Saturday, August 8, 2009

More WHALE SHARKS at Lima Rock in Musandam, Logged dives #907 and 908, August 8, 2009

Bobbi returned to Abu Dhabi on Thursday from Houston this week and she wanted first thing to go to Musandam to see the whale sharks. Glenn had just arrived from his travels as well and wanted to join us. Friday was a bit soon for Bobbi but Saturday we got up early and drove the 4 hours to Dibba. Nomad Ocean Adventures suits our schedule with 11 a.m. departures from Dibba Oman harbor for Lima Rock in Musandam.

Glenn's footage of divers with the whale shark; that's me (Vance) in the blue/yellow wetsuit below the shark and at the end of the film clip

The whale sharks don't care when we turn up. One was waiting for us when the boat pulled up to Lima Rock shortly after noon. Elli, the Mauritian dive leader, had a good idea where he might be and dropped us in near the southeast corner of the rock. The idea was to round the seaward corner where the whale sharks like to hang out and encounter him that way. It worked like a charm. The whale shark was right there. Glenn got some excellent video footage and uploaded it to YouTube.

The 6-meter whale shark was one of the most playful yet. He or she swam in amongst us and sort of joined our group, perhaps curious what we were looking at. We all swam around it and touched it at will, this lovely creature was in arm's distance for most of its stay with us. When he wandered off, an eagle ray appeared swimming solo at 30 meters. Then, also at that depth, the whale shark reappeared. This all happened in the first 13 minutes of the dive, a powerful, action packed dive segment. At 15 minutes Glenn was having air problems and had to surface, and Bobbi, concerned, accompanied him. One of the others in the group of three that I remained with had trouble with a weight belt and then got low on air herself, and at 25 minutes Elli signalled up. In any event, it had already been a great dive, as the video shows.

Our second dive was more a going-through-the-motions dive. I was asked where I'd like to do the second dive, and I said Ras Morovi or Octopus Rock. But Elli said the rented boat we were assigned to that day would not go so far as those places, although they were both within eyesight of Lima Rock. It seemed that the choice narrowed down to Ras Lima or the back side of Lima Rock. We decided on the back side, but I've rarely seen much here in my experience (apart from one great dive there with devil rays and a whale shark just last week ;-). This time though was like most of the other times I've been here. It was pleasant hovering weightless in water of comfortable temperature, and always interesting to see the fish life, and there was a dead ray on the bottom to attract our attention at one point. In future I will try to ensure that I am booked on the boats that will go to the other sites slightly beyond Lima Rock. Last week diving both days with Nomad Ocean Adventures, this was not a problem.

See more of Glenn's videos here:

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Back to Musandam to see WHALE SHARKS and SeaHorses - Dive logs for July 31 and August 1, 2009

Diving with Nomad Ocean Adventures in Dibba, Oman.

Bobbi was still away in the states, so I dived this weekend with Mike Parry and Nicki Blower. Mike kindly drove us all up to Dibba in his Jeep. Nomad likes to get late morning starts (at least they’re up front about it; some shops will insist you get there at 9:00 but the boat doesn’t actually leave the harbor till after 10:00). So we were able to leave Abu Dhabi at the not horribly early hour of 7:00 and make it to Nomad’s headquarters before 11:00 and we were on the boat and away before noon and at Lima Rock well before 1:00 in the afternoon.

Vance’s logged dive #903 July 31, 2009

We were beginning our dive at 1:09. I know because in the water with divers about to descend I noticed that I had come in without my computer and I had to decide whether to stop everyone and get the boat driver to get it out of my bag or base my profile on my experience with tables and wheel gained in the decades I dived before I decided to buy a computer, so since I had watch and depth guage on me, and tables and wheel in my BCD pocket, I let the divemaster trainee Santiago (Romir’s student) lead us down.

The divers leveled off at 20 meters and I remained above Mike and Nicki and consulted the tables in my pocket to see that the NDL at 25 meters was 29 minutes. I figured I could stay almost that long at that depth and then multilevel up to 16 meters and dive for a few minutes and finish the dive at 12 meters or less.

