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Big Blue Diving - Koh Tao - Thailand - What's Going on With all the Weird Marine Life? - June 2018

What's Going on With all the Weird Marine Life? - June 2018

The Wonderful New World of Underwater Koh Tao

It’s been a while since I gave you an update on the diving we’ve been enjoying around Koh Tao recently, for no reason other than we’re trying to keep it secret so we’re not swamped with divers looking to see some incredible marine life – and believe me, we’ve been seeing some truly amazing things so far this year!

After the spectacularly whaleshark year of 2017 when so many of these big spotty monsters were seen that people were actually asking to not dive with them (as they’d ‘seen them too many times already’!) 2018 seems to following nicely in the footsteps of its older sibling and is even trying to take it one step further by showing us things we previously wouldn’t dream of encountering underwater 

                                                               

Guitarfish                                                                                      guitar shark 1600x900

These weird-looking things are part of the ray family, and I suppose from their name are supposed to look like guitars, if guitars looked like a spiky evil shark-thing. Guitarfish are bottom feeders, and like to bury themselves in mud or sand and eat crabs, and clams and worms in typical ray fashion.

There were reported sightings of guitarfish close to Shark Island a year or so ago, but as there were no photos the identification was never confirmed and they were forgotten about until last week, when a pair were spotted chilling on the sand at South-West Pinnacle!

Eagle Rays                                                                               Eagle Ray 140 1024x576  

Now this is something that’s been recorded before around Koh Tao, but very rarely indeed until a month or so ago when they were seen at Chumphon Pinnacle, White Rock, Japanese Gardens and even just off Sairee Beach on a number of occasions – in fact we saw more in 2 weeks than we’d seen in the previous 5 years, which was just great thanks!

These large species live in the open ocean rather than on the sea bottom like most rays, and feed on hard-shelled, bottom-living clams, snails and hermit crabs. Known to live as long as 25 years, they are what we could call ‘frequent flyers’ as they’re often seen breaching the surface with giant leaps!

 

False Killer and Pilot Whales                                                          FKW lifting heads while surfacing 331

Around May/June each year we’re visited by a few false killer and pilot whales who like to follow the boats, leap about a bit and then disappear as soon as we try to enter the water for a better look – they’re very shy of humans, we thought, and to be honest who can blame then?

This year was very different! For almost the whole month of May we had groups of both visiting us at different spots around Koh Tao, with pods of false killer whales being seen just a little south of Shark Island pretty much every day. These were a lot happier to be around us, and on a few occasions we were able to swim with them too.

 

                  pilot whale3

Both part of the dolphin family, they are found all around the world. The most common around Koh Tao are the short-finned pilot whales which are often confused with our other visitors, the unfortunately-named false-killer whales. Not considered a killer whale or even closely related to the killer whale, they’re named because of the shape of their skulls. Daft!

 

 

 

Lionfish                                                                              Lewis Kirkpatrick - AMRAE Productions

Rarely seen on the dive sites of Koh Tao, the lionfish is one of the most strikingly beautiful fish we have in our waters here in the Gulf of Thailand. Preferring to hide out in the deep sand away from our underwater pinnacles and reefs, to get to see one usually meant that you were lost or out looking for them purposely in the middle of nothing…but this year tells a different tale!

First there was one sitting on the HTMS Sattakut wreck, then a little later another appeared right in the middle of South West Pinnacle (thanks for the photo Lewis Kirkpatrick). Just as we were celebrating our good fortune with these two we had a sudden outbreak of them on the shallowest points of Chumphon Pinnacle, with at least TEN different fish hanging out there now, with their old hiding places abandoned to our delight.

A very photogenic fish, they’re also carrying a LOT of poisonous spines that they use to defend themselves, however they tend to be non-aggressive and usually shy away from divers (I'm trying to forget the time I was chased by a gang of them in the Similan Islands).

 

 

What’s the Story? 

So what’s changed to bring all of this marine life to us?  It’s something that’s being debated everyday here, but unfortunately it seems like the most logical theory for it may end up being a problem that could affect all of us diving here on Koh Tao.  In the deepest parts of the oceans surrounding the island we have had what’s being nicknamed ‘the dead zone’, a layer of black gunk which could very likely be mats of cyanobacteria where nothing is living due to the low levels of oxygen in it (in some cases they’re totally free of oxygen), leaving hundreds of bottom-dwellers dead or dying – in particular crabs and shrimp. As this anoxia is a death trap for our marine life, a lot of divers here believe that the creatures that would usually be well away from our divesites - the lionfish are a perfect example – are now seeking refuge on shallower parts which still have plenty of oxygen for them to thrive – like the shallow top of Chumphon Pinnacle.

Of course this theory is precisely that; just a theory, and it could be down to a number of other factors that affect the creatures down there (the large amounts of planktonic matter in the water right now is one factor that could be affecting the marine life) so keep your fingers crossed that it’s not something that’s going to lead to a mass die-off, and all these amazing creatures are here to stay for a very long time!

 

 

 

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