Make the Most of Spring Break

Spring Break is just around the corner and Jupiter, Florida offers fabulous diving while most of the nation is still trying to shrug off its winter coat. And divers aren’t the only ocean-goers to seek our warmer water. Read on to see what critters you may run into this springtime when you dive with Jupiter Dive Center!

Leatherback Sea Turtles

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Pelagic by nature, leatherbacks are rarely seen by recreational divers for two reasons—they’re typically found miles offshore and frequently dive far deeper than recreational limits.

In fact, leatherbacks are designed to go deep and can dive to a depth of 3,000 feet! How? Unlike other species of sea turtles, leatherbacks have a soft shell that resembles leather (hence their name). As pressure increases, the shell compresses. Their lungs are also collapsible, which helps them avoid decompression issues.

Factor in their slowed heart rate, the ability to store oxygen in their blood and muscles, and the ability to stay underwater for long lengths of time, and leatherbacks can dive deeper than any other sea turtle.

Leatherbacks are also the largest of the sea turtles and typically weigh between 700 and 1500 pounds at maturity and can reach lengths between 4 and 8 feet. They feed almost exclusively on jellyfish, eating the equivalent of their body weight on a daily basis. 

March marks the start of the sea turtle nesting season and the odds of spying on a leatherback go up. Palm Beach County boasts some of the most densely nested beaches and leatherbacks are usually the first to arrive (followed by loggerheads, greens, and Hawksbills). During nesting season leatherbacks are closer to shore than at any other time during the year—and the easiest way to see them is to simply look up! Sea turtles are most often spotted at the ocean’s surface.

Manta Rays

From below, a manta ray’s silhouette resembles a diamond-shaped UFO as it glides above divers. The largest of the rays, the manta’s triangular pectoral fins can reach an amazing 29 feet from tip to tip. As is typical in the ray family, the manta is darkly colored when viewed from above, and lighter on its underside and its long tapering tail is not barbed.

Unlike other rays, the manta ray’s mouth is located at the front of its head, rather than on the underside. Two distinctive horn-shaped lobes (called cephalic horns) extend from either side of the mouth—which explains its nickname “devil ray” or “devil fish.” 

Adult rays travel huge distances in search of the best feeding grounds and subsist on plankton and small fish. The cephalic horns help funnel food into their mouths, which sift across rows of feathery gill plates. 

JDC-Blog-Image-Manta-no-logo-1080

Divers often spy them swimming above the highest points of reefs where currents push plankton toward the surface. When in a nutrient-rich environment, they are often found cruising back and forth, sometimes somersaulting on their turns.

Relative to their body size, manta rays possess the largest brain of any fish and studies have determined that some of that brain power is dedicated to learning, problem-solving, and communication. They are incredibly inquisitive and have been known to interact with divers. While encounters are still extremely rare, locally manta rays have been sighted near Lighthouse Reef (and all the way down to the Keys) and even in the shallows of Blue Heron Bridge!  

Manatees

Manatee

While we’re pretty sure you won’t spot a mermaid, you may spy on the marine mammal that is thought to inspire many a sailor’s wishful thinking: the humble manatee.

In fact, the mermaid Christopher Columbus spotted in 1492 is believed to be the first written record of the North American manatee. Even the scientific classification for manatees places them in the order Sirenia, a reference to the Sirens of Greek mythology—and you definitely don’t want to come across one of those. 

Fear not. Manatees are a bit like walruses in size, but they lack the attitude. Perhaps it was their spoon-shaped tail that confused sailors, but that’s where the resemblance ends.

Attaining 14 feet in length and weighing up to a svelte 3,000 pounds, the slow-moving and blubbery Florida manatee is a native species found in fresh and saltwater waterways—and occasionally right next to the Jupiter Dive Center docks!

These “sea cows” are the only aquatic mammal herbivores and they feed on seagrasses and other vegetation found in the shallows where the waters are warmer. Despite their size, they can’t tolerate prolonged exposure to temperatures that dip below 68 degrees and will migrate to warmer waters—hence their aggregations in Florida. A keystone species, their behavior often offers the first sign of environmental habitat changes.

Nudibranchs

What nudibranchs lack in size they make up for in vibrancy—and are sought by underwater photographers the world over. Nudibranchs belong to the mollusc family along with snails, scallops, octopuses, and more. There is tremendous variety among nudibranchs. They can range in size from an eighth of an inch to approximately four inches. Their colors and color patterns vary depending on species, and even where their exposed gills are located on their body, but they all have a pair of rhinophores on their front end that serve as sensory organs that work similarly to our sense of smell.

Unlike manatees, nudibranchs are carnivores. They eat sponges, corals, anemones, and occasionally each other. Some nudibranchs are able to store the stinging cells they ingest from corals and anemones and use them in their own defense. 

Nudibranch by Cheryl Hillesheim

Divers often place sea hares such as the spotted sea hare and slugs like the ruffled lettuce sea slug alongside nudibranchs. They are closely related but only nudibranchs have exterior gills. Some nudibranchs to look for locally include the Florida regal sea goddess with its navy blue body and bright gold stripes; the black spotted sea goddess with gold stripes down its back and a black-spotted white mantle border; the red-tipped sea goddess with its yellow and red striped mantel surrounding a bright white body with red tipped anal gills. Extra credit if you come across some floating sargassum weed and are able to detect the sargassum nudibranch, which looks exactly like a bit of sargassum and arrives and leaves seasonally with the seaweed.

If this is your first trip to Florida, welcome! Florida is the only state where you can dive coral reefs without heading into the Caribbean. There are plenty of colorful fish on the reefs and larger marine animals out in the blue. Want to wreck dive? How about three—all on one dive—when you join us on our Wreck Trek. Call Jupiter Dive Center at 561-745-7807 or book your dive online. Make the most of your spring break—dive with Jupiter Dive Center!

 

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER

Get up to date information from Jupiter Dive Center on shop deals, visitors and much more!

Leave a Comment





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.