Friday, December 14, 2007

I don't like suckerfish!

I don't care if they are Whitefin Sharksuckers or just plain old Sharksuckers, I don't like suckerfish.

I almost hate them. Ok, maybe not, but I really really don't like suckerfish.

The first time I was in the water with a few suckerfish (close to 3 feet long) I didn't have the opportunity to realize my dislike for these particular fish. We were finishing a dive at Tuffy when three suckerfish appeared. One of the three stole the hair band out of a lady's hair and was playing with it. It would toss it out of its mouth, let it drop a little, then scoop it up and do it over again. This was amusing, until one focused on me for a few seconds. I used my console (the part of my dive gear with the gauges attached to it) to tap at its nose. It apparently wasn't interested in my game, so it went on.

I discovered that I don't like suckerfish during the lobster surveys, at the end of the lobster season, earlier this year. This was discovered as I was very innocently looking in and around some outcrops of coral for lobsters.

When we do surveys we carry around a white hard plastic board that we attach the survey sheets to. The surveys are printed on waterproof paper or are written directly on the board in pencil. We attach the pencils to the board or our wrists by links of rubberbands.

Back to the story... So, I was looking in and around all of the bits of coral and I noticed that my pencil kept dragging around my leg. But then I realized it was not a pencil, it was in my hand, it was a suckerfish. This little (about 8 inches long) fish was trying to attach to me. Did I calmly handle the situation? NO, I freaked out. I proceeded to squeal like a little girl being attacked by sharks. So, I was swimming, bouncing from the bottom (about 5 feet deep) and trying to get the attention of Sherwin and Aldo. I looked like I was being attacked. They got there and I was nearly hyperventilating. What did they think? That I was being attacked by a shark or something of that nature. So I got into the boat, that evil little fish was still trying to attach, and I finally escaped. They asked me what was going on. I started laughing and telling them about the suckerfish.

Every dive and snorkel after that I have had a preoccupation of looking out for suckerfish. The sharks I have encountered have had a healthy fear/respect for humans. The barracuda that I have been in the water with always bolt in the opposite direction when I make a quick movement in their direction. Moray eels, well, I don't like to get too close to them either. Anyway, the big, supposed to be scary things don't bother me as much as these fish, whose main purpose in life is to suck onto other organisms to clean them. I don't even think they have teeth. It should make me feel better, but it doesn't really.

The fish surveys that I do have 8 transects per site. For each transect I swim the same 30-meter length 4 times. On the first pass I lay the line and count the adult fish found within the parameters. The second pass I count the juveniles. On the third pass I count the long spined black sea urchins and on the final pass I reel in the tape. I can usually get 5 or 6 transects done on about 2500 pounds of air.

So, I know as I entered the water on Thursday that I would be looking out for suckerfish, but I would be ok as long as they left me alone. I had on a full wetsuit. The only exposed skin was on my hands, neck, and a little on my face. I had my dive knife in case I got tangled in fishing line or something. I was ready. I was almost done laying the 30- meter transect and counting the adult fish when something to the right of me was caught in my peripheral vision. Yes, you guessed it, a suckerfish. He was about 2 and a half feet long and watching me. My heart started beating faster, my breathing was faster, my eyes darted between my survey and the fish. I continued. I counted the juveniles, I was on the way back for the third pass down the transect when it happened. He came after my head. I had been fine with him swimming next to my legs, they were covered. The toothless fish couldn't help himself. He tried to suck onto my head! Maybe my hair looked like an huge growth of algae. With all of my might I tried to hit him with my board. Did it help? NO, the board crept through the water, not finding its target. The fish swam away to only return and come after my head again and again! Did it hurt? No, it actually felt funny, but that was not the point... I will continue, he will not prevent me from completing the dive! I moved my shoulders as close to my ears as I could, tilted my head to the left and back, tucked my board beside my neck on the right. He was STILL trying to attach to my head! My heart was racing, my breathing was even faster. I decided to take a stance. I was beginning to reel in the tape, part 4 to my first transect. He was watching me. I contemplated my options. I started poking at him with my equipment- the survey board, the reel to the tape measure, my pencil. I contemplated my knife. I would only injure myself. My pencil was the easiest to handle, has the least amount of drag in the water, so it became the weapon of choice. We turned circles, me in the middle, the tape twirling around below me as we spun. He grew tired of our game momentarily and went to harass Alicia for a while. I was getting ready to lay the next transect when he appeared again. I laid down the tape and started the circles again. I would jab at him and would swim away. I was beside Alicia at this point so I told her that I was heading up to the boat.

When I got to the surface I was worked up to the point that I didn't even want to have him near the parts of my body that were covered. I got out of the boat, amused Aldo and Sam with my encounter, and relaxed in the sun.

I checked my air pressure just before getting out of the water. I used 1500 pounds of air on one survey and defending myself from the suckerfish.

I told my friend Enes about my suckerfish attack. She said that the suckerfish probably thought that I was playing with him. It is true that that was probably all that was happening, but I still don't like them.

No comments: