Posted 20 October 2016
TULAMBEN HAT-TRICK
Like a knight of yore on a sacred quest, NIGEL WADE finally faces the prospect of bringing an epic journey to a stirring conclusion – at a Balinese location he has already visited four times before! Can his quarry live up to the weight of expectation?
Posted 20 October 2016
Like a knight of yore on a sacred quest, NIGEL WADE finally faces the prospect of bringing an epic journey to a stirring conclusion – at a Balinese location he has already visited four times before! Can his quarry live up to the weight of expectation?
TULAMBEN HAT-TRICK

I’VE BEEN WAITING my whole diving life to catch a glimpse of just one of these enigmatic and rare creatures, clocking up well over 100,000 miles travelling to the places where they live in the vain hope of an encounter with this superstar of the underwater photographer’s world.

In the past I’ve mostly been greeted with: “You should have been here last month” or, worse still, “No, we haven’t seen one of those in years”.

So you can imagine my surprise when dive-guide Nina casually dropped “and we’ve been seeing a few Rhinopias here too” into the sentence as she delivered the afternoon dive-briefing.

The hairs on my arms stood up, and a shiver ran the length of my spine as the excitement levels instantly went off the scale. This was followed a few seconds later with a feeling of dread when I remembered all the times I’d heard the same words, only to find this elusive animal conspicuous by its absence.

After 20 minutes of fruitless searching, my pulse quickened at the sight of dive-guide and spotter Norris hovering over the dirty black-sand seabed.

He was punching the water with one hand and pointing at what looked to be a bit of discarded rubbish with the other.

I finned closer. The anticipation was electric, but quickly evaporated at the sight of a beautiful, striped wonderpus, its eight appendages snaking in different directions as its oblong eyes set on stalks checked out the commotion.

I shouldn’t have been crestfallen but I was – it was impossible to hide my disappointment. My shoulders slumped, and I simply went through the motions of taking a few snaps.

Norris could see that my heart wasn’t in it and grabbed me by the arm. With a confused look he pointed again, this time a few feet past the small octopus.

I followed his direction to see the ugliest of mugs staring back at me, a creature with facial features only its mother could love. It had huge white umbrella-like eyebrows and an upturned snout sporting what resembled a Victorian moustache. This particular species is commonly known as a paddleflap – wait for it – Rhinopias!

It was a beautiful moment, and the frustration and unproductive searches of yesteryear melted away as my heart raced in my chest.

This little aquatic icon lay motionless on the algae and black sand, propped up on its pectoral fins and posing like a professional model as I frugally recorded its likeness with my camera.

I was lost in the moment, enjoying every second of this long-awaited meeting while trying to ignore the frantic tank-banging coming from a few metres away.

My wildly gesticulating guides were relentless and determined to get my attention, so I reluctantly left the pink paddle-flap, wondering what all the fuss was about. Then I froze, slack-jawed, as I gazed at, not one, but two more Rhinopias lying a few feet apart.

Both were deep crimson in colour but very different in appearance – one was another smooth-skinned paddle-flap, while the other had lacy appendages all over its spotty red body.

This species, the frondosa, is possibly the most amazing critter I’ve had the privilege to see under water.

The Rhinopias is a creature that’s haunted my dreams, inspiring me to travel to the far-flung corners of Asia and beyond – and here I was, face to face with three of them. I felt as if I’d scored the ultimate hat-trick. 



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