A Good Spotter Makes All the Difference

Posted in Under the Sea on February 9th, 2010 by MadDog
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Since my good dive buddy Richard Jones got bent a while back he has not been able to dive, until recently. He finally got an insurance company to cover him down to 18 metres. So, when we go diving, we stay shallow and enjoy the best that the reefs have to offer. This is good news all around. Rich is back in the water, we are more or less confined to the best part of the reef for photography and Rich has eyes like an eagle.

Rich and I have had some great diving adventures together and I’m so glad to have him back on Faded Glory.  He also has just purchased a Canon G11 and housing, so I’m expecting that a competition will soon begin. He is a nudibranch freak. Get ready for a steady diet of rare nudis. Yum, yum.

Here’s a shot of Rich on our first cooperative, “I spot, you shoot.” dive:

Notice him giving me the “come hither” signal.

The first thing that we saw when we got off of the boat in pretty miserable conditions, with dirty fresh water from the Gol Gol River  over us was this lumbering Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas):Pretty is not a word that I would use to describe these alien critters.

I think that this must be some kind of algae, although the colour looks highly improbable:It really is as purple as it looks. It waves around in the current like silky hair. I thought that there was a slim possibility that it was a clutch of nudibranch eggs, but nothing that I can find matches it. After Googling for a few minutes, I gave up. Anybody have a better idea? I also tried “purple marine algae”, but no luck.

We see giant Barrel Sponges all the time. However, we seldom see small ones. It’s the old, “Where are the baby pigeons?” question. Here is a shot of a very young Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria):It is only about the size of your fist. The big ones can be the size and weight of a Volkswagen. There is a Squirrelfish or Soldierfish of some kind peeking at me from below the ledge. I can’t see enough of the body to identify it.

This poor crab was somebody’s dinner. All that’s left of him is one claw:It’s amazing that we see so little evidence of the nightly carnage on the reef.

I snapped this quick shot as a school of Narrow-Stripe Fusiliers (Pterocaesio tessellata)  with one Blue and Yellow Fusilier (Caesio teres)  flashed past me. It’s a credit to the G11, not to me, that the image came out looking as good as it does:Not a wall hanger, but you can identify the fish.

Finally, here is a nasty-tempered Moray Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus):This grumpy customer kept sticking his toothy face right out at me. If he looked as if he were going to bite, I’d just bump his nose with my camera, not hard, just enough to make his teensy-weensy brain reboot. He’d pull back in his hole and sulk for a few seconds and then peek out again. No harm – no foul.

I know that I’m going to get bit some day. Ah, well, a few more scars. It just adds to the legend (in my head).

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Blurry Fish and Barrel Sponges

Posted in Under the Sea on February 6th, 2010 by MadDog
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Sometime I like amuse myself by going back through my accumulation of thousands of underwater images to find the ones which I first rejected as real.  Usually this rejection has to do with some technical fault such as bad focus (usually an image-killer), impossibly filthy water (sometimes fixable by laboriously removing the spots) or motion blur. Of the faults, motion blur is the easiest to turn into art. It sometimes generates a very interesting image. Here is a Many-Spotted Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides)  which I tried to capture with a shap shot at Magic Passage:

The attempt, as you can see, failed miserably. Both the fish and the background are blurred. Nevertheless, a tiny, nagging tickle in the back of my skull kept mumbling, “Play with it, idiot.” I always pay attention to these messages from my id. As you can see, with a little work, the wasted pixels redeem themselves. A mistake becomes art. I don’t know if I’d want to hang it on the wall, but it provided me with a few minutes of not  thinking about computer networks. That’s a blessing.

Here is another one that I saved from the bit dumpster. The Silver Sweetlips (Diagramma pictum),  one of my favourites, hangs out in mobs at Magic Passage. You can find many more images of them here on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi by putting “pictum” in the search box. Is is a very beautiful fish:You can see in the shot above that the background is relatively unblurred (relatively, as I say) but the fish was moving quite smartly. This transforms the beautiful yellow spots of the sub-adult into concentric yellow arcs which give the image the impression of some kind of weird, mustardy fingerprint. Fingerprint? Okay, let me reboot . . . nope, still reminds me of a fingerprint. What can I say?

