Sunday, May 25, 2008

Why I Need UW Video

I just saw the coolest thing on the night dive I led tonight:
It started out as a nice, typical, large yellow margin moray eel. He was about 5 feet long, maybe about 5 inches in diameter, speckled brown and yellow with a distinctive yellow stripe down his spine. I watched him as he hunted, darted into holes, and swam languorously around and through corals. Moray eels hunt at night, but have notoriously bad vision. I watched him snap unsuccessfully at a few fish, including some yellow tangs. This lasted about 5 minutes or so. Most of my divers were up already, and it was just me and the eel, soon to be joined by my last diver.
Suddenly the eel darted into a hole, which was actually a short (18 inches?) tunnel. We watched his tail end squirm a bit before following the tunnel to the other end, where there was a cloud of disturbed sand in the water: The eel had caught a yellow tang! The poor fish was clamped in the eel's mouth, it's little eyes bulging and it's fins flailing to no avail! The yellow margin moray has to work himself into the correct position to squeeze and then eat a fish of that size (he was maybe 6 inches?) but the eel was having difficulty working into the correct knotted position while his head and tang were out one end of the tunnel and his tail end was out the other. He kept looping and undulating over himself to get a better grip. This lasted about 2 minutes.
Out of nowhere a second eel, a greyish moray with a whitish spine stripe, came snaking through the coral. He darted into the first hole and snapped his jaws down on the yellow tang! Both eels were clamped on the tang's poor yellow body, one from each edge, and the eels were using all their muscular strength to tug-of-war the fish into their possession. Their rippling, sinuous bodies were rolling over each other, grey with yellow, while the center pearl of this twisted knot was a very distressed tang with two toothy jaws clamped on him!
Finally the grey moray tried a different tactic: He let go of the tang and clamped onto the yellow margin moray instead, leaving two white fleshy gashes in the last 10 inches or so of the yellow eel. Ouch! The yellow eel momentarily let go of the tang in shock, and, amazingly, after being mangled in the double jaws of death for about 5 minutes, the yellow tang quickly made it's escape. Yes, bruised and probably cut, the yellow tang lived! Amazing!
The grey moray claimed the tunnel for his own hunting, and the yellow margin swam off to nurse his gnashed tail.

I realized that I had my hand on my regulator the whole time because my jaw was on the sea-floor.
It is amazing to witness behavior from sea-life, and I feel so lucky to have seen this little scene from about 4 feet away. Better than Tee-Vee fer shure, but it would have made a damn good YouTube!