I Bet That You Have Never Eaten One of These

Posted in Under the Sea on December 17th, 2009 by MadDog
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Not much is happening here in Madang. That’s just as well, since the mood here this year is distinctly sour. Town is crowded with people moving from place to place and the tension in the air is electric. There is a liquor ban in place until at least after New Year, some say until March. It won’t do a lot of good, since there is plenty of bootleg beer and weed available. Like the Chinese say, the next month or so will be “interesting times”.

Anyway, to prepare your palate for the holidays, I’ll show you some items that I am nearly certain will not be showing up on your menu.

This is a familiar character on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi,  Mr. Lizardfish. Its given name is Reef – that’s Reef Lizardfish. Does that sound like a good name for a Hollywood actor? It’s a stage name, anyway. Who would buy tickets to see someone named Synodus variegatus  in a movie?Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)

Never mind. I took an extra silly pill this morning.

This adorable little thing has the equally adorable common name of the Papuan Toby (Canthigaster papua):Papuan Toby (Canthigaster papua)It’s a flash-lit shot that I got at the B-25 bomber The Green Dragon.  The colours are slightly oversaturated by the flash, but it’s so pretty that I’m not going to complain. Sometimes I prefer to forget my fussiness about getting things accurate and go for the gorgeous. This little sweetie persuaded me to let it shine.

Here is a tasty little Nudibranch. It’s a shame that they don’t make candy that looks this pretty. It’s a Phyllidia coelestis:Nudibranch (Phyllidia coelestis)

Nudibranchs are becoming strangely scarce around Madang. I am very suspicious about the pollution level in Astrolabe Bay.  First the sharks disappear and now the Nudibranchs. What’s going on?

This little beauty is a Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata):Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata)

I shot it on the top of the reef at Magic Passage  last Saturday. The light was very good. In this shot I deliberately oversaturaded the colours of the fish. It’s a trick that I use to remind myself of the colours that I saw. Fortunately I have an excellent visual memory. Unfortunately, I can barely remember my name, or anybody else’s. I can remember a face for a decade. Five minutes after coming aboard Faded Glory  and introducing themselves, I have to ask new divers to remind me of their names.

I had the brilliant idea of showing you a different coloured Christmas Tree Worm (Spirobranchus giganteus)  every day until Christmas:Christmas Tree Worm (Spirobranchus giganteus)

I don’t know how that is going to play out. I’m running out good images in my accumulation. I’ll have to get a lot of shots on Saturday.

Finally, the least likely to show up on your plate are these miniscule, but undoubtedly yummy shrimp:Shrimp in fungiform (Heliofungia actiniformis) coral (species unknown, possibly Periclimenes holthuisi)
These are tiny, nearly transparent commensal shrimp that live in a fungiform coral (Heliofungia actiniformis).  The species here is the problem – identifying it. It could be Periclimenes holthuisi  or possibly P. venustus,  though there are specific markings on each of those species that are missing or distorted in these specimens.

The interesting thing here is that it is possible  that you are looking at an undescribed species. It happens all the time here. Every year species formerly undescribed are discovered near Madang. This could  be one.

Anybody out there want to check this one out?

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Bigger and Smaller – UW Macros

Posted in Under the Sea on December 16th, 2009 by MadDog
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My Grandmother’s house was full of treasures. I was allowed to play with some of them. Going to Grandma’s was like getting out of jail. I could “express myself” ’til the cows came home. While other boys were playing with dump trucks and fire engines (small ones, of course) my favorite toys were a pen knife and a magnifying glass. You don’t need much imagination to understand that Grandma’s yard was a dangerous place for insects and other small organisms.

I can’t say how many ants were mercilessly torched by that magnifying glass. Many fat grasshoppers fell under the knife and were dissected for the sake of knowledge. I honestly don’t know if insects suffer while undergoing such treatment; it can’t be much fun for them. I’d like to think that I’ve made amends as an adult. Since I stopped hunting (with a gun) years ago, I’ve made it a point to harm nothing. I’ve grown to enjoy the tickley sensation of a spider navigating the forest on my arm. My motto is, if it doesn’t try to hurt me, I won’t try to hurt it. Mosquitoes beware!

