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 Feather for the Captain’s Hat

Posted in Under the Sea on March 17th, 2010 by MadDog
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The steam from the Saturday dive at Magic Passage has just about run cool, so tomorrow I’ll have to invent something different with which to annoy you. It shouldn’t be difficult, as that’s one of my genuine talents.

Speaking of annoying, we had a bit of a fracas at the office yesterday. Our outside IT consultant, Mark, who has been wonderfully helpful to me as I’ve been rolling out a completely new network, inadvertently left a desktop computer system unit in his vehicle. We heard frantic cries from our receptionist, Ruth, that someone had stolen the computer from Mark’s car. A couple of people out in the street were pointing in a general direction, so Mark and I gave chase. I’m sixty-six, but fit, so I hotfooted it around following peoples’ pointings until I ended up with someone who said that the thieves gone to the bus stop near the market. Mark was on his cell phone and talking to bystanders, so he had to catch up with me.

Some people waiting for vehicles at the stop had seen the boys carrying the computer and told us what bus they had taken. Mark’s call to the cops actually got some attention and they soon gave chase. We never got the afternoon’s work finished, but at least Mark found out where the computer went. Now all that remains is to “extract” it from the thief.

I won’t make an example of Papua New Guinea, since the same thing happens everywhere. However, I will ask why so many people witnessed what was obviously a crime and did absolutely nothing to thwart it? If I had seen kids breaking into a car and filching the contents I would have done something,  though I’m not sure what. It would depend on the situation.

In fairness, I should mention that some people came to the office door immediately to tell us that the computer had grown legs.

And now, for something completely different:That’s a nice little reef scene in which I was hoping to get a nice image of the anemonefish. Just as I was taking the shot, an Angelfish swam past. I can’t identify it, but it is certainly very pretty.

Later, I was attracted to this very nice, neat round Acropora hyacinthus  coral with a pretty little reef scene behind it:There were many feather stars waving around in the fairly strong current, so I decided to snap a few.

These are all Comantheria briareus,  as near as I can tell. The taxonomy is a little confusing and many species can be identified only by counting the arms, something which I am not going to do:The arms are extremely sticky, being like Velcro. They will stick to anything, your hand, your wetsuit, fins, camera, etc. The arms tear off when they stick, so we try to be very careful when moving around them. It’s far too easy damage a feather star by simply brushing against it.

Here’s an nice shot showing how they attach themselves to the bottom by grabbing on with their “feet”:There are many subtle colours, even within the same species.Okay, that’s the feather bit. How about the Captain’s Hat?

I’m not a guy to shy away from beauty, wherever I find it. Anyone who is a regular reader will know that. I found a bit of beauty on Sanguma  on Saturday when Jennifer Miller was modeling her new hat. Jenn is usually found in the company of my good friend Richard Jones who, along with our mutual mate, Pascal Michon, our resident Frenchman, have purchased Sanguma  from our other mutual buddy, Trevor Hattersley:I think the Captain’s Hat is donned in celebration of the recent purchase. I don’t really care, because Jenn needs no further adornment. She’s a lovely lady and a dear friend to all of us motley expatriate crew.

So, congratulations to Captain Jenn and shipmates Rich and Pascal. May you catch many large fish and share the occasional nice filet of Spanish Mackerel with your poor, non-fishing dive buddy.

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A Few Lower Invertebrates

Posted in Under the Sea on January 25th, 2010 by MadDog
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Ah, the pictures are here, but the words, they don’t flow today. If you suffer from writer’s block, it’s handy to have a camera and a wet suit. Let’s jump right in and see if I can loosen my tongue a bit. I have a few recent amusing photos of lowly invertebrates to get us going, including a couple of puzzles. I’ll begin with something that’s not supposed to be here, assuming that I have correctly identified it.