At any rate, a strange piece of chintzy art is better than wasted pixels. I might actually hang this one. No, wait. I’m far too lazy.

Here’s a shot of the Silver Sweetlips sub-adults hanging in the current. These are very chilled-out fish:

They gang up like sulky teenagers on the corner by the liquor store, waiting for some sucker to buy them a bottle. I’m sure that if there were an equivalent of Mary Jane for fish, this mob would be toking up.

I did mention something about Barrel Sponges.

Here are two Barrel Sponges (Xestospongia testudinaria)  at Magic Passage, right in the area of the highest currents:
When Barrel Sponges get really big, they are very heavy and present a huge surface area upon which a strong current can push. It’s not surprising that they occasionally get knocked over. Here you can see one that is hanging on and one that has been toppled. Not to worry, the severely tilded sponge can continue to grow. When knocked down like this, the sponge continues to try to grow up towards the light, so some of the ones which have been over on their side for a long time have very peculiar shapes.

I’ll wrap up with this anemone with one little anemonefish guarding it:
I have one hour left to load the boat and get to the pick-up point for our regular Saturday dive. I’m outta here.

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Wrapping Up a Week of Diving

Posted in Under the Sea on January 17th, 2010 by MadDog
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We ended up a week of diving, bush trips and industrial-strength socializing with Anita, Wouter and Anita’s father, Jos, today. It’s been a pleasure having them with us. Yesterday I realized that I had no photos of Jos. So, I took this shot of him steering Faded Glory:

Jos turned out to be very handy with a boat. On our last day, he handled the boat while the rest of us did a drift dive at Magic Passage. Communications were a little light, as we do not speak each others’ languages, but he is a very pleasant fellow. I wish that we could have had some heart-to-heart conversations.

Here is a shot of Anita and Swami Monty in the water at Magic Passage with Faded Glory,  Jos at the wheel, coming up in the distance:Anita, Jos and Wouter are leaving tomorrow morning. Wouter is an avid diver and runs with a crowd of dedicated techno-human-dolphins in the North Sea. I wouldn’t be surprised if we begin to get applications for diving here in Madang. It’s an entirely different experience from their normal dives. I think that Wouter found it a pleasant break from the adrenaline-drenched sport as it is enjoyed off the coast of Belgium.

Among the critters that we saw on our last two dives at Magic Passage  and Rasch Passage  was this Starfish (Nardoa rosea)  practicing Extreme Yoga:I am able to contort my body like this, having practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen. Okay, okay, I’m not as nimble and Gumby-like as I once was. However, I’ve not yet reached the point, at sixty-six, at which I need to ask myself, “Can I still do that?” This is a great blessing for me, as the physical activities (yeah, all  of them) are important keys to my well-being. I owe much of this to my Dad, an accomplished athlete, acrobat and dancer who taught me the principles of physical fitness as a life-goal and the concept of the body-aware spirit.

We may as well have a look at another starfish. This one, I think, is a Fromia nodosa  with its little toes curled up very cutely: You can’t swing a dead cat here without smashing a starfish. We have many different species and I have neglected them severely. I’m certain that their tiny little feelings are hurt. I’ll fix that in the future.

I got a bit of a “wow” experience from this huge mob of Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus):We would normally see a dozen or two in a plate coral. This was a huge plate and was home to a couple of hundreds of these lovely little purple-lipped fish. I love to play “scare the fish” with the Dascyllus.  If you slowly stretch your arm out over the plate with your hand closed in a fist and then quickly open your hand the entire gaggle will dive simultaneously into the coral and disappear. It’s like magic. Now they’re here – now they’re not. If you look closely, you can see them trembling in their little nooks and crannies where they hide from predators.

Barrel Sponges fascinate me. Some of them are huge. This Xestospongia testudinaria  is about two metres from bottom to top. Some are much larger:

You can see a few Purple Anthea (Psudanthias tuka)  swimming in front of the sponge. The “purple” in the common name is a relative term. As with many fish, the colour that you see underwater is radically dependent on the depth, the colour of the sky and the condition and tint of the water. Sometimes P. tuka  appears purple and sometimes blue. The yellow dorsal fin edging and caudal fin are constant. The fish appear a bit motion blurred, because I was forced to a slow shutter speed by the low light level.