All that claptrap was just to get to this. Little things are fun to examine, if you can get them big enough to see. For example:  here is a slightly larger-than-life image of a colony of the Organ Pipe Coral (Tubipora musica):Organ Pipe Coral (Tubipora musica)Each individual polyp is about half of the diameter of a pencil eraser.

Now, let’s blow them up to see how they are made:Organ Pipe Coral (Tubipora musica) [enlarged]Hmmm . . . quite a revelation. All of that detail is hidden from our knowledge without the aid of something more powerful than the Mark I Eyeball. We wouldn’t know about the delicate fringes around the ‘petals’ and the oddly shaped yellow doohicky in the centre. We can only wonder what they are for, but now we can at least see them. Knowing a little about invertebrates, I can tell you that form follows function. Everything you see there has to do with eating, excreting or making more polyps. That’s about it for coral. It’s a simple life. No big brain to get bored. No brain at all!

Here is another coral (Pachyseris speciosa)  that is mildly amusing, in a very wrinkly way, but not likely to inspire a sonnet:Coral (Pachyseris speciosa)Oh, wrinkly, wrinkly coral. Your colour unlike sorrel. Not thought to be immoral. blah blah blah – you get the picture. It’s a long reach.

But wait! If you blow it up . . .Coral (Pachyseris speciosa) [enlarged]Now it’s getting more interesting. What the heck is  that? You could write something creepy about that. It’s like a million wiry snakes all making love to each other (where did that  come from?). Anyway, it’s more interesting.

Here is another specimen of Pachyseris speciosa  with Seriatopora caliendrum  towering over it:

Coral (Pachyseris speciosa)
There is quite a bit of colour variation between specimens. I’ve seen a few that were green, but that may be from algal contamination.

I’ll finish up with one of my favourite little things, the lovely Christmas Tree Worm (Spirobranchus giganteus):Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus)Pure white ones, such as this are not common. There are about a zillion base colours and a gozillion ways to mix them up. The little parasols come in pairs, as they are both appendages of the same individual worm.

To annoy you further, I cheerfully ripped this section from Wikipedia so that you may be fully informed.

The worm is aptly named; Both its common and Latin names refer to the two, chromatically-hued spiral structures that are most commonly what is seen of the worm by divers. In actuality, these multicolored spirals are merely the worm’s highly-derived respiratory structures.

S. giganteus  appears like most tube-building polychaetes. It has a tubular, segmented body lined with chaeta, small appendages that aids the worm with its mobility. As it does not move outside its tube, this worm does not have any specialized appendages for movement or swimming.

The worm’s most distinct features are the two “crowns” that are shaped like Christmas-trees. These “crowns” are actually highly modified prostomial palps which are specialized mouth appendages of the worm. Each spiral is actually composed of feather-like tentacles called radioles, which are heavily ciliated which allows any prey that are trapped in them to be transported straight towards the worm’s mouth. While they are primarily feeding structures, S. giganteus  also uses its radioles for respiration. It is because of this that the structures are commonly called “gills”

Now, when Santa comes, you can engage him in a conversation that will daze and confuse him.

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Above and Below

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on December 15th, 2009 by MadDog
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A few days ago in front of our house the sky was sombre and troubled. The lighting was terrible, but I gave it a go anyway. It took nine frames from left to right stitched together in Photoshop to make this rather strange panorama:Front Yard PanoramaIt does capture the sweep of the sky nicely, but it gives a completely distorted idea of what is in front of our house. If you can imagine looking back over your left shoulder as you stand facing the opposite side of the harbour (in the middle of the image) you would see the coconut trees on the left side of the image. Then, as you turn your head slowly to the right you will have to look hard over your right shoulder to see the coconut trees on the right. The image covers about 200°.

How hard can it be to take a picture of a cloud? Well, as it turns out, it’s not so easy, if you want to capture all of the airy nuances:Cumulus Congestus cloudThis nice towering cumulus cloud (Cumulus congestus) was shooting up like a rocket when I snapped it. The trick is to expose for the brightest spot on the cloud. If you set your camera’s metering system (built-in light meter) to ‘spot metering’ you can put the brightest place in the cloud in the center of the frame and your camera will set that as ‘white’. Then you will either need to press the shutter button part-way down to lock in the exposure or use an “Automatic Exposure Lock” button, if your camrea has one. I also used a polarising filter in front of the lens to darken the sky. I think that the polariser also helps to bring out some of the shady details in the cloud.