The dive was excellent. The south side of Lima rock is pretty at that depth, nice temperature in the thermoclines (cool, I was glad I wore my 3 mm suit) with decent vis and many fishes around, a lot of crawfish under the rocks. As we moseyed along we came into a school of jacks at 22-24 meters. Now jacks are a meaty fish and a school of them is substantial biomass moving to and fro, and there is a suggestion when you see them that you are entering a part of the reef that might be interesting in case there might be anything there that eats jacks. It got interesting fast as a huge whaleshark suddenly streamed in over the jacks and casually swam off into the gloom of the open ocean. He was small for a whaleshark, just 5 meters or so, but he was soon back, giving all divers opportunities to swim close to him. These whale sharks have been hanging out at Lima Rock all summer. As I rose to keep my profile, Nicki and Mike and I stayed together, and we surfaced at about 55 min after letting ourselves go with an increasing current at the SE end of Lima Rock that was sweeping us off into the ocean.

Vance’s logged dive #904 July 31, 2009
Saw devil rays and another WHALE SHARK

Back on the surface I calculated my dive on the wheel. I wore my computer on my second dive just to have an accurate instrument for depth and time, but I worked out my actual profile on the wheel, 22 meters for 20 minutes, 12 minutes at 16, and another half hour or more at 12. We went down at the east end of the north side to about 22 meters and almost immediately encountered a school of a dozen or more devil rays. We followed them, observing them swim in formation, until they got shy and moved off. After that we rose up toward the boulders and swam in and out of the crannies (so I was never really at the edge of the profile I’d worked out, as I was on the first dive). We had misjudged the current and were swimming a little into it, and my tank had been short of 200 bar to begin with, and I started running low on air half an hour into the dive.

At about 40 minutes I signaled Mike and Nicki to continue together and I rose above them to do a safety stop starting at 41 minutes, with me getting down around 30 bar. I was keeping my eye on Mike and Nicki below, except when they became suddenly hard to see because a whale shark got in the way swimming above them and just below me at 6 meters. I set out after him, and finished out my safety stop keeping up with a whale shark. Nice safety stop to be chasing after a whale shark at 5 meters. I followed him till I thought I’d better come up due to my air situation and found myself right at the boat. Another great dive off Lima Rock!

Next morning, Mike and Nicki and I were all sleeping at the Nomad guest house. I was first up, followed by Mike, and at about ten o’clock (good moooorninngggg! Sunshine) by Nicki. We all sat outside in the heat of the outdoor dining area and had coffee and croissants while discussing our plan for the day. Options were to return to Lima with Nomad, chance of seeing whale sharks again, but late return that evening to Abu Dhabi. We had brought tanks in Mike’s car so we could also shore dive for free off the Pinnacles on the UAE side of the border, or a third option was to drive to Freestyle and get in on their noon dive to Dibba Rock and maybe see a shark or two. The decision was made in just two words, “whale shark”. It seemed that everyone was keen to take advantage of the presence of these animals just a 45 min boat ride away. They had been in residence at Lima Rock all summer. Ironically Bobbi and I had vacationed in Mozambique at Tofo, reknowned for its mantas and whale sharks. There were no mantas at Lima Rock, but this summer we didn’t need to go all the way to Mozambique to see whale sharks. They’d been spotted almost every weekend at Lima Rock, and though they are often seen there in the summer, this year they seemed to be sticking around unusually long.

But we as we had done two dives the day before, both on Lima Rock, and seen whale sharks both dives, we opted for a little variety our first dive of the morning so after motoring up the rocky Musandam coast as far as Ras Lima and Lima Rock, we continued a little ways past Ras Morovi to Octopus Rock, which BSAC used to call the Stack. Our game this dive was not mega-sized but micro. We were going to look for seahorses in the green whip corals at 20-30 meters on the south side of the rock.

