Not purely a “Maldives” site, but ever so perfect for it. “Name That Fish” couldn’t be better named itself. Here’s the concept – load your snorkeling or diving videos up their website, they run it through their AI algorithm, and al the prominent fish in the video get prominently tagged with a box identifying their species. Lori and I love our piscatorial treasure hunts in the Maldives and can’t wait to get back to the room to go through our collection of fish identification cards and books to figure out the new things we’ve seen. Now we can just let the computer do the work while we go and sip our pina coladas.
The project is the work of Jake Easterling, co-founder of Scubotics, and features over 11,000 fish in its algorithm. The technology is especially interesting to me because it is the core of my day job. I run a company which uses machine learning algorithms to detect variations in brain health on MRI images of multiple sclerosis patients.
Before reviewing it here on Maldives Complete I thought that I should test it myself so I uploaded one of our fish soup heave vids from a recent trip. There is no formal charge for the service, but the site requests a donation and suggest $5 which seemed reasonable to me. I uploaded it and a few days later I received an email with a link to the new video in a Dropbox location (see above as I’ve loaded on my YouTube channel). It came out superbly capturing most of the main fish visible and no errors of identification that I could spot.
Of all the fish soup creatures, some of the most prevalent are the Moorish Idols. Their sweeping top fin and distinctive stripes provide the sensation that you are in some giant open water tropical aquarium when you see them in their massive schools. So distinctively ubiquitous and quintessentially Maldivian, I choose a similar shot for the Profile section background. Here are ten more shots to immerse yourself in…
You need cooling
Baby I’m not fooling
I’m gonna send ya
Back to schooling – Led Zeppelin
While the Maldives corals have taken a hit from the warm oceans of climate change and El Nino, the schooling bathing beauties remain as colourful and concentrated as ever. A-fish-ionadoes of the Maldives often refer to the waters as “fish soup” (perhaps an unfortunate term with the excessive water temperatures hitting 30 degrees!). And Instagram has become the digital runway for these fishionista pageants to be shared with the world. My favourite snaps are the one so jam packed with fish that they sort of form kaleidoscopic tapestries of underwater colour (thanks to Verena for help with identifying the more obscure marine models)…
Maldives diving expert Alexander von Mende not only helped with the Huvadhoo dive sites, but he also offered some very insightful tips for my Best of the Maldives research. He ventured that the dive site Dheeva Giri is the best in the Maldives for Mobulas. Well, I certainly hadn’t encountered these creatures in my 20 years of visits and research.
In fact, I didn’t even know what they were. So I turned to Alexander’s book which also includes an extensive marine life guide. It turns out that Mobulas as sort of mini-Mantas, also referred to colloquially as “Pygmy Devil Rays” (great name).
The Queen has been such a supporter of of all of the June Jubilee activities including rocking out at the Buckingham Palace Concert which is probably not her dream Saturday night out. Rather, one’s favourite day in June is most definitely Ladies Day at Ascot today such is her love of all things horses. And ‘horses’ in the Maldives are a bit fabled and mystical creatures themselves…sea horses that is.
It indeed exciting to see the big game of snorkel safaris (and diving). But sometimes it is just as exciting and curious to uncover the tiny creatures. A baby manta, nudibranches, leaf fish. Perhaps the most enchanting and illusive is the Sea Horse.
Sea Horses are indigenous around the world including the Indian Ocean, mostly prominently Hippocampus borboniensis, dubbed ‘Réunion seahorse’ for its prevalence in this Maldive neighbour. I have asked many a dive master and no one has ever recalled seeing one or hearing reports of any. In fact, the TripAdvisor Forum on the Maldives posed this question last year and none of the Maldives veterans and experts had ever heard of a sea horse sighting.
Part of the issue is that sea horses live in sea grass which is not that common in the sand-bottomed lagoons and reefs prevalent in the Maldives. One resort which does feature sea grass is Kuredu (see photo above) and, lo and behold, they have reported sighting sea horses a few years ago. So if you want to start a holy grail hunt for these unicorns of the shallows, then start at Kuredu. Still, a bit of a long shot…or ‘dark horse’ if you will.
The best free divers in the ocean are our aquatic cousins the cetaceans. As I said yesterday, that’s not ‘free diving’ as in ‘free beer’. Nor is it as in ‘born free’. But in Rihiveli Beach it is. Rihiveli have their own resident dolphin pod in their lagoon.
‘Swimming with dolphins’ is one of those magical experiences that are regularly found a top people’s bucket lists. So popular that an industry is growing quite lucratively to provide dolphin swimming experiences. Some of these are tracking dolphin pods down to jump in the water and snorkelling with them. We tried one of these excursions in Mauritius and the dolphins seemed quite bored with our presence and simply kept their distance. Because of the dolphins independent mindedness, another popular alternative is swimming with dolphins in captivity. Either in large swimming pools or enclosed ocean spaces. The Maldives has approved a Dolphin Lagoon, the website for which was launched yesterday.
Such a facility has stirred, and always does, much debate about the ‘zoo issue’. The arguments essentially boil down as follows. Opponents say it is inhumane and immoral to extract creatures from their natural habitat and stress them with confinement purely for our entertainment. Proponents say that such facilities allow people to connect with these creatures they normally would not get a chance to encounter which in turns build financial and political support for environmental causes which in turn enhances the lives of the entire animal kingdom. I personally line up on the proponent side. Of course, I am all in favour of regulation and oversight to ensure that the animals’ captivity is as healthy and comfortable as possible. But in our increasingly virtual, urbanized, manufactured world, the more voters (especially powerful ones who take posh holidays) and walking pocketbooks (especially affluent ones who do the same) who have the chance to be enchanted by these whimsical creatures, the better the prospects for their species overall.
But if you want see the ‘born free’ diving version, then Rihiveli is your resort.