Diving with a prehistoric fish
Travel is finally open after a year of socially isolating from the pandemic. We took precautions that included hand sanitizing, mask wearing, and covid tests to ensure everyone had a good and safe trip. Two of our guests also already received the immunization which left us all able to focus on time with paddlefish.
Three days of fish
We added a day to this year’s itinerary to allow more time with the paddlefish. They tire of people’s presence, so we limit dives to two a day to give the best encounters and to allow everyone time to warm up. However, no one in the group tired of seeing paddlefish. Everyone saw paddlefish on every dive. As always, photographic opportunities were challenging; the paddlefish swam vigorously, while I focused on creative compositions.
We also focused on the best approaches to the fish to avoid startling them as best as possible. When a paddlefish is relaxed, it will swim leisurely; much like sharks. Also like sharks, an irritated or startled paddlefish will increase speed and disappear at will. They do not seem to ever stop moving, though they may swim very slowly at almost a hover.
The first day proved the best for visibility due to the aggregation of freshwater copepods that spread out across all depths. The best visibility was from the surface down to 15 feet and below 40 feet. Our maximum depths were 60 feet, but we rarely needed to venture that deep because the fish fortunately enjoy shallower water unless provoked to dive deep.
The water was about 5ºF colder this year reaching temperatures between 53ºF and 48ºF. We all wore dry suits and appreciated it. As small as the quarry is, no one wanted the quarry to be any bigger than it was so we could all dive with paddlefish.
Making the approach
A fairly large 4-5 foot fish, paddlefish are the biggest animals in the quarry. These are middle-aged paddlefish that are said to be able to live up to 30-60 years but average 14-27 years of life. This means they rule the quarry and while they are not overly fond of divers, they do not mind swimming with them if there are only a handful. This is why we get special permission to dive with them in the winter when the park is normally closed to divers. During the summer months, the paddlefish are much more skittish, making photography virtually impossible.
They do not like to be approached directly and instead would rather get to know you first. Everyone spent time learning how the fish responded to their approaches and we did our best to point out passing fish when we saw each other.
2021 and beyond
Filter feeders include whales, some species of sharks such as whale sharks and basking sharks, and of course paddlefish. We lead trips to these big three filter feeders. We’re looking forward to a busy 2022 season, but are thrilled to be back out in the wild leading trips this year!
Join Jennifer and Andy on different weeks in August to dive with humpback whales! A couple spots might still be open for 2021.
Andy and Jennifer will be leading a trip to the whale sharks in Isla Mujeres later this year from July 27-August 1, 2021. Check for availability to dive with this other filter feeder.