Archive for the ‘Top 10’ Category

Top Five Most Playful Marine Animal Encounters

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Top Five Most Playful Marine Animal Encounters

By Scuba Diver Life

For most scuba divers, seeing marine animals is the largest lure of the sport, from the smallest nudibranchs and seahorses to the largest sharks and rays. But while most animals simply pass by or hover at a distance, some are interested in interacting with divers, even being playful.

  • First – A Note

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Before we continue, just a reminder to practice sustainable interactions. Do not chase animals; let them approach you. Do not hold or grab animals, and do not corner them so they cannot leave when they want. And let the animals call the shots — let them instigate the interaction and let them end it when they want. With that in mind, here are five of the most playful underwater encounters you’ll ever have.

  • Seals

    By Scuba Diver Life

    These are definitely my personal favorites. Often called “the dogs of the ocean,” they are naturally curious and very intelligent, and often seek out divers to instigate contact. They can be extraordinarily playful, especially the pups, and have been known to bite on fins, regulators and hoses, so it’s worth keeping on eye on them. They will occasionally accompany divers on entire dives, seemingly just for the heck of it. Residents of cooler waters, they are often overlooked when it comes to divers’ tales of animal encounters, but they are always a pleasure to meet.

  • Lemon Sharks

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Yes, sharks can be playful, and lemons are among the most playful of them. Known by some divers as the “Disney shark,” they are known for their distinctive facial features, which make them look as if they are smiling. They are also highly curious, so much so that they can be quite difficult to photograph. They often come all the way up to the diver, butting their snout against the lens, particularly around the Bahamas. While some of this behavior may be due to past feeding, the species does have a natural curious streak.

  • Dolphins

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Dolphins are the favorite of many a diver. These agile creatures are naturally playful and inquisitive, and often seek out swimmers and snorkelers, and sometimes scuba divers as well, though they seem put off somewhat by our noisy bubbles. Depending on the species, dolphins may appear individually or in groups, and will swim around divers, even coming up to nudge them underwater or at the surface. While “dolphin surfing,” wherein you grab hold of the animal’s dorsal fin and let it tow you through the water, has been practiced in the past, it is unacceptable behavior today. 

  • Penguins

    By Scuba Diver Life

    We know — penguins may not be the most common underwater encounter for divers. After all, Antarctica isn’t really a diving hotspot (pun intended). However, penguins are found in more temperate areas, such as South Africa and some parts of Australia. Divers here sometimes see the penguins swimming along with them, observing them, and zooming around like small, feathered torpedoes. At Shelly Beach, in Sydney, one zoomed down and stopped a few inches from my face, hovered and looked at me for a minute. It sped off, only to repeat the whole encounter a few more times.

  • Otters

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Otters are always a treat for freshwater divers. While they rarely dive to significant depths, they are excellent swimmers and can be found in lakes and rivers in temperate climates. Extremely curious, they sometimes follow along for entire dives, observing divers from the surface. They’ve also been known to play with the exhaust bubbles as they reach the surface and break. On one dive I did in Sweden, an otter threw pebbles at us during our surface interval.

The post Top Five Most Playful Marine Animal Encounters appeared first on Scuba Diver Life.

A Beginner’s Guide To Seabirds

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

A Beginner’s Guide To Seabirds

By Scuba Diver Life

If you’re an avid boat diver, you’re likely no stranger to lengthy surface intervals, liveaboard vacations, or long trips to and from dive sites. Cultivating an interest in seabirds is a great way pass your time above the water, allowing you to appreciate another aspect of the marine environment. Wherever you are in the world, there are birds to be seen at sea — in estuaries, on the coast, or even many miles from land in the open ocean. Each of these species boasts adaptations that allow them to survive in environments that are often as harsh as they are beautiful. Below are a few of the world’s most easily distinguishable seabird families, presented with the hope that this may spark in the avid divers who read it a new passion for the ocean’s magnificent avian residents.