Here is a shot of the beautiful reef colours at the South end of Leper Island:South end of Leper Island looking North to Pig IslandI guess that I’m lucky, because green is my favourite colour. There are about a million shades of green here. Green is everywhere!

We’ve been keeping a close eye on Kar Kar Island  since it was mistakenly reported that it erupted violently. It looks pretty peaceful in this shot:Kar Kar Island from Tab AnchorageEarlier this year we did see steam and brownish smoke coming from two vents which appeared to be on the side of the crater.

So much for above. How about below?

While diving The Green Dragon  B-25 bomber a few days ago, there was a small school of Humpnose Bigeye Bream (Monotaxis grandoculis)  swimming around under the port wing. I usually don’t pay much attention to them as they are rather a plain fish. Suddenly I noticed this individual who, apparently, had recently barely escaped with his life from a predator:

Humpnose Bigeye Bream (Monotaxis grandoculis) with injuryThat’s a fairly nasty wound. It appears to have happened recently, but already it seems to be healing inwards from the edges. This reminds me of the wound that our dog, Sheba, had on her foreleg.

Sometimes I come across something that is so unusual that it leaves me scratching my head. This is called an encrusting sponge. There are many kinds; this one is a species of Haliclona:Encrusting Blue Sponge (Haliclona sp.)There are, strangely enough, very few invertebrates in the ocean which are truly blue. Aside from the beautiful blue starfish, this is the brightest blue invertebrate that I can think of.

Finally, here is another head-scratcher. When I looked at this image I was stopped for a moment figuring out what I was looking at:Tail of Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrina)Glancing at the frames on either side of it, I suddenly realised that it is the tail of the Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrina)  which I showed to you a couple of days ago. Given that this snake is at least 1.5 metres long, this gives you an idea of how deeply they go hunting in the crevices of the reef. You can clearly see the flattened paddle-like tail from which the genus takes its name.

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Reef Scenes – The Magic Kingdom

Posted in Under the Sea on December 14th, 2009 by MadDog
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It has been a joy over the last few years to get truly into the digital age of photography. Having learned the smelly-chemical method before I was twelve years old, I stuck to the film media for several years after the first digital cameras. I had inadvertently joined the massive ranks of ‘serious photographers’ who were shouting down digital cameras of the time as playthings not worthy of the art. They were  pretty miserable at first. My first digital was a 1.3MP model which was okay for snapshots, but inadequate for anything else.

One of the great frustrations (among many) of shooting underwater on film was that I could never, except by dumb luck, get an image to look the way that I saw it with my own eyes  – in other words – natural.  I have discovered, especially in the last year or so, that the secret lies in the techniques used. I’m not going to bore you with all that. If you’re interested, I’ll trade all of my secrets for a case of beer. It’s not a big deal.

However, it does give me severe pleasure to present to you images that look exactly as the diver (me) saw them, or at least as close as I can get. For instance, you often see close-up shots here that are products of careful shooting and laborious processing with Photoshop. The truth is that we seldom actually get that close. Here is a more normal diver’s eye view of a Spot-Tail Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellicandus):Spot-Tail Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellicandus)It may not be spectacular, but it’s what the diver actually sees. If you are going to get any closer to this little butterflyfish, your name had better be Houdini.

On the other hand, it is sometimes nice to get close. These polyps on a Sea Fan (Acabria sp.)  seem to be a white mass from a metre away. It is only when you get close that you can see their flower-like beauty:Sea Fan (Acabria sp.)It shots such as this, getting the colours right is the most difficult part of the job. When I can sit back and think to myself, “Yep, that’s just as I saw it.” then I know that my work is done.

Here is a group of Purple Anthea females (Psudanthias tuka)  with stalks of Whip Coral (Sea Whip – Junceella sp.)  in the background:Purple Anthea [females] (Psudanthias tuka)The colouration of the Purple Anthea is problematic. In most cases, they do look purple in colour. However when viewed with the light at a different angle, they often appear more blue, as in this image.

Here is a beautiful Divericate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya [Roxasia] sp.)  with more Sea Whips in the background:Divericate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)It is such a pleasure to sit back after fifteen or twenty minutes of work and say, “Uh-HUH!  That’s just the way it looked to me.”

