Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Diving in the British Virgin Islands is all about having your eyes open. That’s it. Get in the water and look all around you. The lava tubes, the rock formations, the schooling fish, and the usual suspects, like spotted eels, eagle rays, turtles and sharks, create a panorama that surrounds you with breathtaking sights. Last week, our dive sites in Jost Van Dyke were teeming with life, and divers almost had to say “excuse me, but may I swim by” to the dense concentration of schooling fish around. Sites like Twin Towers and Playground had clouds of silversides playing on the reefs edge, while schools of yellow tail snappers and bar jacks ran in and out of them trying to catch a delightful meal. It was a treat being able to witness so much life in constant motion. Aside from the prolific population of small fish, divers had a chance to spot (pun totally intended) a spotted eagle ray and a hawks bill turtle. Suddenly, a big shadow blocked the sun, and turning around, the divers discovered a group of giant tarpon. What else can you ask for? Well, funny you ask! Last week we had a very motivated group of divers from California, the Byrne family. Mr. Dale Byrne and his older son were already certified, so the two younger ones did their Open Water class with us. They were actually on a sailing vacation, and decided to land-lock themselves for two days at Long Bay Beach Resort, to take advantage of the pool, and our in-house shop and instructor. After they were certified as Open Water Divers, they decided that it was not enough diving and did the smart move of enrolling in the PADI Advanced Open Water course. There was only one condition: Dad had to take the class, and all of them were doing it. It turned out to be so much fun that now we have two new divers hooked for life. They were staying on their sailboat in Norman Island, so their instructor Oswaldo picked them up and off they went to continue their education. Wow! When they were doing their FISH ID Adventure dive, they ran out of spaces on their slates to list all the marine life they saw: a black tip shark, a turtle, a southern sting ray, lobsters and more. The shark got curious and circled the group a few times to check them all out. Next day, on their deep dive, they had the opportunity to dive the world famous wreck of the Rhone. Visibility was beautiful, and the dive exceeded their expectation for their first wreck dive ever. At the end of the day, their smiles were the inspiration that keep many dive instructors going. They understood that it was not only about earning a certification, but also about having the opportunity to share something together, creating a memory that last longer than any photograph taken. At the end of the day, my last though, for Dale, Wes, Geoffrey and Jenny, was: “The family that dives together stays together”.
It is amazing how the underwater world can continuously surprise you! Sometimes it is not so much about the dive site, but about the dive itself. Recently, we had a father and son buddy team from the US, John and Taylor Wilcox, join us for a night dive. Oswaldo decided that the night looked perfect do to a dive at The Cathedral (west end of Jost van Dyke). Joined by one of our intern instructors, August, the adventurous group of four headed to the depths in a starry night to see what their torches could find. Well, the highlight of the dive was not so much what they found, but the musical accompaniment they had. As described by one of the divers: “I just closed my eyes and sat there feeling the vibrations and hearing the whales sing”. It turns out that they were hearing the musical cadence of a nearby pod of humpback whales. Water is an excellent conductor of sound vibrations, therefore, making sound travel about four times faster underwater than at the surface. So our divers “felt” in addition, to simply “hear”, the ongoing sounds produced by the humpback whales. How they knew there were humpback whales? Because it is toward the end of the migration season, and this area is part of the grounds they cover to come and go between their breeding and feeding grounds. According to what I have read about humpback whales and information found in the internet, only male humpback whales are known to sing and their song have been acclaimed by many scientists to be one of the most complex in the animal kingdom. It is part of the sexual selection process, and also they have been instances were the songs were identified as being used for territorial designation or feeding calls. Since they do not have vocal chords, the exact mechanism that produces the sounds that result in the whale songs, is unknown. The most recent studies point to the fact that since whales have an outstanding lung capacity, these songs are produced by moving the air internally, through the larynx and the cranial sinuses.
Night dives usually showcase the secret of the marine underworld, giving us a chance to see what’s hiding during the day: the bright colored polyps on the corals are opened, basket stars extend to feed from the passing current, octopi and eels roam the reef looking for food, and much more. On this dive our divers were treated with a unique sensory experience that went beyond their expectations. Lesson learned: never pass on a night dive again; you don’t know what you will miss!
Note: The humpback whale picture was not taken during the dive. We really (really, really) wish that we would have had the amazing luck to take it, but no. We borrowed it from the internet.