Here in the Solomon Islands, searching for the elusive bumphead parrotfish, we spent this week diving in waters that boast some of the highest fish biodiversity in the world, second only to Sipadan, Malaysia.
The aptly-named Grand Central had fish rushing off in all directions including schools of red-bellied fusiliers (Caesio cuning), titan and redtooth triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens and Odonus niger), as well as lone grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) and great barracudas (Sphyraena barracuda).
Shallower in the water column, giant clams (Tridacna sp.), false clown anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris), and Christmas tree worms (Spirobranchus giganteus) retreated into their homes.
Despite the staggering number of creatures, the odds were still not in our favor and we spotted only a single bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum), the animal we’ve come all this way to observe.
At first, the looming outline looked more like a shark in shallow water. We froze and then frantically bumped our fists to our foreheads–our underwater signal for our bumpheaded friends; its genus Bolbometopon is Greek for “onion-brow.” Seemingly unphased, the bumphead turned and left before we could catch it on film.
At our first sighting, we had had jumped off our boat without our masks, fins, or snorkels, eager to see the bumpheads down below, but the fish had vanished almost as soon as we saw it. Apparently, after generations of spear-fishers on snorkel, bumpheads are often skittish around any kind of swimmer.
Diving with scuba gear the next time allowed us to settle into their habitat fairly unnoticed, so much so that a meter-long giant came up close and stuck around. From experiences like this on our initial surveys, we’re getting the impression that bumpheads here occupy deeper waters than those in areas where they have been fished less.
We’ll soon be heading southeast to more remote (and less fished!) reef systems surrounding the town of Munda, known for its World War II relics and world-class diving.