The last week of diving in Melbourne has been some of the best I have ever done. Over the past three or four dives, I have encountered giant stingrays, a hunting blue-ringed octopus, about 1000 spider crabs during their annual pre-migration, one of the largest cuttlefish I’ve ever seen, a large octopus that danced a merry waltz with my dive buddy for our cameras, weedy sea dragons and so much more. It seems they all came out to wish me a very merry end to my happy birthday month which turned out to be very joyous indeed.
However, the piece de resistance came during Sunday’s dive at Blairgowrie Pier where one good deed indeed returned another. Upon getting out of the car, my buddy LP and I had trouble deciding whether to enter by the shore or whether to wheel my bright pink trolley full of heavy dive gear down the long pier to do a giant stride into the water from the platform. Fortuitously I replied, ‘My spidey-senses are tingling. I think we will miss something amazing if we don’t explore the shallows today.’ Lo and behold, the moment we put our masks against the ocean’s bright surface, there in less than a metre of water more than 1,000 spider crabs peered back at us from their pre-migration. Stacking four and five-crabs high, they moved and mated ahead of their mass migration to Rye Pier in about 6-10 weeks time. Had my ‘spidey-senses’ not been tingling, we would have missed this mass of crabs altogether, and indeed by the end of our 90 minute dive, they had all but disappeared by the time we returned to the shore. (I will aim to share my crabby video and photos in a separate post. I am now more than ten videos behind where I should be but plan to work on these to share with you over the coming weeks – please stay tuned!)
LP and I spent half an hour filming and photographing them before swimming off to the far end of the pier to see what else might be waiting to be discovered. While underwater, I crossed paths with another photographer and showed her my spider crab picture to ensure that she had not missed the congregation of crabs in the shallows. She nodded to confirm that she had indeed seen them, and soon after she returned the favour by indicating to me that a very special creature awaited my company on a nearby pylon (one that I seldom ever visit). ‘Nudibranch?’ I asked, waving my two bunny-ear fingers to resemble the rhinophore antennas of the exquisite decorative sea slugs that frequently adorn Blairgowrie’s sandy floor and pylons. ‘No’, she shook her head, signalling with a single finger in the shape of a curved fishing lure above her forehead. ‘Tasseled angler!’ The heart within me almost leapt to Antartica when my eyes detected the strange donut eye, the gaping titan mouth and the creamy ‘fishing lure’ on the hidden creature’s forehead.
Tasseled anglerfish are the only type of frogfish known to inhabit the piers where I dive locally, but for reasons you might guess from these photos, they are seldom ever seen. These creatures are the absolute masters of camouflage, nestling imperceptibly and virtually motionless against the sponge and weed-covered pylons. In more than 300 dives, I have only managed to spot one three or four times in total. Each time I have felt the joy of every one of history’s treasure hunters combined, elation rising as though shifting sand now revealed an age-old wooden chest filled with untold fortune.
How serenely the fish sat upon its pylon, gazing back at me in mutual wonder, its lure neatly tucked into its seldom-failing disguise, rather than dangling to attract some unsuspecting prey. How quickly I swam back to my buddy LP (intent upon filming the flight path of a large circling stingray) to lead him to the pylon to capture my moment with the ornate tasseled angler (or, as I prefer to think of it, the Fluffy Muppet Fish) before I took a few more shots of it in all its splendid glory.
It had been a very long time since LP and I had met one of these astonishing fish and that encounter is one of the clearest of all my diving memories. We were under the exact same pier several years ago and I was intensely frustrated by some technical issues I was having with my camera. Within seconds of handing my camera to LP, imploring him with my eyes to help me sort out the woes of my misfiring strobe, I snatched the rig back out of his hands, leaving him utterly astonished and perplexed. Swimming less than a metre behind me was a sight I had never seen before or since – a free-swimming tasselled angler! I was completely gob-smacked and absolutely panicked that this bizarre creature might disappear again before I had a chance to capture any proof of what I had seen. Somehow amidst all the mixed adrenaline of the moment, I managed to fire off this single shot of the unimaginable fish that had chosen this precise moment of technical challenge to declare its grotesque beauty in all its finery:
After this extraordinary encounter with a creature I can only describe as a cross between a football with goosebumps and some alien mutant chicken, I realised that life can be – quite simply – completely random and unexpected. That beauty and horror are sometimes indistinguishable. That moments of panic can easily transform into triumph. As I continue to navigate my future diving adventures as an integral part of my journey with terminal cancer, these are indeed amongst some of the most valuable lessons the ocean has taught me to date. Tank you Fluffy Muppet Fish for allowing me to look into all the strangeness of your bizarre countenance and to see myself, all my joys, hopes and fears clearly reflected in the inexplicable weirdness of your eye. You are a wonder to behold, and it has been my absolute privilege to have beheld. I shall endeavour to find you again soon to learn what else you might wish to teach me.
Love and bubbles,
ps Tank you so much for reading through this blog post 🙂 While you are here, please check out more of my ‘scuba vs tumour’ underwater and Bucket List adventures. (You can subscribe to receive automatic email updates of new posts!)
pps And don’t forget to follow ‘Pink Tank Scuba’ on Facebook! 🙂 🙂
ppps Heads up to other divers: Blairgowrie Pier in Melbourne, Australia will be undiveable due to marina extensions from late March through to about September, so get in now while you can if you’d like to experience everything this incredible dive site has to offer before it gets an upgrade! 🙂 🙂 🙂