with an attached home-made magnifying lens), Sheila (videographer) and myself cruised out on the RIB from the small harbour at Los Gigantes to the confines of Octopus Cove.
This would be easy or so I thought just a drop down to 12 metres with a picture or three taken of the lads intricately affixing tags! I obviously hadn't reckoned on the start of winter. The seasonal cooling and past stormy seas in this location of the Atlantic Ocean had seen to the demise of the algae and weed outcrops which now looked seriously depleted. To make matters worse there were no Seahorses to be seen in any of the usual spots. It took thirty minutes to locate a small sparse weed covered patch of rock in 15 metres with low and behold one lone Seahorse. James and Paul set-to carefully with tag and thread; twenty minutes later the first Seahorse bearing Green tag No. 320 was tagged but not looking particularly enthusiastic about its new necklace! I was not too bothered I had the pictures, but would be back in the afternoon to shoot another roll of film with Paul and James intent on finding and tagging on a quicker time-scale.
With the assistance of GPS we located at the same spot a few hours later. Whilst Green 320 hovered feeding around its home, there was no sign of thread and tag! It came to reason (or so I thought) the guys had tied the tag too loose, it had been their first attempt after all they could only improve!
Number 322 was fixed, and adjusted with dextrous fingers far quicker than the morning's attempt. While this may have been so and carried out with great care; 322 did not look too happy, as once released it hung on to a strand of weed unmoving. At that point I was quite concerned as to its well-being; questioning in my mind the benefit of tagging Seahorses.
Five metres away James had made a discovery another Seahorse, on the loose and out and about on the sand. Another tag was applied (323) before the Seahorse was moved the short distance to pal-up with 322.
As a group we moved away from the area in the hunt for more Seahorses we found none! After 30 minutes I alone was back on site to observe number 322. Immediately a smile started to form on my face as the Seahorse following a period of rest was now finning gracefully and unconcerned over its sparse weed covered home. I settled down to watch. After moving around and feeding on tiny particles of living matter 322 turned upside down and stretched out its body whilst at the same time attempted to hook its thread necklace carrying the tag around a stiff portion of weed. That accomplished it extended its neck further to then fin backwards; the tag complete with thread was removed. Not only was I overjoyed I was left in wonder at the ingenuity of such a small creature! To me there was no doubt that the earlier disposal of tag 320 had been carried out in much the same way.
Over a Lemonade with Paul that night I described my latter encounter witnessing the manoeuvres of 322 in removing its tag before I had rejoined them all on the anchor-line.
You know what Dave; like you I am also unhappy about the stress and discomfort caused to these tiny creatures. I think that I ought to give the Seahorse Trust a call to find out how important it is to them that we continue with the tagging.'
Prior to Paul's call I had mixed feelings as to the usefulness of tagging Seahorses but as with most things a chat to an expert on the subject can help alleviate any reservations one has.
After Paul's long telephone call much of my initial anxiety was put to rest! It seems that little is scientifically known about the habitat, migration and movements of Seahorses. What is known that the Seahorse is an endangered species, with about 80% of the World's population being taken from the Oceans annually for use in so-called remedies and medicines in the Far East. Included in this number would be a smaller proportion that are captured to satisfy the requirements of aquarium keepers the World over. By way of tagging the various types and movements of Seahorses can be identified and monitored throughout our seas and oceans; with governments approached with regard to protection orders being issued. To date, the way of tagging by means of a (thread) necklace has been found to be the best means to monitor this tiny creature with a minimum of stress.
A New Species found in Tenerife? After some of my photographs had been emailed to the Seahorse Trust it seems that one Seahorse in particular was proving difficult to identify. The upshot of the matter a minute sample taken from the fin for DNA analysis would have to be obtained to ascertain on whether a new sub-specie had been discovered or that a known sub-specie from another part of the world had migrated into Tenerife waters. At the time of writing we are waiting for a representative from the Seahorse Trust to be despatched to take samples of DNA. I should mention that the Seahorse (like the Octopus) can change its colour and outward appearance to match its surroundings, which does cause difficulties in positive identification.
To find out more contact the Seahorse Trust or get out to Los Gigantes, Tenerife where especially during the summer months there appears to be a number of Seahorses of a minimum of two and perhaps three sub-specie!
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