  • Albatrosses

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Among the largest of all flying birds, albatrosses are immediately recognizable by their impressive wingspan; the wingspans of the largest great albatrosses are the largest of any bird at over 11 feet long. The IUCN currently recognizes 22 albatross species, and all are associated with the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific where they nest in colonies on remote oceanic islands. Albatrosses mate for life, a considerable achievement since scientists think them to be among the longest lived of any seabird. In addition to their large size, albatrosses are easily distinguishable by their long, strong beaks, which are hooked to help the bird seize food from the sea’s surface. There’s also a tube or ‘nostril’ on either side of the beak that the bird uses not only to smell, but also to accurately measure its airspeed while in flight. This ability, when used in conjunction with the albatross’ enormous wing span, allows these birds to fly incredible distances by soaring and gliding using the air currents generated by wind and waves.

  • Penguins

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Perhaps one of the easiest seabird groups to identify, all penguins have black backs and white fronts, in a camouflage tactic known as countershading. This helps the penguin to remain undetected by ocean predators while in the water by making it difficult to spot against the surface when seen from below. All penguins are flightless, with rigid vestigial wings that are ideally adapted to make these birds extremely agile in the water. There is some debate among scientists as to how many extant penguin species there are; currently, it is thought that there are between 18 and 20. Many of these species, like the emperor and the king penguin, are confined to Antarctic waters, but some, such as the African penguin and the little penguin, may be seen while diving in various Southern hemisphere locations. One species, the Galapagos penguin, is found north of the Equator in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands.

  • Gannets and Boobies

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Gannets and boobies are closely related coastal seabirds found primarily in the tropics and subtropics (boobies) and also in more temperate regions (gannets). They are diving birds, and so are perfectly adapted to plunge from a great height into the ocean without sustaining any injuries. Gannets and boobies both have internal nostrils that prevent water from entering their nasal cavity while diving, as well as excellent binocular vision that allows them to judge distances more accurately. Both have long, narrow wings and are exceptionally streamlined.

  • Gannets and Boobies, cont.

    By Scuba Diver Life

    They are similar in size and shape, but gannets are easily identifiable by their creamy white plumage, pale yellow heads and blue eyes outlined in black. The three species of gannet are found in the North Atlantic and off the coasts of Southern Africa and Australasia respectively. Boobies are typically brown and white, often with brightly colored feet. They are distributed widely throughout the tropics.

  • Terns

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Often described as one of the most graceful seabird families, various species of tern are found all over the world from the Arctic to the Antarctic. There are tern breeding colonies on every continent, and many species complete long-distance annual migrations to reach their traditional breeding site. These are relatively small seabirds, with the largest species (the Caspian tern) having a maximum wingspan of less than 3 feet (1 m). Typically, terns are light gray or white in color with a distinctive black cap, although some species (like the Inca tern) have atypically dark plumage. Depending on the species, terns may have black, yellow, orange or red bills, but all have longer, narrower bills than their close relatives, the gulls. Their small size, long wings and gracefully forked tails best identify terns. They are slender, aerodynamic birds that breed in noisy colonies, and typically dive for their food, sometimes in conjunction with predatory fish or dolphin pods.

  • Cormorants and Shags

    By Scuba Diver Life

    This group of aquatic birds numbers some 40 different species, many of which are known interchangeably as cormorants or shags depending on the country in which they are found. Believed to have descended from freshwater birds, modern-day cormorants and shags are coastal rather than oceanic. They are typically dark colored, and range in size from 18 inches to 3 feet (45 cm to 1 m) in height. Cormorants and shags enjoy a global distribution, and can be seen in most coastal locations except for the islands of the central Pacific. Their long, sharply hooked bills, their relatively heavy bodies and slender, snake-like necks easily identify them.

  • Cormorants and Shags, cont.

    By Scuba Diver Life

    These birds are adept divers, beginning their dive from the sea’s surface and reaching depths of up to 150 feet (45 m). After diving, most cormorant and shag species spread their wings in order to dry them, a distinctive behavioral trait that is a trademark of these birds.

