A shrimp for all seasons

Editor’s note: Starting this issue, Contributing Editors Scott & Wendy Bannerot, marine biologists currently based in the tropical Pacific aboard their 41-foot sloop élan and authors of The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing, will spotlight select ocean life available for the enjoyment of high-seas and coastal voyagers.

Early 2004 marks the ninth year of an extended, long-term voyage launched from a hot, dusty boatyard in southern Florida, a journey that we dream will eventually encircle the globe. A lengthy visit home to the States, has provided time for reflection on nearly a decade of high-seas voyaging. When we look back, select moments stand out in perfect focus, and many of these memories involve close interaction with the weird and wonderful menagerie of ocean creatures.

Recently we jumped into our inflatable dinghy and raced outside the steamy confines of the inner harbor at Pago Pago, American Samoa. As we skimmed over the slick-calm water, Ryan, our 4-year-old son, squealed with delight. We dropped anchor, donned mask, fins and snorkel, and slipped overboard into clear waters, finning slowly over vibrant corals thick with beautiful fishes of every imaginable color.

Gliding along a coral ledge 10 feet down, I spotted the telltale, whisker-like white antennae of a pair of banded coral shrimp (Stenopus hispidus) protruding from the underside of the overhang. The antennae began waving seductively as the 2-inch shrimp sensed my presence. I angled down and lay prone on the white sand, gingerly holding my hand under the ledge for their inspection. Reflected light illuminated the alternating white and brilliant orange-red bands on the slender, delicately bristled body and claws, or chelipeds. I gently brushed the female, always the larger of the pair, onto the palm of my hand, rising slowly to the surface to show Ryan. After an animated discussion, I carefully returned her to her mate.

Banded coral shrimp occur in tropical and subtropical seas throughout the world, over a very wide depth range — from less than 3 feet to more than 600 feet. They inhabit holes, cracks, caves, crevices — any dim, sheltered pocket in reefs and associated rocky areas. It’s not uncommon to spot their “whiskers” in the dim light of a hole or cave, and then, when your eyes adjust, find that the shrimp are perched along the jaw of a grouper or large moray eel, so it’s important to get a good look before inserting a hand for closer inspection.

While many reef invertebrates and fish occur only in specific areas and, in many cases, only at specific times, gaily colored banded coral shrimp can be found year-round throughout their range — truly a shrimp for all seasons.

By Ocean Navigator