Jam Marine With Shawnee…And Lots Of Nudibranchs!

Just back from my trip to that states to visit with my family, I was eager to get into the water. After posting in an online dive forum, I met up with a very nice lady named Shawnee at Jam Marine. It turned out to be a great dive because she took me to a new section of the site I had never seen before, we were both keen on practicing with our new cameras (we also had very similar models), and she was really cool to hang out with!


My first impression of Shawnee was, “This is going to be a really great dive!  She’s awesome!”  After introducing ourselves to one another, we walked up the steps to take a look at the water.  It was high tide and very calm.  We discussed which direction to head and decided that Shawnee would lead our dive to the north.  I had never been to that section whereas she had dived it many times.  I was excited to have a tour guide who knew the area and the specific wildlife in the area to look out for – tons of nudibranchs, a friendly octopus, and perhaps a cuttlefish.


Triplespot Blenny


As we suited up, we discussed the various settings on our camera (Canon G11 and 12), the pros and cons of the different underwater housing cases available for them, and techniques were were trying out with our strobe to get the best lighting  We then did our pre-dive safety check to ensure we were familiar with each others equipment.  Even with her being an assistant instructor and me being an instructor, we didn’t negate this important step.  Even though scuba set-ups are very similar, everyone has their own unique was of positioning their gauges and accessories so it’s important to always include the pre-dive safety check no matter what your skill level.  I wouldn’t want to be fumbling around trying to figure out someone’s gear in an emergency situation, would you?


Then it was up the steps to reach the top of the wall and back down the other side into the water.  We carefully walked out along the rocks until is got deep enough to slip on our fins and then we kicked out the rest of the way until the reef dropped off.  I found this entry to be a lot easier than going to the south…didn’t feel like I was about to roll my ankle and do a face-plant into the water.  Been there, done that, got the t-shirt….not fun.


Triplespot Blenny


As we dropped down we came to a depth around 25 feet and it looked like it would stay that depth for a good ways to the north.  YES!  I love doing shallow dives – I can dive longer,  there tends to be lots of wildlife, and the colors of whatever I’m photographing come out better as compared to when I’m deeper.  Shawnee and I had agreed that our dive objective would be to practice using our cameras and to just go nice and slow.  I was using a new underwater housing case so I decided to simply focus on holding it and getting used to the new way I’d have to position my hands…it was a bit tricky with my smaller sized hands.  Shawnee had just gotten a strobe so she was practicing how to position it and set the correct strength for the flash while taking pictures.


Pseudoceros Leptostichus Flatworm

As I combed along the rocks I spotted a triplespot blenny perched on the rocks watching intently to everything that passed by.  I managed to get two photos before he disappeared into a hole.  Blennies are so cute with their large, inquisitive eyes – I love photographing them.  I waited around to see if he would reemerge from his hiding spot for about 30 seconds…no-joy.  I shifted my focus to the nearly vertical reef wall and spotted a flatworm I hadn’t recalled seeing before.  Turns out it was a Pseudoceros leptostichus.   He was crawling pretty fast and I was in a bit of an awkward shooting angle looking up at him so I only took two photos and then pressed on…I really wanted to see some nudibranchs!


Chromodoris Colemani Nudibranch


I was pleasantly surprised to find that it didn’t take me long to come upon a nudibranch.  Crawling overtop a pointy rock I spotted a Chromodoris colemani and descended down while setting my camera for macro photography.  This dude was was really hustling and the water was swaying him back and forth pretty good.  My photos turned out so-so…just wish I had turned the flash on so the colors would have come out nicer – definitely going to remember that part in the future.


Chromodoris Colemani Nudibranch


After I got my fill of taking photos of the Chromodoris colemani nudibranch, I decided to move on and to see what else I could find.  Would you believe that only a few moments later I would find another of the same type?  This is pretty astounding because the Chromodoris colemani nudibranch is actually supposed to be very rare in Okinawa.  On Robert F. Bolland’s website, Okinawa Slug Site, he notes that he’s only seen 7 of these nudibranchs after 20 years of diving.  After reading that I went and double checked to make sure I have make the correct identification – yep, I was spot on.  Also noted on the Okinawa Slug Site is the fact that this nudibranch was named after “Mr. Neville Coleman, who  pioneered the recording, photographing and the collecting of opisthobranchs throughout Australia; he was also instrumental in establishing the Australasian Marine Photographic Index.”  Maybe I should figure out something really cool to do with nudibranchs and I’ll get one named after me…yeah…in my dreams, right?


Chromodoris Colemani Crawling Down An Overhang- Nice Detail On Rhinophores


The second Chromodoris colemani nudibranch that I saw was crawling over a ledge.  I managed to get several nice photos detailing his rhinophores and branchial plume.  As noted on a previous blog entry, the rhinophores are primarily meant for smelling and tasting.  The branchial plume is actually a combination of several body parts on the nudibranch.  First you have the gills (the feather-like structure on its back) which function as the primary respiratory system.  Nudibranchs classified as dorids also respire over the entire surface of their body.  Second within the branchial plume is the anus…eeewwwwww!  I’ve been looking at these branchial plumes for quite some time now thinking they were so pretty and I’ve just come to find out it’s the nudibranch’s butt!  hahaha


Chromodoris Colemani Making His Escape – Nice Detail Of His Branchial Plume


As I swam towards an outcropping of rocks and coral, I spotted an octopus hiding beneath a ledge.  As soon as it saw me, it retracted a bit into its hole.  I tried to get some photos but whenever I got within 5 feet, it would duck back down.  I decided to be happy with the photos I had and move on to something new – perhaps on the way back I would spot the octopus again and he wouldn’t be as timid.


