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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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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Have Some Fish – Catching Up

Posted in Under the Sea on August 7th, 2009 by MadDog
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Since Friday morning, I’ve been working solid until my eyes are blurry on images for two magazine articles. They are both about the East Indies Triangle, the most heavily speciated marine environment on the planet. Madang is in the heart of it. You may have seen some of the images that I’ll be showing you for the next few days, but all of them have been reworked extensively for publishing, so they will all look different, even if you’ve seen them before.

Here’s the Banded Sea Krait, which has appeared a couple of times on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi:

Banded Sea Krait - head detail

This is an egg-laying snake, so it must come onto land to deposit its eggs. I once came across one that had been run over by a car. I took it home and removed the skin. It now hangs in my office. It is missing about 30cm of its original length. You can see that they become quite long as adults:

Banded Sea Krait skin

This is a Bulb Anemone that you have seen before. I reworked the colours to appear more as I saw them with my eyes:

Bulb Anemone

Since I never get tired of seeing bright blue starfish that look like kids’ toys made in Japan, here’s one on which to feast your eyes:

Blue Starfish

It looks silly, doesn’t it?

You’ve seen this shot of a Blue-Spotted Stingray before, but it has been extensively reworked for magazine publication:

Blue Spotted_stingray

It’s one of the best full-length shots of a stingray that I’ve yet managed.

Finally, here’s a spunky Clark’s Anemonefish getting ready to attack me. I was bitten several times by this little fellow. They seldom draw blood, but their tiny little teeth get your attention very quickly:

Curious Anemonefish

It’s time to do some work for pay. I hope to find a few minutes to do another post and post-date it, as I have done with this one, so that my calendar has no holes in it.

Yes, I know that that is called cheating. Sue me.

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Planning a New Tattoo – Danger and Beauty

Posted in Tattoos, Under the Sea on May 7th, 2009 by MadDog
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This will probably be my last tattoo. I’m 65 years old. My skin is reptilian from decades in the tropical sun. With eight tattoos already, I’m running out of prime space. However, I’ve been dreaming for years of a very special page that I’d like to add to my bodily journal. I want to proclaim in vivid colour my gratitude for the thousands of hours that I’ve enjoyed with hedonistic ecstasy  in the blessedly warm tropical waters savouring the beauty and excitement of a world that few are ever lucky enough to see. Danger and beauty are the intermingled themes. I have in mind three specific creatures to represent these paradoxically parallel pleasures.

This is (arguably) the most poisonous snake on the planet. It is the Banded Sea Krait (I’m not going to bother with the taxonomic names in this post. You can use the search box if you want to find them elsewhere on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi):Banded Sea Krait for new tattooStrangely enough, of all deadly snakes, this one is probably the least likely to bite you, unless you are very foolish indeed. I have hovered only a few metres away countless times while watching them feed. All you have to remember is to watch it from the side, not from directly above. When it has to breathe, you do not want to be in its way as it swims to the surface.

This is getting rather too close, but I wanted to capture the stunning colouration of its head:

Banded Sea Krait for new tattoo - head detail
The next creature holds the middle ground. It is simultaneously dangerous — though hardly deadly — and supremely beautiful. This is the  Spotfin Lionfish:

Spotfin Lionfish for new tattooIt has extremely poisonous spines along its back. One would have to be either ignorant or stupid to play with it.

Occupying the opposite end of the hazard spectrum is . . . yes, Nemo, the Clown Anemonefish:

Clown Anemonefish possibility #1 for new tattoo

I have not yet decided which of these poses I prefer:

Clown Anemonefish possibility #2 for new tattoo
The general plan is to have the Banded Sea Krait wrapping twice around my left forearm so that only its body, the repetitive scaly banding, appears when my arm is hanging at my side, provoking the question, “What is hidden?” If I choose to do so, I can reveal a scene of transcendent beauty by simply lifting my arm to reveal the Yin which balances the Yang. The deadly head of the Krait and its paddle-like tail will rest at peace with the Spotfin and Nemo in the panorama of peace and harmony on my inner forearm.

Now all I have to do is find a Hamiltonian tattoo artist good enough to punch the dream into my wrinkly old skin.

The search is on tomorrow.

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Arm’s Length Friends

Posted in Under the Sea on October 21st, 2008 by MadDog
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A couple of days ago I showed you a few of my fishy friends. Today, I’ll show you the ones that cannot always be trusted. You know the kind I mean. Imagine being Tony Soprano’s next-door neighbour.

Our first unsavoury pal is the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis). It is a camouflage expert. Consequently, it is very difficult to see. I’ve blurred the background in this photo to make the fish more visible. As do all the scorpionfish, it has poisonous spines in the dorsal fin. If you put your hand down on one of these fellows, you would be in a great deal of pain immediately:

Papuan Scorpionfish

Often the first thing that one will see of a scorpionfish is its eye. It is the only regular shape on the entire body and therefore stands out as if it were a traffic signal.

Here is another fish for which the sting is the thing. This is the Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans). Though the stinging apparatus is similar, you will have no trouble at all spotting this critter:

Common Lionfish

The scorpionfish and lionfish are interesting, but not very scary. Let’s move on to something more Soprano-like. This character seems peaceful enough until you start fooling around in his back yard. Meet the Giant Moray (Gymnothorax javanicus):

The Giant Moray

The menacing looking character above was in a hole near Pig Island. I spent about fifteen minutes photographing him. I never felt threatened, though maybe he did. If I would get too close, he would simply pull back into his hidey-hole. Most of the time the mouth was only moving open and shut a little as it pumped water through its gills. However, a couple of times it really showed me its teeth. Very pretty – must have a good dentist.

Getting back to sting from teeth, we have the Blue Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii). I trapped this individual in a little cave and snapped away. I say that I trapped him, but to be honest, he could have left any time he wished. I wasn’t about to try to stop him. The eyes remind me of a goat’s eyes:

Blue Spotted Stingray

 I’ve shown you the Blue Spotted Stingray before here, and here.

Let’s have a look at a fish that has a bad reputation. While populations of Barracuda elsewhere may be obnoxious, the species in this area of the world are pussycats. Here is the Blackfin Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie):

Blackfin Barracuda

The slim, barred fish are the barracuda. The stubby football shaped fish are Bigeye Trevally. They often school together.

I have, on many occasions, finned on my back under a mob of these and gently stroked a belly or two. They will take it for a couple of seconds and then twitch away from the touch. Sometimes they come back for more. It must feel like being petted by an alien.

Last, but by no means least we have the Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrine). Most people already know that it has one of the most powerful venoms on the planet. This is true. Most people also know that its mouth is too small to bite you. This is most definitely not true. Many people die every year from Sea Snake bites – mostly fishermen clearing them from their nets.

I have been very close to these snakes and never even had one seem to notice me. Here’s one at a comfortable distance:

Banded Sea Snake at a distance

And, here’s one at a somewhat less comfortable distance:

Banded Sea Snake up close and personal

The main thing to remember is that they are generally not aggressive, but simply go about their business. Part of their business, however, is breathing. That’s why you do not want to hover over one while you’re watching it. Stay to the side so that when the snake surfaces to breathe, you won’t both be frightened out of your collective wits.

And remember what your mama told you, “Don’t play with snakes and spiders.”

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