Blenny Fever

The email came on a Friday morning two weeks ago. It was a chatty note from our friend Judy, one of the Blue Heron Bridge Mucksters. “Right now we are seeing seaweed blennies with eggs, cardinal fish with eggs, and seahorses.” Oh, Oh, Oh! Blennies with eggs have been on my hit list forever. I spent many dives this year in Dominica, Bonaire and at the Bridge looking for looking for Redlip (Ophioblennius macclurei) or Seaweed (Parablennius marmoreus) blenny males, guarding egg nests.

I email back, “OK, This is a crazy idea, but are the tides favorable for this weekend? I am traveling on Monday to visit my parents and have houseguests coming in on the 10th, so my only shot is tomorrow or Sunday and I haven’t said anything to Ned yet…”

Saturday morning at 8:00 am, we roll out of the driveway; cameras charged and dive gear loaded for the 270-mile drive to the Blue Heron Bridge. After a Friday evening flurry of emails among the Mucksters and a call to Ken and Tammy Marks about spending Saturday night with them, we decide to go for it. We are sure our neighbors will forgive us for skipping their holiday party (sorry Jim and Pam).

At 1:30 pm, we wade toward the newly repaired east span with Bill Barnes, who is hoping to lead us to the same blenny that he photographed for over an hour last weekend. Since we are entering before slack tide, he cautions us to avoid being swept into the channel by swimming hard against the current until we get to the pilings. Ned and Bill are carrying dive flags on floats so we can be seen from the surface; I have given mine to Ken who is running a few minutes late and will catch up with us. This does not feel like the 75-77 degree water that was reported last night. I look at my gauge – 72 degrees – but have no time to think about how cold I am going to be because I realize there is a bigger problem: the vis is three feet at best and I can barely see Bill. As if reading my mind, he turns back, thrusts his float line into my hand and swims away with me in tow. I “swim hard against the current” and lose a fin. Now struggling to hang on to my camera and Bill’s float line with one hand and put the retrieved fin back on with the other hand, I am swimming one-legged to keep up with Bill. He assumes the drag I create during the fin recovery is the result of increased depth (we are now down to 15 feet) and lets out more float line from the reel attached to his BC. The sudden, extra slack drops me to 18 feet – the bottom – just in time for my camera tripod to snag a wad of lost monofilament fishing line. Entangled, I am forced to let go of my tether to Bill but more important, my guide to the blenny.

I spend three tense minutes of freeing myself when Bill appears, hands me his float line again and leads me to a small bivalve shell with tiny purple eggs. Perched a few inches away is a large Seaweed Blenny that once convinced I am no major threat, returns to his shell and the egg clutch, laid by one or more female mates, that he is guarding. Ned finally shows up after surfacing to get his bearings. He has had his own adventure, involving a lively conversation with a fisherman who is not a fan of divers. Sixty-eight minutes into the dive, I realize how numb I am from the cold and we all head back to shore. Deb Devers surfaces behind us, shouting that she has found and marked another blenny with eggs. No one even looks back.

Ken, who has accompanied us on more than his fair share of “adventures”, often names our dives, making it easier to remember them years later, for better or worse. Not having shot a single frame with his camera during the hour, he declares this the Blenny Fever dive. Ned, huddled on the picnic bench and clutching a gallon of hot water Ken has provided for warmth, says ruefully,  “No, it’s the 500-mile Blenny!” I am just thrilled – I finally saw my blenny with eggs!