Here is another coral species that has been a bother to me for a long time (Tubastraea micrantha).  It is a deep, deep forest green colour and is found only below about twenty metres where the light is beginning to dim to shades of blue:Coral (Tubastraea micrantha)It is devilishly difficult to get the deep green colour without trashing all of the rest, even with Photoshop. This is the best that I have managed so far. It came at the cost of desaturating much of the surrounding area. However, I can attest that the colour that you see on the coral itself is exactly as I saw it. Just ignore the stuff beside it.

Another type of image that I enjoy capturing is the community as a whole. Here is a little anemone garden featuring the Tomato Anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus).  These are females. The male, in this unusual case, is much less pretty, being more or less solid light orange:

Coral Reef Community with Tomato Anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus) [female]
It’s such a thing of wonder to glide up over clump of coral and look down on a beautiful scene such as this. I can’t imagine ever tiring of it.

Your mileage may vary.

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The Banded Sea Krait – Yikes!

Posted in Under the Sea on December 13th, 2009 by MadDog
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Yesterday, for our regular Saturday dive, we had perfect conditions at Magic Passage near Madang. There was a moderate incoming tide and the water coming in through the passage was clear and had very little particulate matter to obscure visibility. The shooting was excellent. I got about thirty usable shots out of 122 exposures. I call that a good day.

The highlight of the dive was an up-close and personal encounter with a Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrina), one of the most poisonous creatures on the planet. Say hello to the yellow-nosed terror:Banded Sea Krait - Laticauda colubrinaI’m sad to lessen my apparent bravery for getting this close by telling you that these snakes offer no danger to a careful diver. Though very poisonous, they are not in any way aggressive, as long as you don’t try to play with them. I have been this close on many occasions. Most of the time, the snake pays no notice at all. If it does seem to notice me, it will invariably simply move farther away from me.

Here is Carol Dover pointing the way to the mouth of the passage.Dive buddies at Magic PassageIt is often said that the mouth of the Banded Sea Krait is too small to bite a human. This is not true. Many fishermen are bitten each year when they try to clear sea snakes from their nets. Here is one swimming through the clear water looking for a hole to investigate for a meal.Banded Sea Krait - Laticauda colubrinaThey feed by moving around through the coral and poking into every crevice. I saw this snake disappear completely twice while I was photographing it. This one was about 1.5 metres long, a fairly large specimen. If you click to enlarge, you will see the flat paddle-shaped tail which helps it to move swiftly through the water.

Hers is why old divers (like me) always tell those not familiar with the Sea Krait to always observe it from the side, never overhead:Banded Sea Krait - Laticauda colubrinaIt is a true snake and therefore must breath air. When it needs to breath, you don’t want to be hovering over the top of it. It might get a little testy if you are cutting it off from its air supply. This one surfaced for about a minute and then came back to exactly the same spot to resume feeding. It did not appear to notice my presence at all.

Aside from air to breathe, the snake also must find fresh water to drink. When the female lays eggs, she must find a safe place on land to do so. I have seen several sea snakes killed by vehicles along Coronation Drive next to the coast of Astrolabe Bay.

Here is another shot of the snake moving through the water. The head is a little motion-blurred in this shot:Banded Sea Krait - Laticauda colubrinaIt’s hard to explain what a kick it is to get so close to exotic creatures such as this and capture their images.

Last week we dived The Henry Leith, The Eel Garden and The Green Dragon B-25 Bomber. You’re going to be served fish for the next few days.

I hope that you’re hungry.

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Big Fat Mountains

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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I took a drive up Nob Nob Mountain  yesterday with some visiting friends to show them our magnificent Astrolabe Bay  and the surrounding coastline. A prime feature of this beauty is the Finisterre Mountains  across the bay. Because of the rain all morning, when the sun finally came out, it was quite clear, so we got a terrific view of the mountains.

If I were a painter, I think that one thing that I would enjoy is being able to interpret the same scene or object in many different ways, according to my whim. Alas, I have not a smidgen of artistic talent. However, I do have a yummy selection of cheap cameras and I have acquired a bit of cleverness with Photoshop. For the first time in the history of man (bring up The Ride of the Valkyries  in the background now), an ordinary bloke or blokess can, with the minimum of fuss, create wonderful scenes that would make a landscape artist of a hundred years ago weep.

