Pardon My Tubeworms

Posted in Under the Sea on April 16th, 2010 by MadDog
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You’re going to think that you’re seeing double today. Going through my images from dives at Barracuda Point  and The Eel Garden  last Saturday near Pig Island,  I found some vaguely amusing near-twins. Each pair has similarities, but not the same ones. Stick with me while I build a mountain out of a molehill.

The humble Tubeworm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi)  is an easy photographic subject unless you get too close. If you do, it will disappear down inside its house more quickly than the human eye can follow. Now it’s there; now it’s not:It seems like the same “now”. All that’s left is a puff of dust.

Here’s another Tubeworm:Both of these shots have nice detail if you click to enlarge. The “feathers” are incredibly complex.

The next twins are of Coral (Acropora hyacinthus).  I think that both species are the same, but some corals are impossible to tell apart without examining the microsopic structure of the skeletal framework:The shot above is from directly overhead. You can see a hint of the spiral growth form which is characteristic of many plate corals.

Here is another colony shown more from the side. Again, you can see vague spirals:The colour of the two colonies was different, as you can see. In the second image you can see the variations of brightness caused by the refraction of sunlight through the waves at the surface of the water. When you see this live, it is constantly changing. It reminds me a little of disco lights.

Lets take a break with a prettier image. This is Kate:Kate lives in Madang and works with the Fred Hollows Foundation the Vision Statement of which reads, “Our vision is for a world where no one is needlessly blind, and Indigenous Australians enjoy the same health and life expectancy as other Australians.” They need to work on that one, as they also do important work in other places.

One of my favourite little critters is the Dwarf Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys falco).  They are famously cute and give one good fun trying to get them to hold still long enough for a shot. This little fellow seems to be missing his fourth dorsal ray. Maybe it was bitten off. You can see it better in the shot that comes after this one:They scamper about within a small area as their google-eyes stay fixed on you. You end up anchored in the same spot, swinging the camera wildly around hoping for quick snap. The lighting in the shot above was very poor. The sun was behind a cloud and coming slightly from the other side from where I was shooting.

Here is the difference that good light makes:The sun was full on and coming from behind me. Good lighting makes these little jewels glow.

What a difference a ray makes.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Market

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on April 15th, 2010 by MadDog
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In reality, nothing at all funny happened on the way to the market this morning. I was just stuck for a title. In fact, my blood was set on a slow boil. I hate it that there’s only one reasonable path by which I can reach the market. I could go out of my way to get there, but I just don’t have the time nor am I inclined to do so.

Therefore, every time I go to the market, I have to pass monsters such as this slug who calls himself  a human:If you click to enlarge and you can read Tok Pisin,  you will see that he claims that his “medicine” can cure, among a host of other diseases, HIV/AIDS and TB. He is selling tickets to the graveyard and suckers so uneducated and steeped in the nonsense that if it’s “traditional” then it must be good are buying those tickets and climbing aboard the Death PMV.

I’m not even going to bother to go into all the reasons why this is so wrong. You either know it or you don’t.

Here’s another guy who will kill you for a few bucks:I shouldn’t even bother blurring their faces, because they should be publicly shamed. However, a new windscreen for my car is more than I can afford to risk to expose their identities. Anybody can find out easily who they are. Just go to the market.

I know that it’s useless for me to nag about this. Nobody but me seems to care. Nobody cares that these people kill more humans in PNG than all of the criminals and silly tribal warfare put together. And, they do it for money.

Okay, that’s enough rage for the moment. Let’s move on to something happier. I shot this panorama and Zoomified it for you so that you can see the details: As you can see, if you’re familiar with the market, there are several new morota  roofed buildings to make shady places for the vendors. This is one of the few genuine improvements which I have seen in Madang for some time. Everything else is falling apart. In another decade the whole town will go back to bush if we don’t get competent governance.

