Wednesday, April 23, 2008

USS Higgins Latest Axe Murderer Tours Victims

This is the USS Higgins which pulled into the Saipan port last Sunday. It is a destroyer with about 380 sailors on board, so it is definitely a boost for the local economy, especially the bars and restaurants in Garapan. My dive buddy Doug met the Commander and XO who both wanted to go diving in the Grotto, so Doug called me up and we set the next Axe Murderer Tours dive up. We're always happy to take the Captain's and XO's out diving, hoping it will make their stay on Saipan more memorable and enjoyable.Lt. Commander Grant Dunn, Doug Brennan, Harry Blalock & Commander Winton Fred Smith after our Grotto dive. They seemed to totally enjoy their dive, although I think Captain Smith might have wished he hadn't biked to the top of Mt. Topochou and rode 28 miles earlier in the day and then had to hike his tank up those stairs at the Grotto. It sure didn't seem to slow him down at all though.Here you see Commander Winton Smith silhouetted against the light coming through hole #1 in the Grotto. It is truly a magical place to see the first time you dive the Grotto.
After we went outside of the Grotto, saw the giant clam, the bubble coral, went through the fan coral cave, up through the serpentine tunnel, and went down through the little hole that leads back into hole #2, we spent some time looking around inside the Grotto. I was able to show the CO and the XO their very first nudibranch and introduce them to a whole new variety of different things to see underwater.This is of course a Halgerda guahan, and I managed to find a couple of them to show them. They have been appearing in big numbers recently, and I've been seeing a lot of egg ribbons. The plan was to do an afternoon dive, have some dinner, get the tanks filled and then go back and do another night dive at the Grotto. However, the CO and XO got a call from the ship and had to get back for some pressing business, but of course that wasn't about to stop Doug and I from going back and enjoying a night dive. We had another friend join us and had a great dive.I saw two of these live Cypraea Leviathan's crawling on the walls in the bottom of the Grotto. Here is must have just headed out of his hole and was just in the process of covering his shell with his mantle. The soft mantle sliding back and forth over the shell all the time is what keeps the shells polished and looking so shiny and smooth.Here he has his mantle totally covering his shell. The little things that look like tiny white Christmas trees are called pappilae, and you can make out his antennae at the top of the picture. I love catching these guys like this in their natural element and getting pictures of them, and watching them move over the coral in and out of tiny little holes.There were also plenty of nudibranchs crawling all over the rocks and feeding on the white sponges. This Halgerda malesso was feeding on a white sponge, it's the first time I've seen one of them climb a sponge like that to feed on it.This was another nudibranch that was crawling across one of the big rocks leading up from hole #2. At less than an inch long, you've got to be looking pretty hard to spot them, but if you take the time and look carefully they are there.The lobster were also out roaming around, at least until your flashlight hit them, and then they hid in their holes in the rocks.And there are all kinds of little starfish that are out feeding at night as well, some of them are red, purple, and with unique coloring and patterns like this one.And night dives are the only time you will see these decorator crabs out roaming around. Can you see him? He has all kinds of different little pieces of coral stuck to his legs to make him just blend in with his surroundings.I've seen this little box pufferfish on the last several night dives, and he's sleeping in almost the same spot each time. This has got to be one of the hardest sleepers I've ever seen, nothing seems to wake him up. I can take repeated pictures right in his face and it doesn't faze him. I have even moved him before to get him in a better angle for a picture, and it didn't wake him up or bother him at all.And of course there are sleeping parrotfish everywhere you look. If you look carefully in this photo, or click on it to have it blown up, you will see the mucous bubble he has blown around himself. He was actually blowing it as I floating there watching him. It was an awesome night for a dive, and I'm never disappointed with all the things I see on a night dive. I hope you enjoyed your virtual night dive!