Bulldozer – The Spotted Shrimpgoby

Posted in Under the Sea on September 26th, 2010 by MadDog
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On Saturday I went out on Richard Jones’ and Pascal Michon’s boat Sanguma  for our regular weekly dive. We motored up to Pig Island  to The Eel Garden, one of the few places where the sea was calm enough to be comfortable. The water was full of particulate matter. That spells trouble for photography, unless you can get very close to the subject. Therefore, all of my images from the dive are shot from a distance of a few inches. Today I want to show you a series of images of the Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata)  and the commensal shrimp (Alpheus ochrostriatus)  that lives with it.

The shrimp goby and the goby shrimp share the same burrow. The burrow is maintained by the shrimp. In return, the goby keeps guard and may provide a source of food. Approached too closely, both will dart back into the burrow.

Here we see the shrimp goby standing guard at the side of the little ditch that is always present running from the burrow to the sand dump. You can also see the goby shrimp pushing a load of sand up out of the burrow:

The goby shrimp shoves the sand along with its head and claws, reminding one of a tiny bulldozer:

When the shrimp reaches the sand dump it pushes the sand up into a little pile at the end of the ditch. If the pile gets too big, it will move off to the side at the end of the ditch and start another pile:

Here we can see the shrimp after it has pushed the sand onto the pile and is getting ready to go backwards down the ditch and back into the tunnel for another load:

The process goes on indefinitely. Its work is never finished.

I enjoyed the dive this week more than last, the first since returning from Australia alone. I was far too unsettled that day. I should not have been diving at all. Faded Glory  is finally back where she belongs. When Rich Jones and I put in a new mooring buoy last week, somebody stole it the first night. So much for our security staff. They are too busy sleeping at night to walk around.

The work load has not diminished noticeably. Trevor Hattersley did help me get a handle on part of it. We will have to have more sessions as I progress until, eventually, I have a handle on my personal finances and the insurance claims are settled. I am looking at these things as challenges, not problems. However, they are big challenges. I haven’t had time to grieve properly or get lonely. All that will come later.

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The Angry Little Fish

Posted in Under the Sea on February 14th, 2010 by MadDog
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I still have a stinking cold and I’m still trying to catch up on my posts. I’m now only two days behind. Fortunately, I got a small treasure trove of shots from last Saturday at Barracuda Point and the Eel Garden, both at Pig Island.  I’ll show you a few today and more tomorrow. Then I need to think about something else to write about, because I can only eat so much fish each week.

I’m just listening to some songs by a group called Gare Du Nord  which, presumably means “north station”. I think it refers to a railroad station in Paris. It’s got a nice eclectic jazz/rock/electronica thing going for it. I found in on my network drive for shared music.  I don’t know who put it there, but it’s got a solid groove and nice thumpy base. My sub-woofer is under my desk. I can feel the base hits tickling the hair on my legs. Funky!

Well, you’ve seen these here before, so there’s nothing new here, folks. Might as well move on. It’s a Divericate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia): 
I hit the flash on this one, since they light up nicely. The inside is like jelly and it conducts light very well.

We had a fresh diver with us on Saturday, name of Scott. I grabbed this shot of him chasing around after a mob of Bigeye Trevally:Barracuda point was crawling with big Pickhandle Barracuda and Trevally. I’ll have some barracuda shots tomorrow, if this cold doesn’t kill me.

You’ve seen this here before also, a Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)  [young stage] which is improbably bright:They’re like the traffic lights of the reef. Too bad that I’m a little late for Valentine’s Day. This one has a nice little heart shape in the middle.

I found some nice Palm Coral (Clavularia sp)  which is a different colour than most of what I’ve seen before. This has much more yellow in the polyps:I love to watch the stuff waving around in the current.

Here’s another familiar client of mine, the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):This character was all dolled up for a party, I think. Don’t ask my why the first name that popped into my head when I was working on this image was Rodney Dangerfield. If you don’t get it, then there’s no use explaining. I have a Harley Davidson t-shirt which is a bit obnoxious. It brazenly states, “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.” If you asked this fish, that’s probably what it would say.