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Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s Top 10 Dive Sites

Monday, August 10th, 2015

Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s Top 10 Dive Sites

By Scuba Diver Life


[Jacques Cousteau](http://scubadiverlife.com/2015/04/24/legends-of-scuba-diving-jacques-yves-cousteau/), often referred to as the father of scuba diving, spent a lifetime exploring the underwater world, and although his scuba career isn’t without controversy, he was an undeniable trailblazer. Many of the places Cousteau loved most have since become popular dive sites, ranking high on many a bucket list. Here are Cousteau’s very own top 10 favorite dive sites (in no particular order).** **

  • Sipadan, Malaysia

    By Scuba Diver Life

    A Malaysian island located off Borneo’s east coast, Sipadan became famous following Cousteau’s early ‘80s film “Ghost of the Sea Turtles.” Cousteau himself said of the area, “I have seen other places like Sipadan 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art.”  Since then it has often landed atop lists of the world’s best dive sites, with more than 3,000 marine species and corals; it’s particularly noted for its large number of turtles. Sipadan has been protected since 2002, so there are no resorts on the island and divers can only visit via day boat. Since 2013 only 120 divers are allowed on Sipadan daily between the hours of 8:00am and 3:00pm. Most dives here are drift dives, with some very strong currents in some places. An Advanced Open Water certification or minimum of 20 logged dives is required.  

  • Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand

    By Scuba Diver Life

    A group of islands 15 miles off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island might not intuitively seem to offer good diving, but the clarity of the water and the abundant marine life were enough for Cousteau to rate these islands in his top 10. The Poor Knights are the remains of volcanoes that formed part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, and which now form a marine reserve with over 50 recognized dive sites, including the world’s largest sea cave. The underwater diversity runs the gamut from kelp forests to walls, sandy areas, coral and caverns. Divers can also visit two purpose-sunk wrecks. Marine life is abundant with larger marine mammals like dolphins and various whale species appearing from time to time.

  • Aliwal Shoal, South Africa

    By Scuba Diver Life

    South Africa is synonymous with two things for most divers — the sardine run and great whites off Cape Town — but there’s much more to see here. Three miles off the coast of the small KwaZulu-Natal town of Umkomaas, Aliwal Shoal is a rocky reef named after the sailing vessel_ Aliwal_, which almost crashed on the rocks in 1849. The shoal is a large, rocky area with many caves and overhangs in the middle of a vast, sandy plain. It attracts marine life from all around by offering shelter to smaller fish, which naturally attracts the larger fish looking for a meal. The warm, plankton-rich Agulhas current also feeds the marine life with nutrients. Divers here can spot everything from tiny nudis to massive whales, but the real treats for divers are the seasonal visits of migratory ragged-tooth sharks (locally known as raggies) between June and November and tiger sharks in the African summer months from November onwards. Two wrecks are also worth a visit, the_ Produce_, which sank in 1974, and the _Nebo_, which sank on its maiden voyage in 1884. The former is a 15,000-ton Norwegian bulk carrier, whose rusted remains form a now-established reef, and the latter now lies hull side up.

  • Sha’b Rumi, Sudan

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Red Sea diving is not just restricted to Egypt; further south you’ll find some amazing diving off the coast of Sudan. Sha’b Rumi, a reef about 30 miles from Port Sudan, features lots of jacks and barracuda. Out in the blue there are also opportunities to spot sharks. In the middle of the reef is a lagoon that can be entered via a narrow route blasted by Cousteau himself — this kind of destruction nowadays would, of course, cause a massive uproar.   The channel’s not the only mark Cousteau left here; the site is also home to a number of experiments in underwater living. In 1963, Cousteau began the second [of his Conshelf experiments](http://scubadiverlife.com/2015/06/04/diving-history-jacques-cousteaus-conshelf-missions/) with the building of Precontinent II, an underwater living structure where the team lived for a month. The structures were removed afterwards, but a submersible hanger can still be seen.

  • Vancouver Island, Canada

    By Scuba Diver Life

    As with New Zealand, Canada might not pop to mind when it comes to scuba diving. Vancouver Island on Canada’s west coast, however, boasts not only the country’s mildest climate, but is also the largest island in the Pacific east of New Zealand, with over 17,000 miles of coast line. Cousteau said of the area that it’s “the best temperate-water diving in the world and second only to the Red Sea.” Vancouver diving still today ranks among the best in North America, and as such, you can expect some pretty spectacular temperate dives. Marine life includes prehistoric looking wolf eels, bluntnose sixgill sharks, seals, sea lions, giant Pacific octopus and the ever-adorable sea otters. If you love wrecks, check out the nonprofit [Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia](http://www.artificialreef.bc.ca/) , which has been sinking diver-safe ex-warships and one Boeing 737.

