Friday, July 13, 2012

Jackpot diving day in Cozumel

Amazing, incredible, awesome diving this morning in Cozumel! There are so many things to write about that I don´t know where to begin. So I won´t save the best for last, I will make it first.
After completing two awesome dives, we piled into the dive boat for the long ride home. In front of us we saw several boats in a circle, and inside their circle was a circle of snorkelers. Was someone hurt? No, everyone was watching a pod of pilot whales!
We quickly joined in the fun and began chasing them.Soon, we were surrounded by pilot whales. They were swimming alongside the boat, under the boat and surfacing all around us. I was tingling with excitement! The dive boat captain, perched about eight feet above us, could follow the whales and announced where the next one might be surfacing. It was a sight to see. Six divers and three crew members from the Dive With Martin dive shop jumping up and down and screaming whenever we saw one about to surface. They looked like dolphins to me, but our dive master, David, said they were pilot whales, which look similar but are a little bigger. David said that normally pilot whales swim away from passing boats, but today, for some reason, they decided to play with us! And all on Friday the 13th! The family that I dove with today, Wayne, Lisa and their daughter Jessica from Louisiana, shot video of the whale pod, and Wayne promises to send me the video. Wayne, I will hold you to it and look forward to seeing it! I started to scramble for my Flip video camera, but it was already wrapped up in my dry bag, and to search for it would have meant I might miss the whales. I was too excited to avert my attention from the whales. To see the dive crew so excited about the whales told me that this was a rare sight to see. I feel very lucky to have seen it, and I am still tingling an hour after the event.
Our first dive today was on Palancar Bricks, one of four dive sites on the Palancar Reef. This segment is named Bricks because a ship hauling bricks to build houses on the island was lost in a storm. As the boat was sinking, those aboard started dumping bricks off the boat in an attempt to save the boat. But it didn´t matter. The craft when down anyway. I asked David if this is where a diver can see COZUMEL spelled out in bricks on the bottom is the sea. He said it was the place, I did not see it on the dive. I was also introduced to an 89-year-old diver from Utah. What an inspiration! He walked to the dive boat with two canes but was like a fish in the water. I sure hope I can still dive when I´m his age. I thought he was the grandfather of one of the dive masters at first, so I told him that he speaks wonderful English.
¨I should because I was born and raised in Utah,¨ he told me. Boy did I feel like an idiot.
¨Wait until I tell me wife this one,¨ he joked.
Our dive lasted about 50 minutes, with a max depth of 90 feet. Once again, as is the case with many deep Coz dives, 10-story plus coral reef walls full of a variety of colorful species of coral stand as giant intimidating monoliths that can only be looked upon with awe. We did a variety of swimthroughs and saw more lobster the size of small dogs. I also saw my first lionfish of the tip, three of them unfortunately. While the first one we saw was quite large, the second one was a baby, the size of a silver dollar or smaller. Dive master Lucio held it in the palm of his hand and showed it to me. At that size they are not yet dangerous. And was discussed in my previous entry, they are not indigenous to Coz and are not welcome. Lucio begin hitting the lionfish with a metal clip-on in an attempt to kill it. When the lionfish grew dazed, it fell out of Lucio´s hand and he couldn´t find it. Suddenly, it reappeared, and a fish swam up and ate it! That was good to see. Lionfish have no natural predators in the Caribbean, but it appears some are getting a taste for them, at least while they are still small. DM David reported that while lionfish have become a real problem for Coz in the last couple of years, the local government has been allowing liberal spearing of the fish in an attempt to eradicate them. He said that appears to be working since there are less sightings of them. But they spawn every four days and thousands of eggs, so the job is far from over.
Our second dive was on Delila reef, one of my favorites thanks to its color and multitude of pelagic life. We spent 56 minutes on the reef with a max depth of 58 feet. And the dive didn´t disappoint! Right off the bat, a stingray, a little larger than a dinner plate, swam by in front of me. Moments later, I saw my first nurse shark of the trip, a large specimen which I could see the tail from one hole in the coral and its head in another hole.I tried getting pics of both. An array of beautiful reef fish coated the top of the formation. Just a feast for the eyes. After seeing more giant lobster, I saw my first moray eel of the trip, spotted by Lucio´s keen eye. It was a little fella, hiding in a hole in the coral. He let me get up real close and take a picture. Thanks bud. Two more nurse sharks swam by my path and a hawksbill turtle. As we started our ascent, I pointed out another large nurse swimming below and alerted Wayne and Lucio. It was a great way to end the dive, which would have been the highlight of the day if not for the pilot whales.
Tonight, the K-zoo boys, Jeff and Tim, and I have lined up a night dive. Those are always exciting because a whole new array of wildlife emerges at nighttime. I will have that report for you tomorrow afternoon.

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