There goes that bass tickling my legs again. It’s “Boogie All Night Long”. Reminds me of my Flickr nickname, BoogiesWithFish.

Here’s another familiar sight for regular readers. Lizardfish Love:Again, if I have to explain it . . .

I’ll finish up with the star of the show, this very perturbed little Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata):As I mention in my excerpt, I’ve had fish hide from me, chase me, harass me, bite me, defecate on me, pose for me, run from me, well, the list goes on and on. After 2,000 dives, you begin to think that nothing is going to surprise you.

However, this is the first time that I’ve seen a fish simply glare at me with naked hatred.

Hey, what did I do?

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Wrapping Up 2009

Posted in Under the Sea on December 31st, 2009 by MadDog
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After yesterday’s dark and whiny rambling through the back alleys of my nearly comatose mind, which prompted friends to call to see if I was planning to depart post-haste to greener pastures (or no pasture at all), I should maybe craft some slightly more upbeat prose. As a recovering (seemingly forever) bipolar, I need to be reminded once in a while that things are never so dark as I may wish to paint them on a down day. The flip side of that, as those who’ve experienced that hideous roller-coaster will instantly proclaim, is that things are never so bright either.

But, never mind. I’m over that. My craving for sympathy is satiated and I still have plenty of pineapple upside-down cake left. Today we will meet a couple of new characters and visit again with some old friends. A few days ago I took KP Perkins for her first dives after the completion of her Open Water Course. On our second dive, we went to The Eel Garden near Pig Island.  There, on the sandy bottom I got this pitiful shot of what we call a Leaf Fish. The “book” common name is Peacock Razorfish. This the juvenile phase of a species variation of Iniistius pavo:It’s a funny little thing. Against the creamy white bottom it looks very dark brown. I had to squeeze very hard on the lemon to get a bit of detail out of the body. Tha’s why it doesn’t look like a very good picture. We call it a Leaf Fish because, unless you are looking for it, you will be fooled by its colour, shape, the little topknot looking like a stem and its insane wobbly swimming motion into believing  that it is a leaf.

Here is another new something for you. It’s a coral, but I’m unable to determine the species name, since I can’t find it in my book. So, I’ll just call it Spiral Coral for now:What intrigues me about this coral is the striking resemblance between this overhead view and images of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction. Say what? Well, it’s a famous family of oscillating chemical reactions which can create amazing visible spiral patterns such as this:

I wouldn’t care to claim that I understand these reactions in anything other than a very general way. The details were not covered in CHEM-101 forty years ago. Nevertheless, the images were still im my mind and I could look them up with “spiral chemical reactions” using Google images. Ain’t the web great? Anybody can seem like an authority on anything. Wait, maybe that’s not  so great.

Well, here’s a spiky old friend from only a few days ago. It’s a Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas):I’m sure that it’s the same one that I showed you before. It lives there.

Here’s another old buddy, the gorgeous Tomato anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus):It this shot you can see the strong blue tint that is often seen in the white vertical bars. I’m not sure if this is really pigmentation – it doesn’t appear to be so. I think that it either some sort of reflection of the sky (it seems to be more common on a sunny day when most of the sky is blue) or it is a property of the surface of the skin similar to butterfly wings that produces colour by means of optical effects at the nanometric level. But, who knows? Maybe God just paints it that way. I’m no expert.

Here’s another bit of underwater eye candy that you’ve seen here before. They are Sea Squirts (Polycarpa aurata):I like to think of them as elf shoes. See, they have nice little elastic bands around the ankles so that they won’t fall off in the midst of mischief-making.

This is a shot that I really like. It’s our old friend, the Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata)  way out at the end of his front porch:They usually stay right next to their hidey-hole. It’s rare to see one that doesn’t have its tail down the burrow. This one has strayed a few centimetres away. You can see the trail of “dust” that it kicked up when it last came out only a few seconds ago.

I had one chance at the shot above before the little spotted pixy dived back into its burrow. The image turned out perfect. Though it’s not colourful, it is exactly as I saw it.

