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Scuba Tips: Avoid Scaring Away Aquatic Life


photo of a spotted eagle ray swimming in the ocean.

Spotted eagle rays may curiously observe calm divers.

© istockphoto.com
A shadowy mass of white spots drifted into focus. I tracked its movement. Turning to follow the mystery animal, I watched it glide behind the dive group. The creature circled around behind us and curiously swam closer. A spotted eagle ray! A smile tightened across my face, and I waved my arms in silly flapping motions to alert my dive buddy to the ray's presence. We held our position and the ray edged closer to us. Bit by bit it came nearer. Unfortunately, the diver to my left had also noticed my "Spotted Eagle Ray!" hand signal, completely lost his cool, and swam after the ray with rapid, uncoordinated movements. The cautious creature turned its tail to our group and was gone.
I can't even blame the diver -- spotted eagle rays are one of the most exciting animals to see under water, and chasing after interesting animals is almost instinctual for new divers. I certainly chased after my share of sea turtles, trumpetfish, and eels before I discovered that the best way to observe aquatic life is passively.
A diver who kicks jerkily around while exhaling clouds of noisy bubbles stands out from the normal aquatic environment like King Kong in New York. Smaller fish scramble in panic to their shelter holes and faster creatures flee the area. There are few fish in the sea that swim more slowly than a diver, and those that do stay close to their hiding holes. Chasing after a sea animal usually reduces a diver's chance of getting a good look at it.
If you want to see fish, you must act like a fish and blend in with the underwater world. A diver who hovers motionless or swims with gentle, slow movements behaves more like an animal that belongs in the ocean. Sea creatures sense this, and will go about their normal business or even curiously approach a calm diver once they determine that the diver is not a threat. Most underwater animals will react to divers in one of three ways.
1. The Animal Is Afraid of Divers
If a sea creature is afraid of divers, he will swim away from them or hide. Chasing after such a creature as it tries to move away will do no good; almost all fish and sea animals can easily out-swim a diver. The result of chasing after a frightened sea animal is a stressed fish and a hyperventilating diver.

2. The Animal Tries to Ignore Divers
A great number of the underwater species are ambivalent to the presence of calm divers. Provided the diver does not draw attention to himself by flailing around or closely approaching/chasing fish, these animals will continue their normal behavior. Divers may observe them quietly from a short distance away.

3.The Animal Is Curious About Divers
My favorite creatures to watch underwater are those that are curious about divers. Animals such as sea turtles, jacks, and even spotted eagle rays may approach dive groups. Turtles seem to enjoy gazing at their reflections in a diver's mask, jacks and many other large fish will hover above a diver and play with his bubbles, and spotted eagle rays may circle dive groups. Again, to observe these creatures, a diver must hold still or move very calmly once the animal notices him.
Staying calm and moving slowly underwater allows a diver to see more wildlife and will also improve the quality and length of his dives. A diver who establishes neutral buoyancy and moves slowly through the water will lower his air consumption rate, reduce his chances of decompression sickness (exertion increases the risk of decompression sickness), and arrives at the surface relaxed and refreshed. Control your instincts to chase after the animals and you may find that they even begin to approach you!
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