Palm Beach’s Blackwater Diving Addiction

There is this plaguing desire to stay out late into the night, drifting over deep, dark seas on the hunt for creatures rarely seen. It’s an addiction. The need drives us to go out over three times a week, beyond Florida waters, into federal waters, to photograph elusive creatures and fish by blackwater diving. It’s this desire… this addiction, that drives us blackwater drift divers to the western edge of the Gulfstream several nights a week. It keeps us out of our comfy beds and in our dive gear until midnight during the workweek.

blackwater diving

These creatures, some no larger than a grain of rice, are so elusive that some have never before been seen. Some have never before been caught on camera. Others are in a morphological life stage that has never before been observed. All are what intrigue us. We find crustaceans like shrimp, crabs and even lobster in their larval forms. We spot fish in their larval forms that look absolutely nothing like their adult counterparts. These are not your typical, everyday sightings of wildlife on the south Florida reefs. But these are also not your typical day, or even night dives.

This is more open, over deeper, darker waters. We jump into water more than 600 feet deep, after sunset, more than 4 miles from the Palm Beach shoreline. Even though you can still see the glow of lights of downtown West Palm Beach, it is faint. Even though we only dive down to 45 feet or less, we are still adrift over 600 foot depths in the dark, waiting for our subjects to rise to the surface from the depths.

The Draw of Blackwater Diving

So what exactly is the draw? Why the addiction? Why the constant need to continue diving in the dark, over depths in which humans cannot go without the help of submersible vehicles? The answer is to see the incredible! We see underwater creatures that are so bizarre and so beautiful it literally takes your breath away and gets your blood pumping. We get the opportunity to observe creatures that others do not get to see. These are fish that even biologists studying that species have never before seen, and we can now provide them with photos!

blackwater diving

From larval lionfish displaying their pectoral fins in such a way they look to have beautiful fans, to larval pearlfish with dorsal fins as long as their bodies that slowly shrink to nothing as they become adults. On display are creatures very few people have seen. Honestly, who has even seen an adult pearlfish? This fish spends its adulthood living inside the digestive tract of a sea cucumber!

From larval octopus the size of a single green pea, to larval deep sea dwelling fish like the tripod fish, with incredible fins that flutter in the water as it moves. These rare encounters while blackwater diving are what feed our hunger. It keeps us begging for more and gets us out there at night, away from land, hunting for one more glimpse of these incredible creatures.

By Andrea Whitaker

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