Category Archives: Gulf of Mexico

Texas Tentacles

A 1972 Robalo sportfishing boat pulls up to an oil platform off the coast of Corpus Christi, TX.

As the waves rise and fall around this giant manmade structure, Capt. Bill Sheka lowers a big hunk of cut bait seeking out snapper, grouper and other sport fish common to the area.

Suddenly he feels tension on the line so he sets the hook.

There is something on the other end but it is not moving.

At all.

“There were some deck hands on the rail of the rig and they were watching me. When I got it up it turned out to be a gallon glass mayonnaise jar, obviously pitched overboard by the rig’s cook,” Sheka said.

The men on the rig laughed at the strange catch and fired off some snide remarks.

“Got some bred for that mayonnaise?”

“Nice catch bud!”

But the jar was not empty.

“Inside was an octopus that took my bait and scurried back to his ‘home”in the jar,” Sheka said.

“I took my small wooden billy club and hit the jar breaking it to reveal the wiggling, twisting octopus. Now the crew was silent and I then asked them if they knew any octopus recipes,” Sheka said.

He had a good laugh at his naysayers before releasing the creature alive and well.

Octopus in the Gulf?

Absolutely.

The Flower Gardens Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) is the the most observed and studied habitat in the Gulf and according to FGBNMS research coordinator Emma Hickerson there are at least four octopus species there.

These include the Caribbean two-spotted octopus, common octopus, white-spotted octopus and mimic octopus.

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Caribbean two-spotted octopus at Flower Gardens Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy NOAA.

“I filmed a Caribbean two-spotted octopus quite a few years ago out and about scooting around the reef during the day,  but otherwise typically they are tucked away in the reef.  You can sometimes find their “middens” which are piles of shells from their meals.  One particular octopus I filmed was big enough to be feasting on large queen conch and slipper lobster at Stetson Bank,” she said.

Kristi Oden encountered caught one while diving off of an oil platform off the Gulf Coast.

“It was a feisty thing,” she said.

“It kept grabbing my dive knife and pulling on it. I got it into my dive bag and took it back up to the boat because I wanted to look at it. It was really neat. When I got it out of the bag and it changed colors to match the floor of the boat. I looked at it for a little while and then put him back in the water.”

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Angler Henry Pongratz caught and released this common octopus at the Port O’Connor Jetties.

Most encounters with octopus off the Texas coast are around oil rigs and at the FGBNMS but some divers reporting seeing them at the jetties in Port O’Connor, Aransas Pass and Port Mansfield.

Finding octopus along the beach jetties and even in the bays is a fairly common occurrence on the Gulf Coast of Florida but in the western Gulf they remain mysterious.

The common octopus can grow to impressive sizes with specimens as large as 4.3 feet and weighing upwards of 20 pounds. And although it is difficult to measure the “intelligence” of animals, octopus are without questions brainiacs of the marine world.

Octopus not only have the largest brains of any invertebrate but they also have an impressive number of neurons which are the measuring stick science uses for thinking potential.

The common octopus has around 130 million.  A human has more than 100 billion but that numbers not bad for something that makes its living in the cracks and crevices of reefs, rigs, jetties and yes, even mayonnaise jars.

The more we understand about the Gulf of Mexico, the more we can appreciate it.

And I can’t imagine someone not being able to appreciate the uniqueness of the octopus and the fact Gulf coastal waters are home to these amazing creatures.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Guy Harvey and the Gulf’s missing shark

A long time ago in the far, far reaches of the Gulf of Mexico...

The contrasting bars of the pilot fish create a striking image in the cobalt blue waters just beyond the continental shelf. Swimming in unison they dart, twist and turn in natural aquatic harmony.

Suddenly, from amongst the motion a strong form emerges.

Swimming with focus and purpose, the white bars on its fins reveal the ocean’s wanderer: the ocean whitetip shark.

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Photo by Johan Lantz/Wiki Commons

It continues its trajectory at a slow but determined pace. Cruising just beneath the surface, it is set to prey on anything it might encounter.

Pickings can be slim in this desolate environment.

Once considered the world’s most common large animal (over 100 pounds) they are now  deemed critically endangered. This is especially true for the Gulf of Mexico.

In a 2004 study, researchers Baum and Myers noted a 99 percent decline of oceanic whitetips in the Gulf since the 1950s.

“Scientists there once considered this species a nuisance because of the prevalence around vessels. Nowadays it is rarely seen,” they noted.

In hundreds of trips in the Gulf out of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi this writer has never seen one. And neither have dozens of veteran Gulf anglers I have interviewed.

And that concerns ocean art icon and conservationist Guy Harvey.

“The oceanic whitetip is a truly remarkable shark and due to the high demand of fins from large shark species they have declined dramatically,” Harvey said.

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Currently the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF) and its partners are engaged in a study to track and analyze whitetip populations. They are studying the stock structure of oceanic whitetip sharks on a global scale by using genetic techniques, and migration patterns of this species in the western Atlantic with the aid of satellite tracking technologies.

Information gained on the whitetip’s movements can help create better management strategies to save the species.

When Harvey called the species “remarkable” that is not a generalized statement. He has firsthand knowledge having spent time in the water with the species and producing a documentary about their plight.

“They are bold and have no problems approaching a diver which makes for great interaction and observation,” Harvey said.