  • Cocos Island, Costa Rica

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Though it takes some doing to get here — this national-park island is 36 hours by boat from the west coast of Costa Rica — it’s well worth the journey. The only inhabitants are park rangers, and, because of its remoteness, the only way to visit is via liveaboard. The island, formed from volcanic activity, is the first point of contact for the northern equatorial counter-current, which brings in nutrient-rich waters and, famously, large pelagic species like whale sharks and schools of hundreds of scalloped hammerheads. Dive sites vary from shallow reefs to the deep, deep blue and plenty in between, including deep volcanic pinnacles. As mentioned, large pelagics are the undoubted highlight here. Other than hammers and whale sharks, you may encounter blacktip, whitetip, silvertip and tiger sharks. Rays of all types, including mantas, are common. Due to the nature of the environment, Cocos is best suited to only the most experienced divers. Very strong currents are common, and even though the water can be between 75 and 86F (24 to 30C), because of the deep currents, thermoclines can suddenly drop the temperature to as low as 43F (6C).

  • Blue Hole, Belize

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Even though there are many blue holes, and Cousteau has been associated with a number of them, the most famous is in Belize. Even more spectacular from the air, the perfectly round limestone sinkhole is 984 feet (300 m) across and 407 feet (124 m) deep. Divers typically descend to around 130 to 140 feet to view (40 to 43 m) massive stalactites which angle backwards and allow for diving underneath these large overhangs. Although visibility often exceeds 100 feet (30 m), there’s not much marine life to speak of save for the occasional Caribbean reef shark.

  • Cozumel, Mexico

    By Scuba Diver Life

    This small island off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is a Mecca for dive vacations, though happily it still retains some Mexican charm. There are two main reef systems, known as Colombia and Palancar, which are protected from fishing in many areas. Nearly all of the dive sites here are located on the west side, although there are some sites on the windward side that require favorable weather conditions and an advanced certification.  Drift diving is the name of the game in Cozumel, with steady currents sweeping the reefs at a typical 2 to 3 knots. Currents also keep the viz good, and divers can expect stunning coral, walls, lots of fish, lobsters, turtles and rays.

  • Heron Island, Australia

    By Scuba Diver Life

    A coral cay near the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern Great Barrier Reef, roughly 55 miles (89 km) off the coast of Queensland, Heron Island checks all the boxes you would expect from the stunning Great Barrier Reef. There’s even a small resort and research station on the small island, which is only 2,600 feet (800 m) long and 980 feet (300 m) wide at its widest. As you would expect from the GBR, the diving is spectacular with over 20 dive sites around the island, most in clear, shallow waters. Along with the stunning corals, divers of all levels can expect to see a variety of sharks, green and hawksbill turtles — which lay their eggs on the island — barracuda, lobsters, grouper, trevally and many types of ray including mantas.

  • Richelieu Rock, Thailand

    By Scuba Diver Life

    This horseshoe-shaped reef, discovered by Cousteau, is in what’s now known as the Mu Koh Surin National Park in the Andaman Sea off Thailand, though it is closer to Burma. This most-famous site in Thailand is known for its red-to-purple corals, which some say lead Cousteau to name it Richelieu after the eponymous French cardinal’s robes. This claim is disputed, however, with some believing it’s named after a Danish naval officer who lead the Siamese Navy around the turn of the 20th century. Naming aside, the rock itself is a limestone pinnacle rising up from around 164 feet (50 m) deep to just below the water’s surface. Every part of this formation is teeming with marine growth and reef fish. Mantas, sharks and barracuda, as well as schools of tuna and trevallies and occasional whale shark are all strong draws for divers. Because of the distance from land most trips are via liveaboard, although daily speedboat trips also depart from Khao Lak but can suffer from cancellations in bad weather. The dive season here runs from October to May, and with sometimes strong and changeable currents, this site is best suited to advanced divers.

The post Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s Top 10 Dive Sites appeared first on Scuba Diver Life.