Before we leave the market I’ll show you The Soap Lady:

She makes her soap at home. It must be pretty good soap, because she always seems to have a brisk business. I very much admire this kind of spirit. Many people could do much better than they are if they would only search out ideas which can provide a modest, but steady income and forget about the “get rich” schemes that never work. I hope she gets rich selling soap, but I don’t think that that is in the cards. If she puts food on the table for her family by the work of her own hands she will be doing better than most.

I can’t leave today without showing you The Deadly Wires:This is about a third of all of them that I had to sort out the other day. The red bottle is metal polish for my Harley, which I never seem to have time to ride. I want to sell it, but Eunie won’t let me.

Oh, one more thing. Talking about the market got me hungry. I want to show you what I call The Blue Cheese Sea Squirt (Eudistoma gilboviride):Doesn’t that look tasty?

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The Big Red Ball

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on April 14th, 2010 by MadDog
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The caption says This Morning’s Sunrise, but it’s actually yesterday’s. That’s because it’s 04:00 here in Madang and I’m wide awake doing yesterday’s post. In the afternoon yesterday our Internet connection crashed. Some pages would load quickly and others not at all. I suspected a DNS problem (sorry for the Geek-speak), but I couldn’t find anything wrong with our setup. I made a long-distance call to Hostmonster.com, my server farm in the USA. I couldn’t get on to the help desk for the host, because their page was one that wouldn’t load – wouldn’t you know it! They said that it looked fine from their end. I was still thinking DNS when I called Hitron and talked to a technician named Nali. He did some checking and found that our uplink to the satellite was completely saturated. I unplugged a couple of bandwidth hogs and the problem disappeared.

The funny thing about this, to a Geek anyway, is how focused one can become on an incorrect analysis of a problem. I was frantically pinging all of the DNS IP addresses of the satellite and thinking, okay, there’s a problem up there. Actually the problem would probably have been on the ground, but my brain had gone all funny by then, since it was 15:00 and I had not yet gotten around to doing a post. I hate getting two days behind. I need to feed you regularly or you’ll die.

Anyway, the problem was sorted out and we’ve doubled out uplink bandwidth. (HITRON users – If you cancel your old plan and begin a new one, you’ll get a much lower rate. We doubled our uplink speed and still our monthly bill is K1,000 less!)

In the future, I’m going to have to remember not to panic and to tick off all of the possible explanations for a problem before I bite onto one like a bulldog and worry it while the real difficulty sits in the corner giving me the finger.

Here’s the aforementioned sunrise:I think the season is changing. I hope to get some more of these soon. It’s a peaceful time of the morning.

And, here is one of the big red balls:That is some species of Feather Star. This one is particularly red. Using the Mark I eyeball alone, it looks deep, deep red – almost black. When you use the flashy thing, you put some red light which has been lost due to scattering by the sea water back into the spectrum. Therefore, with the flash, it looks bright red. Cool, eh?

Here’s the other big red ball. This outrageous cluster of red flowers popped up overnight in our garden. It’s a good 20cm in diameter. I’m going to toss this out to my botanist readers, because I don’t have time to figure out what it is:You can see the plant itself on the left. It appears to me to be some kind of a bulb plant, like a lily. Somebody will identify it. Steve, Ali, get to work! I need ID.  UPDATE:  Friend Anne-Marie Gregory in England has informed me that this is a Blood Lily (Haemanthus multiflorus, subsp. katherinae). Thanks, Anne-Marie.

Out at the end of Barracuda Point there are some little canyons in the reef, a whole series of them. They are fun to explore, because they are in the surge zone and you never know what you’ll find there. On big sea days it’s simply too rough. You get tossed around and bang into the walls. That’s not good for the diver or the sea life. On Saturday, the sea was calm, so we could explore with less bruising:This is a cute little Freckled Hawkfish (Paracirrhites fosteri):You can put hawkfish in the search box and find many posts featuring them. They are among my favourites, because they are easy to photograph and spectacularly coloured.

Well, it’s a few minutes after five in the morning now.

I have to get started on today’s post.