I am exceedingly happy, nay, overjoyed by this image:As you may gather, I’m easily aroused from my usual “so what” attitude. When I saw this fish, I became terribly excited. That will give you an idea of what a fish geek that I am. The reason for my shaking hands and fumbling fingers is that I have never seen this fish before; it was my first sighting. It is a species of Shrimpgoby (Ctenogobiops tangaroi).  There are several fortuitous aspects of this shot, aside from the novelty factor. First, there is the brevity of the sighting. I barely had time to raise my camera, hold my breath for a few seconds and fire off a shot before it disappeared down its hidey-hole.

Another lucky aspect of this image is that I caught the fish’s partner, a commensal shrimp (Alpheus ochrostriatus)  bulldozing a load of sand out of the shared shelter.

I’m not looking a gift fish in the mouth.

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Tomato Soup and Other Esoterica

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on December 18th, 2009 by MadDog
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So, if you come to visit us in Madang for Christmas, what can you expect? Well, first you have to land your Fokker F-100 at the airport (hopefully) in Madang. Just because production ended for the F-100 in 1997 doesn’t mean that it’s not a good aeroplane. It’s just a little long in the tooth. I was recently allowed to land an F-100 at Madang. Here is a photo that I took through the windscreen as I guided us in on the final approach (never liked the sound of that, but that’s what they call it):Landing at Madang courtesy of Google EarthOkay, okay, I lie. I wasn’t flying the plane. In fact, there was no plane. It’s an image from Google Earth. Anyway, if you did land in Madang, this is exactly what it would look like. The big blob of land with the lake in the middle is Kranket Island.  At the top, to the left of the runway is an orange patch. This is the wood chipping mill. Our house is just to the right of it.

Sticking with aeroplanes for a bit, here is a shot of 50 calibre machine gun cartridges laying, after sixty-six years, in the salty water of Tab Anchorage  near Wongat Island  in The Green Dragon,  an American B-25 bomber shot down in 1943:Bomber bulletsWhen I first started diving The Green Dragon  many years ago, there were many more cartridges in the ammo boxes. Sadly some divers can’t resist taking a souvenir. Every time somebody takes “just one” it hastens the day when there will be none left to see.

Now I’ll show you (don’t ask me why) a Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria):Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria)Just because I can, that’s why. I find that “because I can” is often sufficient reason for doing something. Much of my life is delivered up to “just because I can” moments. Several of them have nearly killed me. Needless to say my aim is to not  die in bed with my boots off. My bucket list is getting shorter. I’ll cram as much of it in as I possibly can, I assure you. I’m a lemon squeezer and I like walking close to the edge.

Now this is a sweet shot. I could give you a handful of technical reasons why it is pleasing. It’s a geek thing, never mind:Coral (Diploastrea heliopora)It is what it is. And, it is Coral (Diploastrea heliopora).  But that, of course, is not what makes it interesting. My students out there:  State at least three compositional features that make it an “interesting” image. Turn you papers in before the bell.

A few days ago I briefly introduced you to a Tomato Anemonefish [female] (Amphiprion frenatus):Tomato Anemonefish [female] (Amphiprion frenatus)Let’s get up-close and personal. This little tomato is one of my favourites. Only the females are so pretty. They are very frisky. The slight shutter lag on the Canon G10 (maybe a third of a second) makes it very frustrating to shoot little scooters like this baby. You have to try to figure out where the fish is going to be a fraction of a second later and hope that you catch what you want. I took about twenty shots of this fish and got five that are reasonably good. Here are the rest of them in a little gallery:

Unbeknownst to you, I went to the bush yesterday. If I made it back, I’ll see you tomorrow. It’s DIVE DAY!! I’m going to fetch some more Christmas Tree Worms for you.

