July, 2015 ~ Two years ago, our good friend, Dr. Richard Smith (Ocean Realm Images), showed us photos that he took while diving in Japan. The Pinecone fish, a blenny (ginpo) and undescribed Japanese pygmy seahorse (Japa-pigu), caught our imaginations and Ned and I decided then and there that we had to see these fishes for ourselves. Richard kindly set up an entire three-week itinerary for five of us and off we went last month for a dive trip unlike any we’d ever experienced. We got to see the pygmy seahorse and the Pinecone Fish – stories that we’ll save for a later post – and some very cool blennies.
Our first stop was Hachijo-jima, an island about 180 miles south of Tokyo. Kotaro Tanaka, our host and owner of Dive Club Concolor started us off at Nazumado, a shore dive that required entering by holding onto an anchored rope to ease ourselves over the lava rocks. A series of distant typhoons had created a bit of surge, making the entry more of an exercise in rappelling. And timing was everything – releasing the rope at the right moment in order to be carried away from the rocks by the outgoing flow of the surge was the key to a successful entry. Easy – peasy when you’ve done it and understand that. I was terrified but managed nonetheless because…there were blennies below! I think my graceless return to shore by riding up the rocks on my butt, fins first (I did hold onto the rope all the way) might have played a part in Kotaro’s decision to make the rest of our dives from boats.
But back to the blennies … oh, the blennies!
Another fish for our lifelists, this is Cirripectes kuwamurai, a fairly large combtooth blenny in a group we call the “earred” blennies because their dark nuchal flaps edged with tiny yellow cirri look like little ears. Named for Dr. Tetsuo Kuwamura, the Japanese name is Suji-tategami-kaeru-uo.
We have seen the Piano Blenny, Plagiotremus tapeinosoma (Tenkurosuji ginpo in Japanese) in Indonesia, Fiji and the Philippines. This fish is so variable that every time I see one, it takes me a minute to recognize it and these were no exception, especially because we’ve never seen them so yellow. I think there was some courtship action going on because we saw plenty of the more typically colored Piano Blennies too.
This outrageously adorned blenny, is possibly Neoclinus bryope, the Moss Blenny (Kokeginpo). Seeing Richard’s photo of this fish was what compelled us to visit Japan in the first place. I am uncertain about the identification because a paper published in 1987 identified two similar-appearing species, N. okazakii and N. chihiroe whose ranges overlap N. bryope and we just don’t have enough experience with Japanese blennies:
I missed this one but Ned shot this great Blackfin Triplefin, Helcogramma fuscopinna within minutes of entering the water. I couldn’t find a Japanese common name for this fish:
Our favorite sighting was Meiacanthus kamoharai (Kamoharaginpo) a beautiful fangblenny known from Japan and Taiwan. Kotaro, Ned and I spent most of one dive watching a male court and chase a female and just before we had to ascend to shallower water, the female finally entered the male’s lair, presumably to lay eggs that he would fertilize and guard. An interesting note: these blennies are now being successfully raised by OAR (Oceans, Reefs and Aquariums) the hatchery located on FIU’s Harbor Branch campus in Florida.
We halted our Hachijo-jima diving two days early because of rough seas from a typhoon and headed back to Tokyo where we met up with Shingo Suzuki, owner of Kiki Diving Club. Richard and Shingo had worked out an itinerary around the Izu Peninsula, a few hours drive from Tokyo. We started at Osezaki in West Izu where we geared up on the wide beach and walked in. Added bonus: Mt. Fuji in the distance!
This was a true black sand muck dive and it was much colder here. Shingo noticed me obsessing over another Neoclinus sp. blenny in a rock at the end of our first dive and asked me about it during lunch. I told him about this blog, Blennywatcher, which got him all excited about showing us these great Yatabe Blennies, Parablennius yatabei (Isoginpo), known from Japan and Korea. These blennies are in the same genus as the western Atlantic’s Seaweed Blenny, Parablennius marmoreus, and are about the same size. Here in Osezaki, they were living in the growth on a submerged mooring float and their behavior reminded me of the Tessellated Blennies we saw last year on Bonaire.
The weather started degrading (darn those typhoons!) so we moved across the peninsula to Futo where the water was much calmer, but unfortunately much colder. My gauge read 64 degrees (18 °C) on the bottom so I lasted about 15 minutes before I fled to 20 feet for the warmer 68 degrees. This was a lucky move because I found more Yatabe blennies (on the moorings that held the entry ropes) and these gorgeous Hebiginpo, Enneapterygius etheostomus. I saw a black male with white bars first and because I had seen photos of this species, I knew to look for the female, which is reddish brown and mottled.
In spite of dodging 3 typhoons, very cold water (64 to 75 degrees – eek!), and negotiating travel and everyday life in a country whose language we could neither speak nor read, we had the time of our lives and cannot wait to return. We loved Japan – the people, the diving and the fishes!
Fukao, R. 1987. Fishes of Neoclinus bryope species complex from Shirahama, Japan, with description of two new species. Japanese Journal of Ichthyology, 34(3): 291–308.
For Japanese common names: http://www.fishbase.org