Have You Ever Puffed a Puffer? (we hope not)

Since earning my Open Water certification in 1996 and then starting to work in the dive industry in 1998, I have now finally “been around” long enough to be able to look back and notice some changes and some patterns, both locally and globally. It’s interesting to look back and take stock of what’s changed.

At Ulua Beach here in Maui, I can remember the locations of three different turtle cleaning stations (these locations change over the years). I can remember when the shop I worked in only carried a single dive computer and it sat in the case for months! I can also remember when, as a dive guide, I used to hand divers collector urchins, and I remember when I saw my first porcupine pufferfish puff.

Of course now the turtles at Ulua Beach seem to be in transit and now we can’t keep dive computers in stock because it’s difficult to imagine diving without one.

In recent years, it has become unacceptable to touch anything and now I would never dream of ripping an urchin from it’s life on the reef to hand another diver. In fact, it was even hard to just admit the urchin thing! It is also now very rare for a customer to want to touch something. Around the time I was becoming a better educated educator and diver, I would attempt to hand a critter to a diver and they would refuse it. Somewhere along the line, the general consciousness seems to have arrived at the realization that this type of interaction is not advantageous to the critter nor is it necessary!This all is fodder for a much longer blog post,but for now, we’re just observing changes ;-).

I can also remember when I saw my first puffer fish puff. Prior to our dive, I had mentioned to my dive guide (and friend)that I had never seen a puffer puff. Imagine my surprise during this dive when he tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to a puffed puffer floating nearby – wow! We watched it for several minutes as it was swept back and forth in the surge on the bottom, unable to swim or do anything else until it deflated back to normal size.

After the dive, I exclaimed about how cool it had been to see a puffed puffer. When the dive guide winked and said, “you liked that, huh?”, I suddenly realized that I had not just witnessed a natural occurrence; the guide had stressed the puffer on my behalf, causing it to puff and become otherwise defenseless for my “benefit”. I cringed inwardly and surprised myself by telling the guide that I would never want him to stress an animal for me.

As a result of this specific incident (and some others), my views on animal interactions changed immediately. These days, I much prefer to observe underwater animals in their environmental in a much more natural state. I educate divers about what we’ll see and why we don’t need to (and in fact shouldn’t) be handling them.

And I included the puffed puffer photo (not mine) so that we could all see a puffed puffer…but please imagine that shot with a big red circle with a line through it!