Saturday, July 20, 2013

Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker

Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker
Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker
About a year after we started scuba diving, we heard rumors of this tiny fish called the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker (PSL). Everyone talked about these magical, adorable fish with such affection and wonder, we decided we had to find them.  

We spent dive after dive searching for this mythical fish, but no matter where we dove, and not matter how much we searched, we could never find even a single PSL.

Sometimes it's easier to find something underwater when you know exactly what it looks like, and where it likes to hang out.  One Saturday morning, we decided to take a tour of the fish tanks at the Highline Community College Marine Science and Technology (MaST) Center at Redondo Beach in DesMoines, Washington.  We heard that they might have one of these mysterious PSL's, and even though we weren't underwater, we were excited that we were finally going to see this tiny fish. Unfortunately, luck was not with us.  MaST is a wonderful place to visit, and the staff there knows their stuff, so the visit was nice but we did not see a PSL. 

We know they are real.  There is plenty of literature out there that describes these cute fish.  The Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker fish has an almost spherical head and body.  This fish has no scales.  Their entire body is covered with spiny lumps called tubercles.  They also have a "specialized fringed sucker disk on their stomach" in place of pelvic fins which allows them to literally suction-cup themselves to objects such as eel grass.  If you look closely at the PSL in the image above, you can see that their fins are translucent.  This fish is celebrated in Asia, and is often the highlight of parades, and trips to the aquarium..

Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker
Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker
Eventually, we gave up looking for them.  There are so many wonderful things to see underwater, it was only a small disappointment.  When students asked, we sent them to this YouTube video.

Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker - Victoria High School

One day, I joined a couple of friends taking some specialized training with the Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA).  We were learning exactly what it takes to scuba with people with disabilities.  You talk about challenging!  In order for us to truly understand what would be required of us if we chose to dive with an HSA certified diver, we did several dives in the pool  simulating the experience, first as the diver with a disability, and then as a dive assistant guiding a diver with a disability.  Once we convinced our instructor that we had mastered these activities, it was time to put them to the real test out in the cold waters of the Puget Sound.  We were all excited and scared to death to finish up our training in the cold water.  We finished the first round of dives where three of our masks were completely blacked out, and three other divers gave us a tour.  It was an interesting experience being guided around, limiting the experience to what the guide chose to place in my hands.  Still, the water is a tranquil place, a time to relax completely, listen to your own breathing, and float weightlessly.

Here's where things get funny.  The first dive was short, so we didn't need to change our tanks, we just had to swap masks.  It was my turn to guide my "blind" student through the water.  Things were going well for the first half of the dive, until I spotted my first lumpsucker.  I was so excited, I let my divers hand go, and swam off to get a better look of this adorable swimming fish the size of a quarter.  I generally don't touch things underwater, but taking a blind diver underwater means that you get to touch things, and place them in the diver’s hands.  Remembering my blind diver, I scooped the PSL up and swam back taking care not to squish the fish.  I carefully placed the fish in my diver's hands.  Moments later I carefully returned my new found treasure to his home in the eel grass, and then finished the dive leading my blind diver out of the water.

Once we were all out of the water, we talked about the whole experience.  My blind diver was able to figure out everything I put in his hands, guessing that the PSL was a fish, and super excited to find out the he actually got to hold one.  

Since that dive, I've been lucky enough to spot a few more of these beautiful little fish. Hope you are lucky enough to spot one someday.
Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker
Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker
You can read more about this adorable fish in "It’s Not a Party Without a Lumpsucker!"  One final adorable photo of the PSL...because they are just so cute.

Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers On A Balloon
Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers
On Balloons

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