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The Half-Eaten Gumdrop

Posted in Under the Sea on April 13th, 2010 by MadDog
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Once again, I find myself in the middle of the evening trying to catch up with the day. How did I hustle so much and accomplish nothing that I can call progress? It seems to be becoming a way of life. How thought provoking. The harder I work the less I accomplish. I spent half the day putting little tags on wires so that I can tell where they go. I’m drowning in wires! Throw me a life-preserver. No, wait. That’s a mixed metaphor. I’m strangled by wires! Throw me a hatchet.

This Bannerfish exasperated me from the moment I met it. First, I couldn’t get close enough for a shot. I had to chase it, something which I usually avoid, since it usually simply burns up oxygen. Then, when I finally set up a successful ambush, it sped away so fast that all I could manage was a quick panning shot. I’m surprised that it turned out so nice:More consternation arose when I tried to identify it. After a search through my pitiful collection of references I spent a few fruitless minutes with Google Images. No luck. Phooey!

UPDATE: Thanks to my old pal Tris  for jabbing me in the ribs to point out the the fish is not a Bannerfish at all, but a Moorish Idol (Zanclus cornutus).  Thanks for “helping” me, Tris.

The Bigeye Trevally (Carnax sexfasciatus)  at Barracuda Point  on Saturday were splendid. You don’t really have to chase them. You simply swim closer and closer as they whirl around.  This shot was snapped at less than two metres:I soon have to back off to slow my breathing. I let them meander around me for a minute or so and then join the procession again.

The problem with Trevally is that they are so blasted shiny! It’s very difficult, with a small-sensor camera such as my Camon G11, to get enough dynamic range to capture the dark and mid-range tones without blowing out the whites:Still, I’m happy with these shots. Even after chasing them, I still got two dives and over 100 minutes off of an 80 cubic foot tank. My gills are working just fine.

Here is a not too wonderful shot of some Midnight Snappers (Macolor macularis):The interesting bit is that we have adults and a couple of teenagers. The juveniles are black and white with spots and bands. You can still see a trace of the juvenile colouration and pattern on the two teens in the middle.

This is a perfectly normal Pyllidia varicosa  nudibranch:Vaguely amusing, eh? They are easy to photograph, so I tend to show you a lot of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re getting bored.

Okay, how about this one which has had a chunk bitten out by a predator:It’s the Half-Eaten Gumdrop mentioned in the title.

Many nudis remind me of some kind of fancy candy and, strangely enough, take me back to Vienna. The Austrians go for the fancy candy. There are shops which sell nothing else.

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Cruising the Eel Garden

Posted in Under the Sea on April 12th, 2010 by MadDog
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Well, here it is on a Monday evening at 19:30 and I’m dead tired and behind the eight-ball. Monday was what Mondays are. How does so much messiness accumulate over the weekend when everybody’s supposed to be playing or resting or otherwise not creating problems for someone else to solve?

So, I’ve had my beer and my cigar and I’m going to sit here for a while and annoy you. It’s my hobby, being annoying and inserting my absurdist opinions and philosophy cagily into these supposedly informative and amusing accumulations of words that we refer to as posts.  I’m like the guy with the huge model train layout in his basement who, after dinner, forces guests to lumber down the steps to the dank recesses of the underground toy railway where they will be treated to several hours of mind-numbing narrative concerning the building, operating and care of . . .

Excuse me. I drifted off into my alternate universe there for a moment.

Anyway, when we were cruising The Eel Garden  on Saturday, we surprised a few critters by blowing masses of poisonous air at them and flashing blinding lights in their eyes. This critter was neither surprised nor blinded. It’s dead:Sometime recently, possibly the preceding night, this poor little bivalve met its maker. Fortunately it had no brain to wither in fright nor mouth with which to scream. It is, nevertheless, a sad little scene. I vainly tried to find a shell book here at the house to identify it, but I think that I must have hauled them all off to the office. I call it the Alien Writing Shell;  always have and always will.

I was showing Kate the comical floppiness of an Elephant Ear Sponge when this surprised Brittle Star crawled out and said, “What the . . . “We flashed it with the Men In Black memory zapper thingie that is built into my camera and left it to recover. It will be blissfully unaware of the experience.

