Have you ever added something extraordinary to your Bucket List, only to cross it off 24 hours later?
A buzz went through the Beqa Lagoon Resort dining room. ‘Have you seen Andy’s video from earlier today? You just HAVE to see it.’ I dropped my fork across my unfinished eggplant parimigana and made my way over to Andy’s table where he sat editing some remarkable footage. ‘Hi, I’m PT,’ I introduced myself, ‘Can I please see what you filmed today?’ What I saw left me absolutely gobsmacked. (Andy was kind enough to let me share his video on the Pink Tank Scuba Facebook page – it is well worth watching if you have not seen it already.)
I had made my return trip to Fiji a few days earlier to cross reuniting with a gorgeous couple from New York and diving with tiger sharks off my Bucket List. But suddenly, seeing this enormous pair of Spanish Dancers with my own eyes danced straight to the top of my ‘Must Do Before I Die’ agenda. I abandoned my unfinished lunch and raced to the dive shop. ‘Can we please dive at Pearl Rock tomorrow? I HAVE to see those nudis!’
I have been photographing nudibranchs (aka decorative sea slugs, which are MUCH more exciting than they sound!) for the past five years (there’s an extensive gallery of my images featuring 70+ types of these exquisite creatures HERE). Normally they range from just a few mm to around 5 cms in length. Once in the Philippines I had found a large, gold nocturnal nudibranch the size of a dinner plate, but never before had I even heard of nudis over 45 cm in length! And to learn there was a mating pair just a half hour boat ride from where we were staying was absolutely irresistible.
The next morning, a small group of us headed out to Pearl Rock, including myself, Spunky Abe and our new friends Robert, Rich and Laura. While the dive briefing on the boat made mention of much of the sea life we were likely to encounter, in our hearts we were on a mission to find one type of critter only. Upon entering the water, I quickly navigated to a rock wall reminiscent of the one I had seen in Andy’s video, drawn like a moth to the underwater flame of the fiery gills of the enormous Spanish Dancers.
In order to show how unbelievably big these nudibranchs are, we took turns posing with them, and Robert removed a fin to provide a visual comparison. (Which is just as well, really. As soon as I posted these images on Facebook, I was met with incredulous cries of ‘Photoshop!’ as more than 75,000 people viewed and circulated these images in disbelief in less than twenty four hours.)
Yet even I found myself in disbelief about one aspect of this incredible underwater adventure. Sadly, I have video (much like Andy’s) of one of these magnificent Spanish Dancers in flight, dancing through the water in spectacular fashion. However, I will never share it due to the way in which that breath-taking movement was achieved. At this point I must be crystal clear about a matter of grave importance. It is never, ever acceptable for a Dive Master to physically manipulate marine animals for visual effect, to transport them to photographers, to relocate them to more photogenic positions or to frighten or coerce them into movement for cameras. Handling marine animals in this way can cause them tremendous harm and make them vulnerable to predators and potentially reduce their lifespans. Thankfully, the Dive Master seemed genuinely receptive to our concerns when we expressed them on the boat, and the manager of the resort was proactive in saying that he did not approve of such behaviour and would ensure that such manhandling by members of his staff would not happen again.
This image is provided purely as evidence of universally unacceptable behaviour (which unfortunately is common throughout the world where Dive Master training has not included a focus on custodianship of the critters that divers have come to see). I have seen some real travesties first hand and via other divers’ videos that show unjustified handling of marine critters by so-called ‘dive professionals’ who should definitely know much better. There must be a much higher standard for more responsible training of dive staff to adopt a ‘hands off’ approach to demonstrating the underwater world, with warnings and sanctions issued to those who do not operate by this standard. That said, I left Beqa Lagoon Resort with every confidence that this would not be an issue at this resort in the future, and that the management and dive staff there are genuinely committed to the well being of the marine animals that they are in the perfect position to be wise custodians of.
As someone who has received an undesirable cancer prognosis, living my way through my Bucket List brings me unspeakable joy. To add ‘Spanish Dancers’ to that list and to be able to cross them off almost immediately during the same trip was an immeasurable delight! For anyone obsessed with nudibranchs, this is a ‘Must Do’ encounter. And for anyone who has not yet discovered the blissful world of nudibranchs, please check out my Nudibranch Gallery on this blog for a small glimpse of what you have been missing out on!
Stay tuned for more of my recent underwater adventures in Fiji (those stunning tiger sharks are DEFINITELY not to be missed! 😉 )
Love and bubbles,
ps Tanks so much for reading this post. Please check out a few more of my ‘Scuba Vs Tumour’ Underwater adventures while you’re here 🙂
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