That is as close to diving as I can get you unless you’re ready to get wet.

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Good Golly, Guttata!

Posted in Under the Sea on December 6th, 2009 by MadDog
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I sometimes enjoy musing that I have some smidgen of artistic talent. Not so. I can’t draw water. There are so many things that I would love to be able to do, but I’m simply too bone lazy to expend the effort. Man, I would love  to be able to play the piano. I’ve taken countless lessons, some recently, but I have no discipline to practice, therefore my keyboard skills suck swamp water. I’d also love to paint; it looks so easy! Alas, it’s beyond my reach. But, I can  Photoshop!

This nice sunrise shot seemed born to be a watercolour. So, I turned it into one in a couple of minutes:Watercolour SunriseIt’s so easy that it’s embarrassing. I suppose that Turner laboured for days to get something that looks roughly (very  roughly) like this.

Ah yes, were not here today to talk about art. A few days ago, I gave you Bite Me Red Fish featuring the Scarlet Soldierfish (Myripristis pralinia).  As I was mining the folder if images from that day, I came across a couple of more that are worth a peek. Here’s one of three of them crowded into the little passageway between the rocks where they were vainly attempting to hide from me:Scarlet Soldierfish - Myripristis pralinia

It seems to be getting a little crowded in there.

Here is the interesting shot. There are some species of  creatures called isopods that parasitise fish. The one that you see here, Anilocra laticaudata,  specialises in Soldierfish:Scarlet Soldierfish - Myripristis pralinia with isopod parasite Anilocra laticaudata

I’ve shown you this before in this post. As I mention there, the males that wear an isopod have more luck breeding; the females seem to prefer them over unadorned mates. Well, that’s the strange world of fish for you.

Now I shall inflict upon you yet another image of  Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus):Christmas Tree Worms - Spirobranchus giganteusIf you think that there will be relief from Christmas Tree Worms in the near future, think again. Xmas is coming soon; you’ll be seeing more of thes curious little decorations.

Okay, okay, but what about the guttata? That’s another critter that you have seen here recently. That’s because it is a fish high on my list for exploitation. I have a few species which I am determined to photograph to the best of my ability with the gear that I own (New Canon G11 coming soon! Whoopee!). This is the very pretty fish the Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata):Spotted Shrimpgoby - Amblyeleotris guttata
And, I think that the shot above is probably about as good as I can do with the Canon G10. It’s fun to take inexpensive gear such as the Canon G series underwater and run it ragged. It’s like squeezing a lemon hard to get the last drops of juice for that one last glass of lemonade.

I like squeezing lemons.

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Heart of the Hunter – Part 2

Posted in Under the Sea on November 19th, 2009 by MadDog
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Yesterday, I dumped a bunch of images on your screen that I’m preparing for an article for Niugini Blue  magazine. The title will be Heart of the Hunter. Look back at my post from yesterday to read all of my blather about that.

Today, we’ll just look at some of the rest of the images that I’m submitting.

You’ve seen the Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata)  here before. I’ve even managed to get shots showing the commensal shrimp that lives in the same burrow. I spent about fifteen minutes sneaking up on this scene to get the fish along with two  of the  shrimps Alpheus ochrostriatus:

Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata) with shrimps Alpheus ochrostriatusThe timing here is very tricky. I could see that there were two shrimps living with the fish in the burrow, but it took a lot of patience to wait until both of them came out at once, pushing sand in front of them as if they were tiny bulldozers. The Spotted Shrimpgoby appeared previously here and here. If you get too close or make a sudden move, they all pop back in the hole in a flash.

Stalking relatively immobile critters is easier.  You’ve seen this nudibranch (Notodoris minor)  here before several times (put notodoris in the search box):

Nudibranch (Notodoris minor)In this shot, I think I’ve finally figured out how to get the subtle bumps and curves of the body of the beastie to show clearly. The thing is so bright and so monochromatic that you can’t really see this much detail with the naked eye. It’s an interesting example of how a photographic image can show you details that you can’t see with your eyes. Underwater, this critter looks pretty much like a blob of bright yellow with black stripes. It’s very hard to make out any detail.