Monty Armstrong was busily snapping away with his new Canon G11. You can see a nice, big, fat Phyllidia varicosa  nudibranch there at the bottom of the image. We now have three G11 setups in our little gaggle of divers, though Rich Jones has yet to baptise his:

His excuse on Saturday was that he had a cold. Personally I think that his decision to forego diving had something to do with the fact that there were no less than six bikini-clad young ladies on board our two vessels. I’m too old to notice such things, of course.

This male Purple Anthea (Pseudanthias tuka)  was at least as surprised as I was when I flashed him. It was a snap shot that I didn’t expect to come out at all. I had just popped over the top of a bommie and he was desperately thinking about which way to flee: This is the only good shot of the male of this species that I have. It was simply dumb luck to get it.

A Dardanus  species Hermit Crab was likewise surprised and equally annoyed when I knocked his house down much the same as the wolf did to the three little pigs:This one seemed particularly peeved and simply glared at me for a while before reaching down and pulling his abode upright again. Not all crabs are created equal. Some are crabbier than others.

A rarely seen Mantis Shrimp (Odontodactylus scyallarus)  gave me only about two seconds before scurrying under a ledge:I sometimes amuse myself by pondering what these creatures would think of us if they could, in fact, think at all. If they were the philosophical equivalent of humanists, would they count us as miscreants or mentally disturbed? If they had religion would we be Gods who disturbed their peaceful world for our demented amusement?  I can dig it either way.

If I’m lucky, I won’t dream about that tonight.

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Esmeralda – The Canoe Girl

Posted in Mixed Nuts on April 11th, 2010 by MadDog
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I have many amusing images from our two dives on Saturday, but I also have a few shots that I’ve left in the “unused” folder that are nagging me. So, I’ll dish them out today. I worked from 07:00 to 19:00 yesterday, Sunday, and never got a post out – too busy with other stuff. So, today I’m using my time machine to cheat. The post date says it was sent out on Sunday, but it lies, or rather I do. It’s now Monday morning here.

Now that that meaningless trivia is disposed of, let’s have a look at my next-door neighbor, Sisilia’s sweet daughter Esmeralda in her big canoe:I was out in the garden shooting anything that moved and much that doesn’t when Esperalda got into her canoe. I asked if she was going for a ride. She said she was going to visit her uncle. After a minute, she came back, saying that she’d forgotten something. That’s when I snapped this shot. She’s a lovely young lady. I think that her mom is very proud of her. We are very fortunate to live in a compound that is full of very nice people. We are the only “Europeans” there.

I haven’t said much about our Fishtail Palms lately, but they are growing splendidly. They have fruited several times. Here’s a shot of a half-mature and a brand-new . . . thinking of the word . . . inflorescence:

I think that the species is Caryota gigas,  but I’m not positive. There is another possibility. I’ve written before about our Fishtail Palms here, here, here, and here.

This is the first inflorescence, which I showed as it first came out way back in August of 2008. I’m amazed how long it takes for the fruit to mature:

The fruits eventually turns a deep purple, almost black and falls to the ground. They are about the size of a very small apricot. They taste like an extremely sweet hot chili. It is a very strange, but not unpleasant flavour. Local folk say they are “not for people”, but I tasted one anyway. I’ve never seen any birds eating them either, which surprises me.

Since I’m rambling today, I’ll show you the new hops for my wireless link to the Internet sattelite dish at our office:I discovered too late that the power to the security camera pole was not reliable (you’d think it would be – security and all). The power at the supermarket, however, is probably the most reliable source in town, since all that refrigeration equipment must be kept running. I haven’t had an interruption since we moved the links.

I’ll finish up with a couple of gratuitous flower shots. This one is some kind of Bird of Paradise plant. They are so prolific that we have to chop them back regularly:Honestly, they grow like weeds.

This one is here simply because I think it deserves the space:Anything which strives to be that pretty deserves a little attention.

