How to see a weedy seadragon (go snorkelling in Portsea)

Weedy Seadragon artists’ impression

I SAW A WEEDY SEADRAGON and because underwater is one of the few areas of the photographic art that remains off-limits to the masses, we are going to have to do this the hard way. They used to say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in this day and age, I’m thinking they are worth quite a lot fewer. So let’s see if we can do this in 400. (FYI, that picture at the top of the page is an artist’s (my) impression of a weedy seadragon.)

The weedy seadragon is a relative of the sea horse. Not only does it have a very cool name, but it also looks cool, like an abstract sketch of a marine animal.

The weedy seadragon is at the mercy of the ocean currents, wafting around and snapping its long and slender snout whenever the ocean currents happen to send a food item its way.

It was my 40th birthday and the celebrations included hunting for this charismatic, evocative and adorable animal. We donned snorkels and flippers and entered the sea from the beach to the left of Portsea Pier.

Bearing left from here there is a reef, which is usefully indicated in summer by the semi-circle of boats moored around it. We floated back and forth over the reef staring through the seaweed canopy into the undergrowth beneath for a movement that might betray our quarry. We saw more traditionally shaped fish and seaweed, but no seadragon.

About 20 minutes into this, our guide shouted for us. He’d found a weedy seadragon. Four metres down, the dragon was wafting in the currents in plain sight against the background of white sand. Our fellow snorkelers gathered around, one of them shoving a GoPro on the end of a selfie stick in the poor creature’s general direction. Turns out underwater photography is completely open to the masses and I am just behind the times, probably because I am now 40. You will just have to do with the abstract sketch above.

The dragon didn’t provide a very good photographic subject, refusing to present her profile to us. After a minute the group paddled off and we were left with the weedy seadragon. She started to snap at something, which was the only movement she made in the 10 minutes we watched.

Our objective reached, we headed to the pier. I don’t want to take anything away from the weedy seadragon, but the underwater portion of Portsea Pier is spectacular.

The thick piles are encrusted in all kinds of sessile sea life. Seaweeds and sponges cover every inch. Spiky fish crept in and out of the textured undergrowth. Blue brains and orange and white streamers made me nervous of banging against the piles in the currents in case I damaged anything.

Three metres below, where the clear waters started to tint blue, a squadron of puffer fish floated in formation. Their cherubic, innocent faces were just visible on this side of the gathering gloom.

All of this is just waiting for you to swim up to it and appreciate it all. No skills or patience required – just a snorkel.


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