Octopus Hiding Under a Ledge – Red, Tube-Like Structure Is Called A Siphon


On a small rock nearby the octopus I noticed a Chelidonura amoena nudibranch making its way from rock to rock.  This is only the second time I’ve ever seen one of these so I went photo crazy.  I must have spent about 3-5 minutes taking pictures of it.  The cool part about the whole thing was that Shawnee wasn’t annoyed at my obsessive behavior one bit – she was also nearby doing the same thing with a different nudibranch!  It was so nice having time to relax and actually snap away to my hearts content.


Chelidonura Amoena Nudibranch Navigating Across Some Coral


Chelidonura Amoena Nudibranch


Near the end of my photo session with the Chelidonura Amoena, it stretched itself out to reach another rock nearby.  It seemed like before it made the decision to move to the new rock, it was “smelling” the water (like a dog smells the air).  It would raise its head up and move around from side to side, then slowly crawl a bit further down the rock it was on towards the ledge of the other rock, then repeat the process.  Finally it made its move.  Still not sure what was going on but I enjoyed watching it all unfold.


Chelidonura Amoena Nudibranch Moving To Another Rock


Stretching Out!


Profile Shot Of Chelidonura Amoena Nudibranch


Chromodoris Willani Nudibranch


When we decided to make a u-turn and begin heading back to the exit point (we only travled about 200-250 feet from the entry), both Shawnee and I spotted a Chromodoris willani nudibranch.  It was perched sideways on a ledge which made taking a picture difficult…I ended up hovering in a vertical position with my feet above my head.  It was kind of awkward so after a few photos I moved on to let Shawnee have a go with her camera.  One thing you’ll notice with the above picture is that one of the rhinopores has an ear-like appendage around it.  This appears to be some sort of anomaly – all the other ones I’ve seen do not have this characteristic.


Chromodoris Tinctoria Nudibranch


As we came near to where we had previously seen the octopus, I decided to take a close look at one of the surfaces I had seen Shawnee inspecting earlier.  To my surprise I found a Chromodoris tinctoria nudibranch crawling on it.  After the dive I asked Shawnee if that had been what she was photographing earlier in the dive and she said she hadn’t seen it but a different type of nudibranch.  Wow!  I need to go look at that rock more often because it’s apparently teeming with different types of nudibranchs!


Chromodoris Tinctoria Nudibranch


The Chromodoris tinctoria nudibranch is uncommon in Okinawa; it is also very hard to spot.  For me, I was literally less than a foot away from the rocks and I nearly missed it.  It blended in so well!  I’m still amazed that I spotted it. After we surfaced, Shawnee and I were both excited about the colors on the nudibranch.  When we first looked at it, it appeared brown and white – kind of boring.  But when our camera flashes/strobe went off, we saw a brillant red color in place of what we thought was brown.


I moved on to the octopus hoping he’d be a bit more cooperative with me this time.  I was in luck!  He didn’t back down, my flash went off, and I was able to get some really nice pictures.


Octopus Posing For My Camera

While photographing the octopus, he did something I’ve never seen before – he took one of his tentacles and wrapped it around the top of his eye and then putt the end of it into his siphon (the tube-like structure on the side of mantle [head]).  Pretty weird.  As Shawnee said, “Maybe he had an itchy ear!”  hahaha


Octopus At Jam Marine


As we started to make our ascent, I noticed two really cool nudibranchs.  The first was a yellow bodied and pink spotted, and it was hanging out on the reef wall.  Sweet!  Another new sighting for me.  I was really digging this location, the nudibranchs, and my cool dive buddy who was showing me around.  I got home and found out I had seen a Cadlineela ornatissima nudibranch – an uncommon type for Okinawa.  The pictures I took didn’t come out very well but I was very pleased to have seen the new type of nudibranch.


Cadlineela Ornatissima Nudibranch


The other nudibranch I spotted while ascending was a Pteraeolidia ianthina, also known as a blue dragon.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t very “blue.”  The light brow color is actually a sign that symbiotic zooxanthellae (who make energy from the sunlight) are living in the digestive gland (the cerata and wall of the body) of the nudibranch



Pteraeolidia Ianthina Nudibranch


As we made our short surface swim to shore, Shawnee and I discussed all the different things we’d seen underwater and anything we learned about using our camera.  Right before de-finning, we noticed these freaky, slug-like creatures resting on the jacks and steps, and they were jumping into the water as we approached.  If you know what they are, please let me know!


Slug-Like Animals?


Diving with Shawnee was absolutely fantastic.  She was energetic and fun, a skilled diver, and knowledgable about the local diving.  I really enjoyed spending my afternoon with her on a 80-minute underwater adventure!  I think Shawnee wrote is best on her facebook page – “~Only in the Diving world can you meet up with a total Stranger, have an amazing dive and by the time you come up you know you got a dive buddy and a friend :0)”  The next few weeks are going to be pure insanity with my teaching schedule, but I’m hoping to dive again with Shawnee in May when it eases up!



Bolland, Robert F. “OKINAWAN OPISTHOBRANCH OF THE WEEK.”Chromodoris Colemani. 1999. Web. 27 Apr. 2012. <http://rfbolland.com/okislugs/chrocole.html>.