The Wrecks of Coron

Monday, July 13th, 2015

Wrecks of Coron

By Scuba Diver Life

Late in 1944, the Philippines suffered a U.S. Navy bombardment of several Japanese vessels, which were sheltering in Coron Bay. The result of that destruction has become one of the best wreck diving sites in the world, with more than 10 vessels at the bottom of the ocean serving as a sanctuary for various critters.

  • The Akitsushima

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Lying on its starboard side between Culion and Busuanga, the seaplane tender _Akitsushima_ is an impressive wreck to behold. It sits at 85 to 125 feet (26 to 38 m) and the crane structure used to tender the seaplanes is still intact next to the ship, as is a coral-encrusted anti-aircraft gun. Due to the amount of damage sustained by the ship when it sank, only those with wreck certifications are allowed to do swim-throughs. Divers can expect to see batfish, large grouper, and tons of tropical fish.

  • Irako

    By Scuba Diver Life

    This is not the type of ship divers usually get a chance to see. While the_ Irako_ was a 656-foot-long (200 m) refrigeration vessel, it also housed a machine shop. Those who get the chance to swim inside will find lots of tools such as metal lathes and bench drills. It sits upright at 91 to 131 feet (28 to 40 m) and is home to yellowfin tuna, lionfish, and scorpionfish.

  • The Kogyo Maru

    By Scuba Diver Life

    This wreck is great for novice wreck divers. It’s resting on its starboard side, absolutely covered in corals. This freighter was loaded when it went down and divers who venture into one of its six cargo holds will find a cement mixer, bulldozer, tons of cement bags, a tractor, air compressor, and several massive groupers. Anti-aircraft guns can still be seen on the deck; the engine room and bridge are also accessible.

  • The Okikawa Maru

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Previously misidentified as the _Taiei Maru_, this 551-foot (168 m) tanker is thick with corals, grouper, batfish, and snapper. With its top deck sitting at 32 to 53 feet (10 to 16 m), it’s a great introduction to wreck diving, though currents here can occasionally be quite strong. Many divers have dubbed this wreck the most beautiful in Coron due to the volume of coral growth and other marine life that hangs out here. Advanced wreck divers can hop inside and swim through the propeller shaft all the way to the engine room. Max depth is about 85 feet (26 m).

  • The Morazan

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Sweetlips, sea snakes, turtles, and giant groupers frequent this 394-foot (120 m) cargo ship. Previously misidentified as the _Olympia Maru_, the _Morazan_ lays on its starboard side at 85 feet (26 m). An easy penetration lets divers explore large cargo areas and the engine room.

  • The Lusong Gunboat

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Take a break from diving and snorkel this one with the non-divers in your group. This gunboat has a nice layer of hard coral and a stern that actually breaks the surface at low tide. If you're looking for a beautiful, easy spot to practice your wreck photography, you've found it here. Max depth is 39 feet (12 m), and it’s located just off Lusong Island.

  • The Olympia Maru (formerly The Tangat Wreck)

    By Scuba Diver Life

    This wreck was originally dubbed the Tangat Wreck since no one knew its true name; it’s now been identified as the _Olympia Maru_. It’s 525 feet long (160 m) and rests at a depth of 59 to 98 feet (18 to 30 m). Large tropical fish shoals frequently glide by, along with giant batfish and puffers. It also features a couple of cargo holds available for easy penetration. 

  • The Kyokuzan Maru

    By Scuba Diver Life

    While not the easiest wreck to reach since it requires a long jeep ride to the other side of Busuanga Island, this cargo ship is worth the effort. The _Kyokuzan Maru_ is not only large, but is also full of vehicles. When it went down, the cargo hold was full of staff cars and trucks that can still be seen by divers penetrating the wreck.

  • The Nanshin Maru

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Commonly referred to as the Black Island Wreck, this one is actually a little confusing. Stories claim it’s a Japanese tanker or that it's a steamer; that it ran aground, that a submarine hit it, and that it collided with another ship. Apparently the Japanese had several tankers named _Nanshin Maru_, so this has led to some confusion. Regardless, this is a beautiful dive site, with the wreck sitting upright on a sandy bottom. It’s full of scorpionfish, lionfish, trumpetfish and batfish. With excellent visibility, it's a perfect spot for a night dive and photography. Max depth is 69 to 105 feet (21 to 32 m).

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