I shot this image of the Spotted Porcelain Crab (Neopetrolisthes maculata)  a couple of years ago with my previous UW camera, an Olympus C8080:

Spotted Porcelain Crab (Neopetrolisthes maculata)Though there a lot of variables that I can’t account for, it’s still interesting to compare the Olympus shot with this one of the same species shot last week with my current outfit, a Canon G10:

Spotted Porcelain Crab (Neopetrolisthes maculata)As I said, there are too many variables to make a direct comparison, but it certainly looks as if I’ve lost nothing in the change.

This shot of a Spotted Garden Eel (Heteroconger hassi)  is one that I must admit makes me feel almost like a pro:

Spotted Garden Eel (Heteroconger hassi)

It’s not so much that it’s technically perfect – it isn’t. However, if you understand the behaviour of these eels, you will appreciate how difficult it is to get a good, clear close-up. The garden eel is usually found in mobs sticking up out of the sand. That’s all well and good – and quite pretty. However, when you approach them, they all pull back down into their holes; it’s their best defense. To get this close to one requires Job-like patience and a full tank of air. I cheated a little by easing a bit of telephoto into my lens, something which is normally useless underwater, since there is always too much stuff floating around.  I also had to do an enlargement trick (the multiple 110% enlargement method, in case you’re a Photoshop fan) to get the image big enough to crop out the middle and still have good detail. I’d guess that the front of my camera was about a half-metre from the eel.

Look, he’s winking at me.

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To Flash or Not To Flash – That Is the Question

Posted in Photography Tricks, Under the Sea on October 19th, 2009 by MadDog
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Yes, you have guessed it. I am going to bore you once again with the topic, “Whether to Flash or Not?” This is a matter of little import to those who do not regularly submerge their precious cameras in high-pressure saltwater, something which surely violates fundamental laws of nature and sanity.

The vast majority of people snapping away today depend on their cameras to decide whether to flash or not. I am against this notion, since it produces countless nasty-looking photos Alas, I am a voice crying in the wilderness. My word on the matter is simple:  Learn how to make the flash on your camera submit to your will and then learn when you need it and when you’d get a getter image without it. Many people have thanked me for this entirely unsolicited advice. Your mileage may vary.

So, what’s the big deal underwater? Who cares?

Well, you do care, if you are interested in seeing what a given critter actually looks like underwater. If you just want a pretty picture with bright colours, then you turn on your flash and you will have far less work to do on your computer to get a usable, if misleading image. I usually want my images to display to you what I saw. Here is (yet another) example, a Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia):

Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)

I think that it is quite pretty as it is. Moreover, it is exactly as it appeared to  me when I saw it at about 25 metres at Barracuda Point,  which is lousy with the things.

From the same position, I took this image with the flash turned on:

Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)

Well, that too is a pretty image, but it’s not what I saw. One has to remember that, the deeper you go, the less of the spectrum is left. Only blue and a little greenish light penetrate more than a few metres. So, everything looks blue. Your eyes magically adjust to most of this and restore some balance. However, when you add the sunlight colours of the flash, which is designed to mimic sunlight (its colour temperature), then you completely upset the colours which are displayed in the resulting image. In effect, you have shown the object as it would appear at the surface.

Here’s another one:

Palm Coral (Clavularia sp.) - Available Light -

That’s a Palm Coral (some species of Clavularia)  which has appeared here before. It was shot in with the natural lighting. Check the delicate green shades in the centres, especially around the edges of the clump, where the exposure is a little less. This is a very pretty coral with delicate nuances of colour.

In this flash shot that I got last Saturday for comparison, the nuances are overpowered by the sunlight-white light of the flash:

Palm Coral (Clavularia sp.)

All of the pretty greens are lost.

Here is one more example. This one is a little harder to justify. This is our old friend and regular on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi,  the Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata):

Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata) - Available Light

For comparison, I made one exposure with natural light and one with flash. By now, I’m sure that you can see the difference. The shot above is flash-less.

