Under the Sea! 7 Underwater Creatures to Spot on a Snorkel Tour in Pensacola
You never know what you will find on one of our Pensacola Beach snorkel tours! Pensacola Bay and Santa Rosa sound play host to a multitude of sea creatures. On our snorkel trip, there is a great variety of fish, crabs and other marine life that may be spotted. Here are a few of our “regulars” that hang out on the ballast piles, artifical reef and grassbeds where we snorkel.
Archosargus probatocephalus, commonly known as Sheepshead, can grow to 30 inches, but usually reach about 10 to 20 inches long. Identified easily by several black stripes over a grayish body, this species also features sharp dorsal spines. The Sheepshead has human like teeth, which are used to crush their prey. They feed on crabs, barnacles, oysters and clams. Sheepshead are a popular catch, particularly in late winter/early spring, when they migrate from the bays to the Gulf of Mexico to spawn, often stopping at structures to feed along their journey. They are very tasty to eat, with a sweet shellfish flavor due to their diet, and moist, flaky white fillets that are delicious grilled, baked or fried.
Chilomycterus Schoepfi – Striped Burrfish – With their large heads and bulging eyes spaced widely apart, the burrfish is hard to miss! They are patterned with brown stripes, and covered with thick, heavy spines that are always erect. With their powerful jaws, they are able to pulverize their prey, consisting of barnacles, crabs, small fish, and clams. They’ve even been observed swallowing hermit crabs whole! They swim by waving their pectoral fins, rather than moving their body from side to side. They take in water to inflate their bodies when threatened, like all species of burrfish and pufferfish. The striped burrfish may be eaten, but the skin and entrails are poisonous, and may cause sickness or death if not prepared properly.
Callenectes sapidus – Blue Crab – name comes from Greek, “calli,” meaning beautiful, “nectes,” meaning swimmer, and Latin, “sapidus,” meaning savory. It is a native species of crab to the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the western Atlantic Ocean. They feature an olive green or brownish colored shell, and often have bright blue claws, while females generally have red tipped claws. The males can grow to 8 inches across, while females tend to be a bit smaller. Blue crabs are scavengers and omnivores, feasting on plant matter, dead fish, clams, oysters, worms, insects and mussels. They are fierce and will readily use their sharp front claw pinchers for defense. Their fifth set of legs are paddle shaped and make them quick and excellent swimmers. They are treasured for their their sweet, delicate, tender meat. Many Pensacola Beach locals often keep crab traps at the dock, yielding a bountiful harvest for a fantastic fresh crab feast many days of the year.
Lutjanus Griseus – Mangrove Snapper – This species of Snapper is one of the most common found in warmer waters.Native to the Western Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean, Mangrove Snapper are typically gray/red in color, but can be bright or copper red. They have a dark stripe that runs across the eye, which can be observed when looking down from above the water. They typically range in size from 8-14 inches, up to 20 inches in deeper water, and are a popular target for anglers, as they are easy to catch and usually run in schools. They are prized for their flaky and light flesh, a delicious treat grilled, fried or blackened.
Synodontitae – Lizardfish – bottom dwelling marine and estuarine bony fish that are found in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide. They are generally small in size, though one species grows to 24 inches. The lizardfish has a slender, cylindrical body with a head that is somewhat lizard-like. They have rows of sharp teeth, including on thier tongue. They tend to live in shallow coastal waters, preferring sandy areas, and their coloring assists with camoflauge helpful for their enviornment. Though this fish can be eaten, and is said to be quite edible, it is commonly not a popular fish for the dinner table.
Menippe Mercenaria – Florida Stone Crab – prized for their delicious sweet claw meat, the Florida Stone Crab can be found in waters of the Western North Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Cuba, Bahamas and East Coast of the U.S. They measure about 5.5 to 6 inches wide, and are brownish gray in color with tan spots. They have large unequally sized claws with black tips. Their diet consists of oysters and other small mollusks, worms and other small crustaceans. They may also feed on seagrass and dead fish and crabs. This type of crab loses its limbs easily to escape predators, but they grow back quickly, if broken off at the right place. Stone Crabs are legal to harvest from October 15 to May 15. Usually one claw is removed and the crab returned to the water to grow back. The claw must be a minimum of 2.75 inches to be kept.
Merceneria Campechiensis – Southern Quahog – large member of the Venus Clam family, Quahog Clam is a bivalve mollusk, often growing to 6 inches across. They are found in shallow, sandy or muddy bays and protected waters, from New Jersey to Florida, Texas, Mexico and Cuba. The clam shell is a dull grayish white color with lines on the outside, and a dull white smooth interior. Though not as popular as the Northern Quahog, which are smaller and found the in the Northeast and Canada, the Southern Quahog Clam serves an important fishery in Florida. Native Americans used the Quahog for wampum (trading currency) by cutting small beads out of the shell. Quahogs are filter feeders, absorbing nutrition from microscopic plankton. They may live as long as 22 years.
Our protected waters are home to a diverse collection of marine species, with habitats in unique ecosystems, for a relaxing snorkel. This is just a sampling of underwater life that you may come across on the two hour snorkel ecotour. Come join us for a snorkel trip in shallow protected waters, and “sea” what it’s all about.