Sunday, March 26, 2017

Southern Stingray - Antigua

On the island of Antigua, southeast of St. Kitts, in the Caribbean, there is a place called Stingray City where southern stingrays have been hand fed and become tame enough to be cradled in the arms of humans. 

We cruised in to St. John's, the capital city, and rented a van and drove to Stingray City about 30 to 40 minutes east on the island. In a brief orientation, we learned that the stingray's tail cannot be used as a weapon, it is only a danger if it is stepped on. Therefore, we were cautioned to always approach the stingray from the front and to shuffle our feet when we walked so as to avoid inadvertently stepping on a stingray hidden in the sand on the ocean bottom. 

After our orientation, we got on a large catamaran and motored out about ten minutes to a shallow area in a reef that was roped off. There we removed our shoes and were given a snorkel and mask. As we arrived, we could see the stingrays coasting in, the motor of the boat providing a Pavlovian feeding response.  There are 40 to 50 stingrays that participate in this feeding. 
The shallow sandy areas inside the reef provided an area where we could stand in waist-deep water. 
The southern stingray is found in tropical waters of the western Atlantic from New Jersey to southern Brazil. It is diamond shaped and olive brown to green on the dorsal surface (gray for juveniles) and has a white underbelly. 
This is a stingray we saw two days later in Barbados while we were feeding sea turtles. It illustrates the diamond shape. 
This shows one eye on a stingray (top middle) and a large spiracle (below it to the left). It also shows the olive brown color. 
Another view of an eye and spiracle. 
One more view of eyes and spiracles.
It has a barb on a long tail that is covered in venomous mucous which it uses to defend itself. Its wing-like fins propel it along the ocean bottom. It has eyes on top of its head and nearby openings called spiracles that allow it to take in water and pass it through its gill openings, bypassing the mouth , which is on its underside,when it is laying on the ocean bottom. Females grow to more than twice the size of males. Stingrays flap their fins to disturb the ocean floor and expose hidden prey. 
Here a stingray uses its fins to propel itself between two people. 
I loved watching them. They are like large, under-water bats. 
Two stingrays glide past, their long tails trailing behind them. 
We were instructed how to cradle our arms and warned not to lift-up and push the stingray out of the water or it will have a response similar to humans when their heads are forcibly submerged into water.  We were all given an opportunity to cradle a stingray, some of us several times. I instinctively pushed up and the stingray started flapping its fins to get away. 
Judy cradles a stingray.
I then had a turn. 
I spent quite a bit of time near one of the guides watching her cradle the stingrays. They were amazingly docile around her. 
Underwater shots show how she cradles the stingray.
Cradling a stingray.
Here she cradles a young, gray stingray.
Then we were given an opportunity to feed them. We were given a whole squid, tentacles up, and held in our hand with our thumb tucked down to avoid having it bitten. 
Here I hold a large squid.
The stingray has a very strong sucking ability and it can hurt if your hand makes it inside the mouth. I did about ten feedings and it was very fun to feel that heavy suction on the hand before the squid disappeared into the mouth. 
Here I feed a stingray.
A view of the underwater feeding commotion.
This massive stingray nearly dwarfs the person feeding it here. 
This was another highlight of our trip. Just a few more pictures from this memorable experience.

Stingrays gliding between legs.

Judy (left) floats above a traveling stingray.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Vervet Monkey - Caribbean

Several years ago we encountered vervet monkeys in East Africa. We recently encountered them again in the Caribbean. The monkeys are not indigenous to the Caribbean, but were transported there by slave traders centuries ago and they have found a home on the islands of St. Kitts, Nevis, Barbados, Anguilla and Sint Maarten. 

