Shark sightings and spawinging urchins at Clipperton Island

Location: Clipperton Island, the easternmost coral atoll in the Pacific Ocean, a territory of the Republic of France.

Comments: Had an interesting dive day today. We’re starting to think that the south side of Clipperton Island has pretty similar topography and life along the entire length of the barrier reef. It is very pretty with great topography and we have had some decent shark sightings – 3 silky sharks today including one that was quite aggressive, some juvenile silvertip sharks and white tip reef sharks in the shallows – as well as 1 giant manta ray sighting in 15 feet of water.

I decided to to take advantage of the moderate sea conditions in the afternoon and steamed around to the windward side of the atoll where I was quite surprised to find that there is no barrier reef. We found the remains of the wreck of the large U.S. Navy LST ship that broached and grounded out while trying to land equipment here during World War II. I surmise that they found the section of beach with no barrier reef and tried to land with a downwind swell that caught them and turned them beam to. I imagine that it must have been embarrassing when the Americans had to explain to the Vichy French government that they managed to lose a warship landing on a French territory without permission!

Anyways, I laid both of our 1075lb anchors out over the edge of the dropoff and backed down until we were in 25′ of water 200 feet off the shoreline. The white sand beach behind us was beautiful although it did seem awfully close – especially as we were in a 6ft sea.

The dive site turned out to be quite different from anything else we have seen so far with less coral and more rubble on a very steep slope dropping down to the abyss. It was the prettiest topography that we have seen so far. Fish life was much the same with one Galapagos shark sighted, as well as a number juvenile silvertips.

Unfortunately, we also saw some tangled longlines wrapped around the rocks (which has been true for all of the diving so far) and I came across a tuna seine net tangled up in the coral at 165 feet. I don’t know what a net from a large tuna seiner is worth (at least $500K I would guess), and it’s hard to believe that someone would risk fishing so close to the atoll…

Far and away the coolest thing we saw on our afternoon dives were spawning sea urchins! Yup, we happened across in-water sexual reproduction as the urchins released sperm into the water column. It looked almost as if the urchins were sending up smoke signals with puffs of white “smoke” (sperm) spiraling up from the top of these amazing echinaderms. You have to think that it is a very long shot that eggs are going to get fertilized this way but that’s what happens. We were all thrilled to see it and everyone took lots of pictures and video. Our exploration continues!!

–Captain Mike


Weather: Low clouds, 20-knot winds from the north, driving rain, 6ft seas (sheltered on the south side of the island), air temperature 89°F. Yup, we’ve got a front coming through all right!

Water: Water temperature 82°F (no thermocline), visibility 125 feet for most of the day (much lower when the rain showers were really intense).

By Nautilus Staff

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