Juvenile Weedy Sea Dragons, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Portsea_1Our recent trip along the rich ocean coast from South Australia to Southern Queensland brought us to ‘Australia’s Best Kept Diving Secret‘, Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Having spoken to diving enthusiasts who had visited and worked here, we decided to commit ourselves to diving the various jetties this area has to offer. These include famous Portsea, Rye and Flinders Pier, along with critter haven, Blairgowrie Marina. Our expectations were high having coming from Rapid Bay Jetty in South Australia after two solid days of diving, but had no idea of the delights we were about to come across.

We hired tanks and weights from Dive Victoria, Portsea who are conveniently located on the door step of Portsea Pier. The pier is around 150m long with an L-bend at around 100m up. Entry and exits are made easy by a swim platform at water level just 100m walk from the back of the dive shop. Diving is best at slack and ebbing tides with minimal surge and clearer water. Surge during a flooding tide can be quite substantial and doesn’t help underwater visibility either. Once in the water, you head away from the shore staying under the jetty to avoid fishing lines and boat traffic. This is not a restriction as there is not a lot of life away from the jetty itself where all the marine life tends to congregate. The bottom gets no deeper than 6m even at high tides meaning long dives spent searching and photographing the unique critters, particularly Weedy Sea Dragons, is what we loved about Portsea Pier.

FlatwormSeahorseAs we searched for the elusive Weedy Sea Dragons, we found various macro subjects, including extremely photogenic Nudibranches and Flatworms, which seemed to be all over this dive site, Potbelly Seahorses and Octopus that were particularly numerous at night. Once we had turned the L-bend we started to spot the Weedy Sea Dragons that this area is famous for. These beautiful and unique critters stay low in the water, perfectly camouflaged, floating above patches of seaweed. Before I had seen these animals for myself, the name ‘Dragon’ seemed strange. However, after inspecting and photographing them for over an hour they really do look like Dragons with their large, wing type appendages. They truly amazed me and made the journey from WA worthwhile all in itself.

Weedy-EggsHayley had spotted another congregation of Sea Dragons and was shooting video of a male carrying eggs. After an hour or so into the dive she started to make some extremely loud and excited noises through here regulator that made it all the way through my 5mm neoprene hood. We had trouble communicating on previous dives as it was 17 C and both were wearing nice and warm, thick 7/8mm wetsuits and hoods but somehow on this particularly instance, her signals were loud and clear! Once I had made it over, she could not contain here excitement and her smile was beaming through here mask. She had just seen a male Weedy Sea Dragon give birth to a juvenile. There was the tiniest juvenile Weedy Sea Dragon right there, drifting in the surge, side-by-side with the adult male who had been carrying it. I could not believe my eyes. I was carrying our Nikon D800 with a 60mm macro lens and our newly ordered +5 and +10 close-up lenses which had been working like a dream, shooting close-ups of nudibranches and sea horses, but I could simply not get close enough to shoot these amazing creatures with any detail. Weedy1As our air was getting low and our feet colder, we made our way back the dive shop for a refill and a coffee sharing our find with the enthusiastic dive staff. As we started the dive close to a slack low tide, the water was starting to come in and causing surge on the site making photography impossible. We gave it a go knowing what was below the surface but we simply could not fight the surge! We unwilingly surfaced and made our way to Blairgowrie Marina in the hope we could find the juveniles the next day on a favorable tide. That night, sleep was minimal with so much excitement built up inside over our discovery. We had planned to dive at 10am, timed perfectly for slack low water and had everything ready for our 9am departure.

We swam straight out to the area we had found the Sea Dragons the day before armed with our more powerful 105mm macro lens and the close-up diopters. However, we quickly discovered the juvenile had moved away from the male nursing its eggs from the day before. Very disappointing though still armed with the camera, Hayley began shooting close-ups of the male which seemed to have more juvenile ready to hatch. Having got some shots the day before, we began searching for more Sea Dragons and other critters.
Juv-WeedyWhilst photographing a tiny nudibranch close-by to the adult male Sea Dragon, Hayley not only spotted one juvenile Sea Dragon, but two together. One of them must have been extremely fresh as the yolk sack was still attached to its body. The other juvenile was slightly larger but only by 1mm or so. It was an incredible feeling to be able to photograph these wonderful creatures but to see them as new borns was a moment to remember.

Migration Media’s visit to Mornington Peninsula to be continued……