On St. Kitts, after visiting the Brimstone Hill Fortress, we were going down a road through a forested area and encountered a troop of monkeys walking down the road. They quickly scattered on either side and we spent several minutes watching them. I got a few pictures, none of them great. 
Vervet monkeys near Brimstone Hill Fortress.
This would have been a better picture, but was focused improperly. 
Earlier in the day while visiting Romney Manor and the Wingfield Estate, several men were each carrying baby monkeys in diapers. Judy posed with one for a few pictures. 
Judy holding a vervet monkey.
We also visited Barbados, but limited our activities to the ocean and Bridgetown. However, the cruiseport had monkey murals on the walls and we found water color paintings of them in a local art gallery, all testaments to their popularity, even though authorities view them as an invasive species and are trying to eliminate them. In fact, they eat them in St. Kitts. They call it tree mutton or monkey stew.  
Barbados Cruise Terminal

Friday, March 24, 2017

Green Iguana

Our cruise ship arrived in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands and we had to wait awhile for our planned shore excursion to St. John. We walked around the dock area and I discovered a large iguana basking on a rock near the water.

This photo reveals the immense length of the tail. 
Later, as I walked along the upper edge of the rock pier I discovered multiple iguanas, perhaps 20 total, a veritable iguana park. 

This iguana provided quite a show, bobbing its head up and down and extending its dewlap. 
The green iguana originated in South America and radiated out through Central America and the Caribbean. Many subspecies were originally identified, but they have all been re-identified as regional variations of the same species. The green iguana was native to some Caribbean islands, such as St. Lucia, Grenada, Curacao and St. Vincent, but they were introduced into the U.S. Virgin Islands and it is considered an invasive species there. 

Pink-tinged spines.
They are often found near water and are good swimmers. They propel themselves through water using their powerful tail and allow their limbs to hang limply by their side. Color on the iguana can vary greatly. They can be green, black, blue, lavender and pink. A row of spines along their back and tail protects them from predators. The large dewlap helps them regulate temperature and is also used in territorial and courtship displays. 
The pink face is quite distinctive. 
This one has aqua colored spines. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sergeant Major (Fish)

The sergeant major or pintano is a species of damselfish that is white with five black vertical stripes and a yellow top. Adult males are more bluish and have less visible stripes and a dark spot around the pectoral fin. They are usually about six inches long but can get as large as 9 inches long. 
We saw lots of them in Carlisle Bay off the island of Barbados. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Saint Lucia Anole

The St. Lucia anole is one of 391 different species of anole, but this particular species is found only on the island of St. Lucia in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean. 
Here the anole flashes its dewlap, which can be a sign of territoriality, a reaction to danger, or an interest in mating activity. 
The same lizard without its dewlap puffed out. 
The color of the back can range from brown in dry areas to bright green in wet areas. The area around the eye can be white, blue or green (this one had green). I saw this anole near the Tet Paul Nature Trail which overlooks the two pitons. It was on the outside of a small building near the trail. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Green Sea Turtle

We recently took a Caribbean cruise which included a visit to Barbados. On Barbados we arranged with Silver Moon for a catamaran cruise which included some snorkling in Carlisle Bay, a natural bay near Bridgetown, the capital. 

While snorkling I encountered my first sea turtle, a green sea turtle. I actually saw two, but one left quickly and all but one of my photos are just of one of the turtles. 
The green sea turtle in the distance swam away and I didn't see it again. 
The green sea turtle is found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. It is not green on the outside, as the name implies, but has greenish colored fat found in a layer between the internal organs and shell. 

It has a short snout and unhooked beak and can't pull its head into its shell. The shell has color patterns that change over time. Young turtles have mostly black shells which turn dark brown to olive as they become juveniles. Adults are either all brown, spotted or marbled. 
The turtle was often surrounded by fish.

This fish almost seems attached to the turtle. 

These photos don't show much color, but do show more of the underside of the turtle. 
It was a major thrill for me to swim near the turtle and was a highlight of our Caribbean trip. I got an underwater camera for the trip and still have much to learn about underwater photography. I did learn that the closer the turtle was to the surface the more color shows up in the photo. For photos deeper under water, it is difficult to bring out the coloration even manipulating it with Lightroom. 
Here the turtle is backround for what I believe are needlefish, what the captain of the boat called garfish. 
There was a large southern stingray in the same vicinity and I got a few photos with both the green sea turtle and the stingray. 

A photo of my brother-in-law, Dave, touching the turtle. I did not get to touch the turtle myself, but enjoyed seeing Dave do so, one of my last photos before we had to get back on the catamaran.