Here are three interpretations of the same scene from the top of Nob Nob Mountain.  You are looking out across Astrolabe Bay  at the Finisterre Mountains:

Finisterre Mountain Panorama 1An astute (very  astute) observer would note that I have exaggerated the vertical aspect by about 20% to make the mountains appear taller.

Here is a different interpretation of the same scene:Finisterre Mountain Panorama 2Changing the aspect ratio and including the dramatic sky changes the mood of the image completely, but keeping the mountains just about a third of the way up enhances the focus on them. The eyes have to move around a lot more in this image, because there are several focal points.

In an attempt to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, I took another series with mid telephoto. I didn’t even have to exaggerate the height of the mountains in this one. The telephoto effect did it for me. Using a telephoto lens will always make background objects appear larger with respect to foreground objects:Finisterre Mountain Panorama 3Of course, while I was up at Nob Nob,  I had to have a little nature walk also, just to see what was buzzing.

Guess what I found buzzing in a crevice of an ancient Frangipani tree – hornets!

Hornets
My camera appears closer that I actually placed it. I used a little telephoto with my macro setting and didn’t get closer than about a third of a metre (or one foot, if you insist). I honestly don’t know if they are hornets or wasps or whatever. I just know that I’m not going to let them sting me if I can help it. I was once trimming a tree in my yard and did not notice a small hornet’s nest. They came at me about a dozen strong and I took about twenty hits before I got to the edge of my yard and dived into the harbour. Man, that smarts!

There are all sorts of weird and wonderful orchids here. Have a look at this one:Strange OrchidWhat’s that supposed to be?

And this, my gentle readers, is a passionfruit flower:Passionfruit Flower and fruitPointing out the obvious here, note the passionfruit at the lower left. I can’t say that I like them much. They taste too perfumy and sour to me. The flowers are certainly beautiful. We have another fruit similar to this that we call a sugar fruit. It has the same hard shell with the gooey stuff inside around the seeds, but it is much sweeter.

When I got home from the mountain, this copra boat was heading out to sea, probably to Kar Kar Island:Copra BoatWhen the winelight falls on our beautiful harbour in the afternoon, I don’t want to be anywhere else.

With my camera, of course.

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Coral Lovers Only

Posted in Under the Sea on December 11th, 2009 by MadDog
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Today we’re looking at coral pictures (mostly). But first I want to tell you about the most beautiful screen saver on the planet. Understand, that’s just one man’s opinion. It developed as an homage to Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  You can find it here. You have to sign up for an account, but there’s no money involved. It does require an Internet connection occasionally to give the full effect of evolvement, but it works fine without one. Here’s a screen shot of the home page. If you like to fool around with screen savers, give this one a shot.The electricsheep.org siteNow, on to the coral and whatever.

Wouldn’t you know that the first one up is a species that I can’t find. I tried Googling “cup coral” which is the obvious name for this, but I couldn’t find anything like it. My invertebrates book is of no help. If you know the genus and species of this thing, please leave a comment:Cup coral (species unknown)It is about six or seven centimetres in diameter.

I am pretty sure about the identification of this coral (Acropora cerealis): Coral (Acropora cerealis)It is one of the most common species here. It is very delicate. A brush of a fin can knock off a huge chunk.

This one is quite beautiful when the sun is shining down through the water. It is a species of the Montipora  genus:Coral (Montipora species)It has many tubeworms embedded in it. None of them came out to play.

This is another very pretty coral (Pachyseris speciosa).  Both this and the one above are massive. They are often over two metres across:Coral (Pachyseris speciosa)Sometimes what is growing on, in or near the coral is just as interesting. Here Sea Squirts (Atriolum robustum)  grow surrounded by Porites  coral:Sea Squirt (Atriolum robustum)Well, they obviously don’t grow on the coral, but on a bit of dead coral that is embedded in the Porites. 

I’m a bit of a fan of Sea Squirts. This one you’ve seen several times before. You can enter ‘molle’ in the search box to see previous posts. This one is Didemnum molle.  It has a nice coral, which I think is Goniastrea australensis  in the background:

Sea Squirt (Didemnum molle)The shading on the molle  is hard to get right.

Here’s another molle  with several species of coral in the background:

Sea Squirt (Didemnum molle)The molle  is about five centimetres across. You can also see a couple of Dascyllus reticulatus  in the background.

Did I mention that I’ve never been bored on a dive?

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