Vance’s logged dive #905 August 1, 2009

Photo credit: Romir Aglugub

The diving was beautiful. Vis was clear as we dropped down on the rocks with tufty blue corals and blue trigger fish skirting along the bottom. We dropped into a sandy valley between Octopus rock and the next submerged outcropping over and very slowly since we were going deep and needed to conserve air, we descended at an angle, keeping an eye out in the coral foliage for seahorses. When Nicki found one we were just on our way up from 30 meters. She was behind us but I looked around for her and saw her motioning so we all joined her. The photographers took lots of pictures. This was a good sized seahorse, Nicki called it a sea stallion, maybe 4 cm tall, camouflaged to look like other organic matter that collects in the branches of whip coral, quite difficult to spot, good on Nicki. Ken, a diver from Finland also in our group, found a scorpion fish in the same area, also devilishly concealed.

The dive was a really good one, clear vis, cool temperatures, and very easy going as we all sought to keep metabolic rates low to conserve air. There was abundant fish life with a variety of blue, white, and green soft corals as back drop. There were many morays, including a good sized honeycomb one.

One of the most interesting fishes on the reef were batfish. We came upon a few of their cleaning stations. The batfish would hover on their tails, mouths pointing up, while the little blue wrasses wriggled in and out of their mouths and gill slits. The batfish looked to be enjoying this immensely and were loathe to break off as we got too near.

Nicki Blower's video of a batfish undergoing extreme makeover

As we rounded the rock in an upward spiral one batfish followed us the whole way so he became a memorable feature of the dive. He even followed us to the ladder of the boat as we exited the water after 55 minutes of diving. On our next dive at Lima rock Nicki said she dropped in right on a batfish and she joked it was the same one, though that seemed unlikely since the two locations were several kilometers apart.

Having motored over to Lima Rock we hung out in the wind shelter of the north side during the surface interval and I went snorkeling to look for whale sharks. The people in another boat were motioning that one had been spotted on the south side of the rock earlier that day. I had a 15 minute snorkel and didn’t see one on the north side, and at the end of our surface interval the boat picked me up and took us to the south side, which to me has the most interesting diving on that rock, at least my dives there have usually been deeper and generally better than on the north side.

Vance’s logged dive #906 August 1, 2009
Saw a nothing much

We decided to enter the water at the southwest end and proceed east as far as the other end if possible. If there was still a whale shark there we would probably pass it. But the dive didn’t go as planned. There was a stiff current against us running to the west. We descended down to 22 meters hoping to get below it, but even there we were just holding ourselves in place finning into it. Divers were signaling that they preferred to just go with the current so we all turned and let the current take us. There was not so much life at this end of the rock so it wasn’t the great dive we had all anticipated. Nicki and Mike saw a torpedo ray at depth in the sand and told me about it later; apparently I had been looking up in case a whale shark passed overhead and so I missed it.

I was keeping a little high because I had exerted myself at the first of the dive and gone deep and just 15 minutes into it was down to almost half a tank. By then we had fought a slight head current rounding the point before the current slacked and let us climb up the sand slope to the rocks to 15 meters on the north side of the island. We dived that side heading east but saw no whale shark there. We stayed in the water over 50 min, Mike and I, us guys, quite low on air but swimming at 3-7 meters under the surface trying to maximize time in the water in case one of the big whalesharks should happen along, as they could do at any moment. At 53 minutes I was forced to declare my extended safety stop at an end and join Mike at the surface, and Nicki (who probably still had half a tank) followed just moments later.

The last dive wasn’t up to our overinflated expectations but we had had three really good dives over the weekend at Lima and Octopus Rocks. Whale sharks are always a gas to see, and this was only the third seahorse I had ever seen in my 40 years of diving, so we drove home happy that night (well, Mike drove actually, while I logged our dives in the car, and Nicki showed us pictures from her camera of seahorses and whale sharks and videos of titillated batfish to entertain us with on the way home).