Harvey’s works with whitetips has allowed him to create stunning works of art showing the declining species in all of its glory.

Art captures the mood and feel of a natural scene better that photography and Harvey’s instantly recognizable style has resonated with an ocean-loving public in a way that connects them to wildlife.

“Things happen so fast down there and you have limited time. Painting allows to create a way to raise awareness to species that otherwise might not get much attention,” Harvey said.

The oceanic whitetip is one such creature.

If they disappeared tomorrow few anglers would notice.

Beachcombers never see these open water dwellers anyway so that only leaves wildlife journalists like myself, researchers like Harvey and his crew and a handful of shark fanatics who would even notice their demise.

But to the ocean it does matter.

An intricately woven food chain has already been disrupted and if they were to vanish forever, the balance would be upset.

And the world would lose a beautiful, cunning predator.

We should do our best to support research like GHOF are doing and all efforts to ensure shark populations not only survive but perhaps one day thrive like they did so long ago in the Gulf and beyond.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Pink Albino Dolphin (Video)

Among the most incredible animals I have encountered in my life in the wild is a super rare pink albino bottlenose dolphin appropriately dubbed “Pinky”.

I first encountered it while filming a television program on Louisiana’s Lake Calcasieu in 2010 and returned with a group of children to capture it on video in 2013.

We are planning another expedition to photograph “Pinky” and the other dolphins of the area. We will post our results here.

Until then enjoy this clip.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

“Teeth” in the Gulf

“Teeth”!

“That is next movie they need to make. We’ve got one about a killer shark but they need to make one about a killer gar,” said my Dad.

“Wouldn’t that be cool?” he asked as we sat on the side of the road between Bridge City and Port Arthur, TX fishing for alligator garfish.

At eight-years-of age I thought that would be epic to say the least and if any of the producers of such high art as “Sharktopus” are reading this blog, it very well could become the next SyFy Original.

Just sign those royalty checks to “Chester Moore” please.

Dad always liked to make me laugh and that certainly did but there certainly are not a bunch of garfish attacks to report.

There is however something quite interesting.

15240140_10153905413465780_2058860035_nWhile “Jaws” is on the minds of beachgoers in Texas (our variety-bulls, lemons, blacktips) “Teeth” is soaking up some of the same salty waters.

Angler Marcus Heflin caught a sizable alligator garfish while fishing the surf at Sea Rim State Park at Sabine Pass along the Texas-Louisiana border.

This was the first gar I have heard of on the beach anywhere along the Gulf Coast although I have long suspected they are there.

As a child I had a collection of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazines and one of them had a profile of Sea Rim State Park-where Heflin caught the gar pictured above.

It had fishing hotspots and there were several marked for garfish in the surf.

Garfish are considered a freshwater species but do well along the Gulf Coast. I grew up fishing for them in Sabine Lake and surrounding waters, a bay that at its southern end is only seven miles from the surf.

Mobile Bay in Alabama is a hotbed of alligator garfish activity and they are present in numerous salt marshes along the Louisiana coast.

Still, you can find almost no references to garfish in the surf.

The question is just how common they are in Gulf waters and how far out do they go?

These are very mysterious fish with little known about their life cycles or habits in comparison to America fish for comparable size.

So, if you’r ever at the beach and see something that looks kind of like a mutated alligator swim beside you don’t worry.

You just have had an encounter with “Teeth”.

There is no danger to be concerned with except in my eight-year-old imagination where a ravaging gar seemed like an intriguing proposition.

And to be perfectly honest it still does.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Manta Ray found just off TX beach (Video)

Last week readers Andy Allen and Reggie Begelton captured this video of a large manta ray swimming a mile west of the Sabine Jetties, just off the beach at Sea Rim State Park out of Sabine Pass, TX.

Manta rays are present in the Gulf of Mexico but sightings are rare and sightings with a mile of the beach are virtually unheard of in Texas.

According to Wikipedia, swimming behavior in mantas differs across habitats: when travelling over deep water, they swim at a constant rate in a straight line, while further inshore they usually bask or swim idly around. Mantas may travel alone or in groups of up to 50. They may associate with other fish species as well as sea birds and marine mammals. Mantas sometimes breach, leaping partially or entirely out of the water. Individuals in a group may make aerial jumps one after the other. These leaps come in three forms: forward leaps where the fish lands head first, similar jumps with a tail first re-entry or somersault. The reason for breaching is not known; possible explanations include mating rituals, birthing, communication, or the removal of parasites and remora.

“Manta rays have broad heads, triangular pectoral fins, and horn-shaped cephalic fins located on either side of their mouths. They have horizontally flattened bodies with eyes on the sides of their heads behind the cephalic fins, and gill slits on their ventral surfaces. Their tails lack skeletal support and are shorter than their disc-like bodies.  The dorsal fins are small and at the base of the tail.”

“The largest mantas can reach 1,350 kg (2,980 lb). In both species the width is approximately 2.2 times the length of the body; M. birostris reaches at least 7 m (23 ft) in width while M. alfredi reaches about 5.5 m (18 ft). Dorsally, mantas are typically black or dark in color with pale markings on their “shoulders”. Ventrally, they are usually white or pale with distinctive dark markings by which individual mantas can be recognized. All-black color morphs are known to exist. The skin is covered in mucus which protects it from infection.”

Chester Moore, Jr.