The Rare Aegean Sea Pasty and Curious Creatures of the Not-Very-Deep

The guy had been to Sharm el-Sheikh. Red Sea. World-renowed diving site. But he didn’t go diving. So I had to ask why.

“I did a bit of snorkelling that’s all.  I don’t really like the sea. It’s such an alien environment. It’s best left to the creatures who are designed for it.”

Seemed a terrible waste of one of the world’s best diving locations but yup, the sea is an alien environment, which is precisely why it’s endlessly fascinating. I can’t go into space, I can rarely go into the sky, I can’t climb mountains but the sea is always there. In the sea, you can feel like an explorer in a largely unknown world.

I’m first to admit that snorkelling is the softie option. You can’t go far wrong on the surface but one day I will take the plunge. This time,  I almost signed up for PADI taster course this time but they wouldn’t let me wear my own prescription facemask so, being somewhat short-sighted, there was no point in wearing theirs. If I have a moray eel zooming at me with evil intent, I’d quite like to notice  before it’s gaping, needle-toothed jaws are two feet from my face.

Which is why it was so good on hols at Olu Deniz exploring the lagoon, hoping for turtles, being astounded by the variety and diversity of the marine life and just loving the scenery; the way shafts of sunlight penetrate and illuminate  what lies below.

Some of the passing fish and the irridescent blue-silver  shoals that turned and swooped in perfect synchronisation, I recognised as the same species I’ve seen before in Cyprus but the sea around Cyprus, although mostly clean, especially around Cape Greco (excellent for snorkelling – No2 son played tug of war with his first octopus) isn’t a patch on the water at Olu Deniz – truly turquoise and very, very clear.

Among upwards of twenty different species there were several varieties of friendly-looking sea bream,  tube-like garfish, grey mullet, reclusive scorpionfish (wise to be respectful of them) and a couple of varieties of wrasse – ornate and rainbow.

I like wrasse – they are colourful, curious and always on the look-out for something interesting. So when one is investigating sea worms, sea cucumbers, anemones, crabs, et al, they are always there or thereabouts, keeping an eye on things – ready to dart in and take any tasty morsel that presents itself.

It reminded me of playing grandmother’s footsteps. I’d be absorbed, transfixed by the sight of a lime-green brittle star making its delicate way over a rock and turn to find a couple of wrasse behind my shoulder, watching and waiting.

I gave the area a pretty thorough look but there was no sign of turtles –  not that I minded too much.  It was entrancing suddenly encountering a jellyfish, pulsating gently like a diaphanous parachute of finest silk, the only other feature visible a single thin ring of day-glo pink.

There was plenty of action; dozens of little hermit crabs begin to busily shift, climbing over each other and obscenely massive sea cucumbers that look more closely related to a brown leather boxing glove than any living creature;  an aquarium-eye view of a shoal of shubunkin-type carp with sparkly bulgy eyes passing over three different varieties of sponge.

You get my drift. So much to see. Photography was a challenge – especially with the Kodak instant underwater camera. By the time you had what you wanted in the viewfinder, it was gone. But perseverance always pays and the shots taken after swimming out into the bay were moderately different. Got my eye on a Panasonic Lumix TS10 for next time, though.

Typically, as any amateur photographer knows, it was when I’d finished up the films on two instant cameras, and was exploring the edges of a rocky island that I came across something special; the rare Aegean sea pasty.

The body was about nine inches long and five inches high – humped like a pasty with the curved, fluted pastry edge running along the crest of its back. Only it didn’t look much like pastry;  the ruffled edges, floating in the shifting current, looked more like chiffon.  The creature was cream with dark brown blotches and circles. At the front, it had a snail-like head about three inches long and two inches high – similarly patterned in cream and brown with four sensitive ‘horns’ – the top two much longer than the lower pair.

It was browsing on the algae-covered rocks three or four feet below the surface. I poked the pasty gently. It gave slightly, like a good-quality soft leather handbag. It was continued munching, unperturbed. I decided not to further distract it and swam back to base to report to DT man.

“You will never believe this but I have found the rare Aegean sea pasty!”

He looked up from his Wilbur Smith.

“Ah. You’re back.  I don’t think they do pasties at the beach caff. I was thinking maybe a doner kebab roll and a salad?”

I explained more about my find; an astonishing creature – hitherto unknown – bearing a remarkable resemblance to the Cornish tinworkers’ lunch but quite a long way from Cornwall. I drew it including the “floaty frills.”

He  humoured me briefly.

“…Talking thrills, this book is good – a real adventure.  Old Wilbur hasn’t lost his touch.”

When I returned to the sea pasty habitat later, it had gone.

When we got home I obviously had to look it up. But how?  Can’t beat a standard Google search… “aegean” “pasty” “underwater.”

Hallelujah. One single result. A query from a lady enquiring about a strange creature she’d seen while diving off Rhodes that looked remarkably like…wait for it… but I expect you guessed….oh alright then I’ll stop messing about since you’re getting irritated…. “a pasty!”

