Sea Raven in Shinnecock Inlet on November 6, 2015.
Typically, my last dive of the season in New York takes place by late October, but, since poor weather kept me out of the water for the last two weeks of the month, I thought I would push the limits of my cold tolerance with a November dive this year. With water temperature down to 59°F, I knew I wouldn’t last long in the 7mm wetsuit I use all summer, and I didn’t expect to see any tropical fish, but after a break in the rough autumn weather and with visibility improving, I just couldn’t resist. As I sat in the comfort of my car, looking out at the choppy water on this gray day, I hesitated a little longer than usual. To help motivate myself to take the frigid plunge, I permitted myself to indulge in some fantasizing about what I might encounter. I reasoned that since I had never been in the water this late in the season, I might see something new – maybe a stray from deep water. We get more than 100 species of fishes from the tropics that can survive here for the brief period during which the water temperature is appropriate for them. At 59°, what might be able to survive here? I tried not to get my hopes too high, but once the thought of a Prognathodes aya popped into my head, I couldn’t shake it. Sadly, I didn’t find anything nearly so exotic, but I was surprised to see a few spotfin butterflyfish and groupers (red, snowy, and scamp) hanging on. They were all hiding deep in rock crevices and seemed pretty lethargic, so I assume they won’t be around much longer. The video above is the highlight of my dive: a sea raven (Hemitripterus americanus) – a large member of the sculpin family (Cottidae). Sculpins in general (and sea ravens in particular) have the body shape, spiny head, cryptic coloration, and fleshy appendages reminiscent of many of their scorpaeniform relatives. Although they are considered native to New York, they are rarely seen inshore and this was the first time I’ve encountered one here. Further north in New England, sea ravens can be found in shallow water throughout the year, but in New York, they are most often found in the deeper waters of the continental shelf. In the southern part of their range, inshore water temperatures get too high for them during the summer. I wonder which other species I’ve been missing by not diving past October all these years.