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The Beauty and the Beast

Posted in Under the Sea on April 10th, 2010 by MadDog
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Saturday dawned bright and sunny, but I was too late for a sunrise. I slept in until nearly 07:00. By the time I got up, there was no time to do a post, so I’m catching up today. It’s worth the wait, because I got some splendid shots during the day. We had a few adventures.

Jo Noble has mentioned to me a couple of times how she loves to free dive down and swim through the divers’ bubbles. It’s fun, it tickles and it’s a visual treat. The bubbles sometimes form mushroom shapes as big as your hand. If you stick your finger in the “bell” shape at the top, it explodes into a hundred tiny bubbles in a circle.

So, we decided that I’d go down after Monty and Kate got into the water  and shoot Jo swimming through the bubbles. It was a very good idea. Look at this beautiful shot:It might not be the most elegant pose in the history of underwater figure photography, but I like the animal power of it. Jo is going for the bubbles, pure and simple. She’s chasing them with all her might.

This one is a bit more dreamy. It reminds me a a reverse rainstorm:Jo is an aquatic beauty caught in an up-pour of air drops. I struggled to get some good skin tones out of this one, but the data was simply not there.

The next pose is much more sleek and lovely, but still portrays the power of the dive. If you’ve never free dived, you might not realise how much effort and skill it takes to get turned over and kick your way down, especially into salt water. It’s not as easy as it looks. Those of you who free dive will probably remember, as I do, the difficulty of learning to do it gracefully. If it’s done right, you see the swimmers bottom for a moment as she flips heels over head, the legs shoot straight up out of the water to gain weight above the water line and that weight propels the diver downwards and she reaches for a big double armful of water to pull herself downward.

Here Jo shows the technique perfectly:Isn’t that beautiful? How lucky to be there with a camera!

Since I’m now doing two dives on Saturdays we decided to have a little fun on the second one. I’m such a cheapskate that I rent only one tank. If I get an 80 (that’s a big one) I can get nearly two hours of dive time from it. Monty says I have gills. He may be right.

Anyway, on the second dive we decided to play the tropical divers’ equivalent of Russian Roulette, “Tease the Triggerfish”. Regular readers have seen triggerfish here before. Triggerfish are about the size of a football. In fact the Latin name is derived from the word for “ball shape”.

Here are two Yellowmargin Triggerfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus)  guarding a nesting cone, the big, funnel shaped area in the sand with the rubbish in the centre:Though they are not currently mating, they come back regularly to these areas to check things out. On Saturday there were about ten of them patrolling the area.

The plan was that Monty would take pictures of me trying to get close-ups without getting bitten. The have teeth. Oh, my do they have teeth, teeth like a Pit Bull and a temperament to match. I had the thickest wet suit and the most experience with a camera, so it was my duty to get up-close and personal with the little devils. Did I mention that they bite? I’ve seen chunks taken out of divers’ fins by these critters.

As it turned out, Monty and Kate were distracted by some anemonefish and weren’t of much use to me:

The did get into the fray pretty quickly, as the triggerfish were getting very agitated and were darting about everywhere. They like to get about five or six metres away from you, square off, lower their head and make a charge, waggling like crazy and visibly accelerating directly at you. At that point you begin to ponder in earnest if they are going to break off the attack or not.

The attack profile is particulary terrifying for a male diver. The demons seem to favour a mid body target which makes it appear as if they are going directly for the, ah . . . how to put this delicately . . . the groin area.

Some of you have seen this before:I got so tired of describing the two most dangerous triggerfish to divers on my boat so that I could tell them to get behind me that I had them tattooed on my back.

Now, I can hear the mumbling out there, so don’t act like you’re not sceptical. Non-divers are naturally suspicious of the tall tales, since hardly ever comes back with so much as a scratch.

I did get one very lucky shot just before I nearly soiled my wetsuit:

Did I mention the headlong charges? Did I mention the teeth? This beast was travelling about thirty KPH when I snapped this shot, just before he flicked aside with an audible SNAP.

We call this fun.

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