The rare Aegean Sea Pasty turned out to be a Spotted Sea Hare – Aplysia dactylomela – a type of sea slug, so-called because in a certain position, it resembles a sitting hare.

It’s a fascinating creature. The floaty frills on the back are the edges of folded “wings” which it uses to flap gracefully through the water – no doubt a sight to behold. When irritated, it exudes a cloud of toxic purple ink; a kind of defence mechanism. It is hermaphrodite. Sea hares form mating chains. They are thought to give off pheromones into the water that attract other sea hares for mass mating sessions, resulting in thousands of eggs which hatch out into larvae. It can have mass births but it also sometimes suffers mass die-offs.

Its penis is on the right side of its face, which must, in some circumstances, be somewhat awkward.

Enthused and armed with all this information, I was ready to record my discovery at the Sea Slug Forum, a gathering place for sea slug enthusiasts from all over the globe.  I was sure they would be quite jolly interested in my sea hare report.

Tragically, after many years,  the on-line Forum shut up shop back in June.

I should have expected it, really.

A classic case of hare today, gone tomorrow.

Good sea hare image here

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wrasse

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woo.  scary creature.

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About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
This entry was posted in Coast, Seaside, Watery things and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to The Rare Aegean Sea Pasty and Curious Creatures of the Not-Very-Deep

  1. IsobelandCat says:

    Lovely blog Jan.
    You have a well developed sense of curiosity and adventure.
    I’ve done v little snorkelling, it was a revelation to me to see all these creatures just under the surface.
    Magic!

  2. janh1 says:

    😀 Just a shame the pics weren’t a lot better.

  3. Darrel Kirby says:

    Great blog, makes me want to:
    a) give snorkelling another go and this time take a camera (I didn’t get on with it terribly well last time I tried – mask kept filling with water)
    b) go back to Olu Deniz and
    c) have a pasty.

    • janh1 says:

      Ta, Darrel. The camera thing is fun but tricky – difficult to see through viewfinder with a facemask on and fish have a habit of moving!

      You need a better fit of facemask.Try Dive 90 at Knightsbridge, nr Chelters next time. They know their stuff. I got my surfshoes from there.

      Did you go to the Buzz Bar at OD? Best place we found. No real ales, but happy hours and cocktails. Much more me!

  4. Very nice nail varnish in the last picture!.

    The 2nd and 3rd from last pictures make me wonder if you were going for a Jaws perspective 😀

    I’ve been snorkelling but not diving. All the little creatures, just under the surface in waters warm enough to make me want to swim in them, freak me out a bit!

  5. janh1 says:

    Totally right, Sophie!! That *is* the Jaws perspective! You just have to imagine the soundtrack….just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water….. 😀

    I should really have been freaked by the jellyfish, but they were so beautiful I was entranced – unlike the Portuguese Man of War I glimpsed off Skiathos in Greece. I panicked and swam very untidily and as fast as possible in the opposite direction.

    • Anonymous says:

      Under the circumstances, wouldn’t that be a sea-oggie?

      Enjoyed the photos nearly as much as the story, if you were using film you can get balanced film that removes the blue caste, if digital we used to white balance underwater. Doesn’t matter though, they are delightfully watery.

      Penis on its head? That would qualify it to run for parliament to sit amongst the other dick heads.

      • janh1 says:

        A Welsh oggie is probably even more substantial than the rare Aegean sea pasty, Ant. I will never forget the size of the sushi in the Swansea Japanese restaurant. One piece feeds a family of four. 🙂

        The sea really was extraordinarily blue but the the standard Kodak issue film made the fish too blue too. Jolly tricky trying to get one’s eye to the viewfinder wearing the mask, actually so pics were hit and miss – mostly miss.

        A Parliament of Spotted Sea Hares – congrats Ant, you have invented a new collective noun!

  6. Anonymous says:

    ps, that would be Ant Anonymous

  7. JM says:

    Well, Jan, you do get about, don’t you? And there you were with a hare pasty in full view and forgot your gun. I mean, what is the point of it? A day spent daring jellyfish, sharks and killer whales and nothing to eat at the finish.

    Nice stories though.

  8. Levent says:

    Hello Jan,

    I read on Sabina’s blog that today is your birthday. (I think ) 🙂 If it is not : Hello!
    If it is:

    Happy birthday!!!!!
    🙂

    • janh1 says:

      Hi Levent, thanks for the greetings. Yes it was! Another year survived! It was a working day but there were some lovely surprises. People are very kind. 🙂

  9. sabina says:

    Hi Jan
    it is always a delight to come over and feast my eyes on your lovely photos and your writing.
    It is such a shame that you do not contribute to MT. They have made some good changes and they are asking if we want any other groups. Am asking for a gardening group, and Kate seems keen to start it.
    I think it will be a great idea to pool our knowledge,show our pictures and have a banter about matters horticultural when our mood takes us!
    Among the other MT delights of course!

  10. janh1 says:

    Hi Sabina. I do sometimes, you know but it’s such a slow laborious thing I’ve got to have plenty of time. 🙂

    I saw that groups thing and put my bid in for a cycling group, although as things stand, it might just be me!

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