This is what appears to me to be the Red Encrusting Sponge (Monanchora barbadensis):There is no denying that is simultaneously beautiful and spectacular, a combination of attributes not achieved since the days of the likes of Sophia Loren and Elke Sommer. The problem with it being:  it’s not supposed to be here. I can only assume that either I have misidentified it (most likely) or  it has begun to wander dramatically from its home waters in the Caribbean. It is even more stunning in person, as I am certain were Sophia and Elke, though I missed my chance to verify this.

Switching colours and approaching certainty we have here the Blue Encrusting Sponge (Haliclona sp):It’s equally spectacular in colour, but a little more messy in form.

Moving back to a warmer colour, if not improving the shape, we have this rather lumpy orange sponge which I can’t identify at all:I can find plenty of orange sponges on the web, but none of them fit the profile of this blob. It is incredibly bright. You can see it from a great distance. Apparently the colour is particularly good at penetrating sea water. Why anything that can’t move quickly would want to be so flashy, I can’t imagine. It’s like wearing a sign that says, “Eat me!”

This is a particularly neat, round Acropora hyacinthus  coral:This colony was particularly green, which caught my eye.

As I was working with the image, I noted that I had caught more detail than I imagined. Here is a close-up of the center of the colony showing the individual polyps:Quite a lot going on down deep inside there.

You’ve seen images of this Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata)  here before, but I’m showing you this one because it’s the best specimen image that I’ve managed yet. It shows all of the features needed to make a positive identification:Not that that’s critical in this case. There’s simply nothing else that looks anything like it.

Finally, here’s an image that features not one but two  Sea Squirt species in one frame:The green slimy looking stuff is a Sea Squirt (Lissoclinum patellum)  which I only recently came to the realisation of what it is. I’ve been looking at them for years, wondering what the heck they were. They look for all the world like blobs of moldy mint jelly. The tan thingie in the middle I am less sure about. I previously thought that these were some kind of sponge. Now I’ve changed my mind (easy enough). I now think that this also is a Sea Squirt of the genus Botryllus.

Did the earth shake for you?

Never mind. Just do as I do. Look at the pretty pictures. I can’t remember the last time that I actually read  National Geographic.

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Rainy Day – Barracuda Point

Posted in Under the Sea on February 9th, 2009 by MadDog
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When I got up on Saturday morning and heard the rain on the metal roof of our house, I knew all was not well. We seem to be curiously blessed with an abundance of sunny Saturdays – even during the rainy season, of which we are in the middle.

I left my gear at home and went over to the dock to see if anybody would show up for a dive. A couple of hardy friends did show up, so we were off to Barracuda Point at Pig Island to check the conditions.

A current was raging. Since there were only two of us diving, we decided to swim for it.

At first, there didn’t seem to be much to see. All the fish were elsewhere. I fiddled with some bubbles and a Semperina fan coral:
Bubbles rising through a fan coralGetting into the coral now, I shot this image of an Acabaria fan coral. If you click to enlarge, you can see the individual polyps:

Fan Coral

This Ctenocella coral is a beautiful red colour and sways grasslike in the current:

Ctenocella Coral

I don’t know the identity of this sponge, but it is an example of how we often see one sponge growing on another. The tan coloured sponge appears to have a red encrusting sponge growing on parts of its surface:

Sponge with another sponge encrusting it?

Finally, some fish life! This baby Blue-Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii) was hiding under a ledge. He is only about the size of a dinner plate:

Blue-Spotted Stingray - Dasyatis kuhlii

I caught these Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus) hiding in their favourite coral (Seriatopora hystrix):

Reticulated dascylusHere is a YouTube shot of the Dascyllus reticulatus swimming around a Acropora hyacinthus (I think!) coral:
The video quality is not as good as the original. I’m still trying to figure out how to get the best quality on YouTube. You can get the idea, anyway.

Finally, here is another shot of a White Bonnet Anemonefish (Amphiprion_leucokranos):

White Bonnet Anemonefish (Amphiprion leucokranos)In approximately 2,000 dives in the area, this is only the second time that I have seen this species.  Given that all Anemonefish have a free-floating larval stage that must find an anemone in order to survive, it isn’t surprising that they may suddenly appear in places where they were not previously found.

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