Tag Archives: moray eel

With friends amid the reef, snorkeling becomes social

Published January 18, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott

A trumpetfish is counted among the regulars living their lives near a beach along Oahu’s North Shore. ©2015 Susan Scott

While working at Midway, Craig and I made a new friend and invited him to stay with us for a couple of days before he went home to Canada. Because Luke loves snorkeling, and so does Craig’s mother, Claire, visiting from Seattle, we went to my favorite North Shore beach and plunged in.

I know the area well and guided our guests to a turtle spa, where we watched damselfish nibble algae off the turtles’ shells and pluck parasites from their skin. In addition to the usual reef fish, we found a scorpionfish, some marbled shrimp and a yellow-margin moray eel hiding under a rock.

It was a great day, we all agreed, and headed for the beach. But Luke wasn’t done. Calling my name, he motioned for me to come look.

I arrived to find a gray, nearly 3-foot-long trumpetfish standing on its head. The sight is always marvelous, but was even more so because I know that fish. The big predator hangs out near the turtle cleaning station pretending to be a stick. When a gullible fish swims close, the trumpetfish inhales it.

You would think the fish in that area might figure out that that’s no stick in the water, but no. The trumpetfish is huge, healthy and nearly always there.

Cornetfish, close cousins of the trumpetfish, also hang out on that reef. (It has a strong horn section.) Both species have long narrow bodies, but with a notable difference.

From above looking down, and also head-on, trumpetfish look so slim, you can totally miss seeing the fish. But view the same fish from the side and it’s several inches tall, the body broad and beefy.

Cornetfish bodies are the reverse: Their backs are wide enough to be obvious from above, but from the side the fish is flat as a plate and nearly invisible. To further fool their prey, both types can change colors and patterns to blend in with their backgrounds.

Trumpetfish grow about 30 inches long and are like sticks in that they can’t bend their bodies. But cornetfish can. They spring-load their 63-inch-long (maximum length) bodies in an S shape and lunge for their prey.

Trumpetfish and cornetfish are easy to tell apart by their tails. The trumpetfish’s tail is a stubby stalk ending in a fan. The cornetfish’s tail looks like a whip. Both species use the vacuum cleaner method of capture: The fish suck prey into their expandable mouths.

By swimming often in the same place, I recognize some of the undersea locals and consider them friends. As I do 33-year-old Luke and 92-year-old Claire. Snorkeling is a communal ocean sport where neither age nor species matters. What does matter is where you do it.

Writer none the worse after close encounter with moray

Published September 28, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
 ©2015 Susan Scott

A moray eel is shown here, nestled below a female marbled shrimp. The eel failed to bite the unknowing snorkeler who snapped the picture, even though it easily could have. ©2015 Susan Scott

A moray eel is shown here, nestled below a female marbled shrimp. The eel failed to bite the unknowing snorkeler who snapped the picture, even though it easily could have. ©2015 Susan Scott

To people who fear moray eels: don’t. Unless you accidentally place a hand or foot right in a moray’s mouth, it will nearly always back off. Now I have photographic proof.

While snorkeling recently, I found a female marbled shrimp, one of Hawaii’s most fetching marine animals. The species’ 2- to 3-inch-long body is greenish by day, reddish at night and patterned in a stunning mosaic.

And the splendor doesn’t stop there. Purple and white stripes decorate the marbled shrimp’s legs, and bright spots on the antennae and tail shine yellow.

Marbled shrimp are popular in the aquarium trade because they’re hardy as well as beautiful. Due to the hump on the creature’s back, marbled shrimp are also known as camel, buffalo or broken-back shrimp. Some aquarists call them Saron shrimp, Saron being the shrimp’s first scientific name.


The second scientific name, marmoratus, means marbled, a name referring to the color mix.

Marbled shrimp are common, but we don’t see them often because they hide during the day. At night these walking impressionist paintings roam the reef, eating plants and animals dead or alive.

I knew my shrimp was a female because females’ front pair of legs and bodies contain furry bristles, sometimes so dense the shrimp look like they’re carrying tiny brushes. Years ago while diving with John Hoover, author of several marine animal guides, we came across a dozen of these woolly creatures. “I don’t know their real name,” he told me later, “but I call them Fuller Brush shrimp.”

Male and female marbled shrimp look so different from one another that for years I thought they were two species.

Males never wear fur coats and have a pair of ridiculously long, claw-tipped legs, reminiscent of knights’ jousting sticks. The males use those legs for the same purpose: to fight each other from a distance.


I was thrilled when I found a large female marbled shrimp posing on a coral head in the early morning light. Holding my breath, I lowered my face and camera to the shrimp by hanging onto the underside of the coral rock below it. The shrimp held still for half a dozen shots before she retreated.

Back home I downloaded my pictures — and my eyes nearly popped out of my head. Unknown to me, my darling shrimp had been on the upper lanai of a coral townhouse. So focused was I on the shrimp that I never saw its downstairs neighbor, a yellow margin moray.

I thank the Fuller Brush shrimp for modeling that day and the moray for, amazingly, not biting when my hand was virtually in its mouth. The unlikely pair gave me one of my favorite pictures.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean Watch”,
for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott


Messages arrive on the tide to please a seagoing scribe

That’s a moray. ©2015 Susan Scott

That’s a moray. ©2015 Susan Scott

Thank you, thoughtful readers, for sharing marine reports that brighten my day. In this era of so much bad news about the world’s oceans, it’s a relief to read items about them that make me smile.

Such as Obeka’s release. Obeka is the giant Pacific octopus I fell in love with while visiting the Fiero Marine Center in Port Angeles, Wash. On April 26, workers there took Obeka back to her ocean home.


When she came to live at the center, Obeka weighed only 3 ounces. Upon returning to the sea 14 months later, the octopus weighed 35 pounds. Hopefully Obeka will find a mate, lay her 68,000 eggs and tend them until they hatch about nine months later.

Obeka will die soon after her eggs hatch, as all octopuses do, but I don’t feel sad. The creature served as a stellar ambassador for her species and will leave behind the ultimate gift: offspring.

Besides being impressed by octopuses, I’m also obsessed with sea snakes. A friend who knows of my snaky passion sent me a study regarding the bar-bellied sea snake found near the coastline of Western Australia.

sea krait

Sea snakes don’t have many predators, but tiger sharks are one of them. Researchers discovered that at high tide, when the water is deep enough for the sharks to swim near shore, the snakes hang out in sea grass beds where their main source of food, fish, is scarce. When the tide goes out, though, so do the sharks, and the snakes resume their usual hunting over sand flats.

But the study doesn’t just show that sea snakes are smart enough to avoid predators — most prey animals are. It’s also a heads-up to biologists. When studying habitat and foraging behaviors of the bar-bellied sea snake, researchers need to note the state of the tides.

Bar-bellied sea snakes are the longest of all sea snakes, growing to 6 feet. I’ve not seen one. I live in hope.

Another reader sent a National Geographic link about by-the-wind sailors.

While approaching Australia’s east coast last fall, I sailed through massive numbers of these jelly creatures for 24 hours. The ones I saw peppered the water’s surface far and wide. But when the wind and currents are just right, or just wrong if you’re a by-the-wind sailor, the creatures run aground. Check out these amazing photos of millions of these jellies shipwrecked last month on West Coast beaches: bit.ly/1GVK0UH.

Scooped at sea_small

Finally, as a reminder that I shouldn’t take the negative news crowding my inbox too seriously, I’ll keep in mind last week’s message from a snorkeling buddy:

“When you’re down by the sea,

And an eel bites your knee,

That’s a moray.”

Thanks everyone for messages that make me smile.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott