Underwater in Lembeh is magical. Its murky waters are home to around 2000 species, many of which are too small for the untrained eye to spot during a dive. It’s normal to find something on or under everything in Lembeh. It’s one of those rare places where you are likely to see a shrimp on a nudybranch, an orangutan crab out in the open sand, flamboyant cuttlefish hatching from eggs miraculously.
It was December, 2009 when I first went to Lembeh. I’ve always been drawn to the tiny, colorful creatures of the seas and Lembeh was generously displaying these hidden treasures if you could manage to see them. Tunc was also ecstatic forming his own version of Macrolife. We had the best dive guide we’ve ever seen with us who could find tiny little creatures everywhere. I was ready for miracles and it happened.
We had just started our dive in Jahir I, and it was quite an ordinary dive until our guide showed us an alien-like creature moving frantically around. It was transparent, around 30cm in length and looked like an eel. It was so transparent that, it was very hard to focus and capture a good shot of it. Its crazy and clumsy movements hinted that it was a juvenile, but the size was big enough to be a grown up eel of some kind. I was so amazed and hypnotized by this hyperactive, transparent odd creature that, it took me couple of minutes to capture it on camera before we lost sight of it.
Tunc took some pictures, I took a short video and we went on our dive. We had no idea that we had such a rare experience. If we did, we would definitely spend the whole dive trying to capture its beauty, getting more detailed shots of it.
After the dive we rushed to check the books and internet to learn what it was. It looked like an eel, it was definitely a juvenile eel, but it was too big for a larva. It didn’t really look like anything we could find in the books or online resources. We started to get more more intrigued by the “thing” we had seen and we were desperate to find out what it was. Tunc posted the picture on wetpixel.com and asked for an expert opinion. Marine biologists had different ideas. One of them said he needed to count the muscle segments to be able identify. Another one said, the problem with Lembeh was that there were too many species, some of which are unidentified. It was only then we learnt that this creature had been spotted only twice and our encounter was the third. We sure still regret the rest of that dive that we hadn’t spent with it.
There was a lot of interest in the creature’s picture. It was published in Alert Diver and Asian Diver. National Geographic editors had chosen the alien picture to print in the “Your Shots” section on December 2010 issue. It also attracted the attention of marine biologists. Dr.Miller contacted Tunc to support his study of a new eel species, which he thinks was the same as the one we had seen. We sent the photos and videos we had and he will use these for his scientific work on this odd eel.
Its translucent body and tiny head was so fragile, beautiful and strange at the same time that it raised different feelings in everyone. Horror, admiration, curiosity and skepticism are to name a few. One common ground was that it was extraordinary and looked like it lost its way out from a James Cameron movie. Now and then whenever I dive in Lembeh, there is a part of me that hopes to meet this lovely alien again.