This one is with the flash turned on. Again, it is not an unpleasing effect. In this case, it does score some points. Because it intensifies the colours that are the distinctive markings of the fish (primarily the orange spots and the dark pectoral fins, not to mention the clown-like eyes), it helps one to remember the primary identification features:

Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata) - Flash

If you memorise the image above, you’ll have no trouble identifying the species when you are cruising over the sandy bottom.

You just have to remember that the first example image, without the flash, is how it is actually going to appear.

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Obie Goby

Posted in Under the Sea on October 8th, 2009 by MadDog
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Today was a Tsunami Day in Madang. It started out with a rather unremarkable sunrise. I staggered out to the water’s edge dragging my tripod behind me like a broken crutch and sat down to wait. This was as good as it got:

A Sunrise Panorama with glassy water (15 second exposure)

That shot was stitched together from three frames of fifteen-second exposures. The water is nicely flattened out and glassy. Too bad the sunrise itself was so flaccid. Otherwise, it might have been perfect. Story of our lives, eh?

We heard the tsunami warning on CNN. However, as usual, CNN was not aware of the existence of Papua New Guinea. Sometimes I imagine imaginary conversations in the CNN studio:

ANCHOR:  What’s this blobby looking thing here on top of . . . what is that, Austria?

CAMERAMAN:  Uh, no. That’s AustrALIA, not AustrIA.

ANCHOR:  Yeah, yeah, but what’s the blobby thing?


ANCHOR:  Let’s get rid of it.

Do you suppose that we would all disappear?

Anyway, when I got to work I had an email from Kyle Harris, our official science dude and tsunami watcher. He said that it was going to arrive at 11:25 or thereabouts. I looked at the clock and calculated just how much time I could waste writing in my journal before I needed to get into the truck and go over to Coronation Drive with my camera to see if I could get a cool shot of a giant wave curling over the top of my head. I got all excited just thinking about it.

At about 10:30 we got news that the warning had been cancelled. The tsunami was a little weak in the knees and got all tired out before it could get to us. This, of course, did not in any way affect the unrolling of a normal Tsunami Day in Madang. I heard that government offices and business were all closing. I suppose that there was a big traffic jam on Modolin Road as everybody at once decided to head for Nob Nob Mountain. I say, “I heard – I suppose” ,because I never left the office. I was still thinking about the incredible shots that I missed. Tsunami Days are getting to be like spur-of-the-moment holidays in Madang.

Hey, I’m not complaining. I’d rather see folks get a hundred days off for false alarms than see one poor schmuck get washed off the beach while pointing his camera straight up at the water. Especially if that schmuck is me!

So. How about some fish?

This is a Five-Bar Shrimpgoby, some species of Amblyeleotris,  I think. My reference book is a little vague on this one:

Five-Bar Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris sp.)

Here’s another individual under different lighting conditions on the same dive:Five-Bar Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris sp.)

These little guys have about 2,000 relatives that are also classed as Gobies. The family includes some of the smallest vertebrates on the planet – tiny adult fishes no bigger than the diameter of a pencil.

Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata)

The one above is a Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata).  They are not called Shrimpgobies because they are small, though small they are. They are usually partnered up with a small shrimp which lives in the same hole and keeps the house tidy by pushing all of the loose gravel out. The shrimp feeds on tidbits rejected by the goby and the Goby’s poo. Yes, poo. Little goes to waste in the ocean.

Now that I think of it, I have a shot from about five years ago of a Spotted Shrimpgoby with its little buddy (Alpheus ochrostriatus): 

Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata) and commensal shrimp Alpheus ochrostriatus

This is a kind of Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata)  that you’ve seen here before. When I see a nice one, I can’t pass it up. It looks like some kind of joke to me:

Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata)

This character is a Pennant Bannerfish (Heniochus chrysostomus):

Pennant Bannerfish (Heniochus chrysostomus)It’s another of those pesky critters that stay just beyond the effective range of your camera. Pfffft! Psychic fish; who needs them? This is the best shot that I’ve managed yet of one of these snooty little creeps with the redundant name. Hey, a pennant is a banner, right? Okay, but it’s like  a banner.

Never mind.

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