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Barracuda Point – Dirty Water – Disappointing Results

Posted in Under the Sea on November 23rd, 2009 by MadDog
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We arrived at Barracuda Point  near Pig Island  on Saturday morning in bright sunshine. The water was very turbid with a lot of particulates drifting around. Miserable shooting conditions! I did manage to salvage a few shots from the lot. Not much to look at, I’m afraid.

This Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria)  looks like the entrance to hell:Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria) All it needs is some red-hot lava boiling down there in the bottom.

Hungry? Have some Pizza Anemone (Amplexidiscus fenestrafer):

Pizza Anemone (Amplexidiscus fenestrafer)As you may notice, I’m a little terse today. We’re still rolling out a new network at the office and, computers being what they are, it’s two steps forward and one back.

As I mentioned, the shooting conditions were awful. Here’s a mediocre image of a few listless Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus)  taken with flash:Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus) If the fish is in the right (or rather wrong)  position, the power of the flash blocks the side of the fish to full white, losing all detail. You get the same result if you take a picture into a mirror with the flash on.

Here’s another example of the much despised flash effect. Have a look at this imag of a Pixy Hawkfish [red variation] (Cirrhititichthys oxycephalus):Pixy Hawkfish [red variation] (Cirrhititichthys oxycephalus)The fish does not look anywhere near that red in natural light.

Here’s an absolutely terrible shot of an Eclipse Butterflyfish (Chaetodon bennetti):Eclipse Butterflyfish (Chaetodon bennetti)I’d have deleted it if it were not the only image that I have of this species. Oh, well. It gives me something to strive for.

Again I’m foiled, this time by a chunk of coral in the way. The Clown Triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum)  likes to stay just far enough away from you to tease:Clown Triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum)Your brain is saying, “Swim a little faster and you’ll have him!” Your body is saying, “Whoah! Heart attack time!”

Of course, by the time we came up a storm was passing over, everybody was shivering, and the wind was howling like a banshee. We went home for Saturday afternoon naps instead of the usual fun and games. Every day isn’t perfect.

Even in Paradise.

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Barracuda Point Peculiarities

Posted in Under the Sea on September 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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We had a very nice dive on Barracuda Point on Saturday. It’s near Pig Island  only a few Minutes from Madang. This is the sight at the east end of the point at only about ten metres:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)

That is a nearly solid wall of Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)  mixed in with a few Big-eye Trevally and one lonely Red Emperor.  You can see some more barracuda images here and here.

Down deep at about forty metres I got this shot of a strange red coral that I’ve seen before, but can’t identify. I’m assuming that it’s a coral. It is extremely red – about the only red thing that you can see at that depth, since most red light has been scattered by the sea water – and hard as glass:

Strange red coral?

The extreme hardness of the thing is surprising, because it looks as if it is very soft, like flower petals. The first time I touched one (not supposed to do that anyway) I got a little green blood leaking out of my finger – blood looks green underwater if you are deep enough.

I found this favourite of our starfish (Choriaster granulatus)  much deeper than it would normally be. I don’t know what it was doing way down there. They are usually not found below about 25 metres:

Starfish (Choriaster granulatus)

Pascal Michon, our resident Frenchman, is forever finding stuff on the bottom. He once found a Hewlett-Packard calculator on the reef. This time it was an old mask that had been there for quite a while:

Pascal Michon

Barracuda Point is surrounded by beautiful Sea Fan clusters. This one a a species of Melithaea:

Sea Fan (Melithaea sp.)

This is a Barrel Sponge growing under a ledge. I’ve seen this several times before. They are always very pale instead of rich brown, the normal colour. At first I thought that it was just the lack of light that causes the paleness, but now I think that this may be a species that is not (according to my references) supposed to be in PNG waters. It should be around the Philippine Islands.  I think that it is Xestospongia testudinaria,  as if anybody cares:

Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria)

At the bottom of the image, you can see a small Cleaner Wrasse swimming past. It’s a little blurred because of the long exposure time.

Back up in the shallows again there was a mob of Big-eye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus)  there to greet us:

Big-eye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus)

You can see more Big-eyes here and here.

I’ll have a few more shots of the dive in a day or two. I’m still getting caught up from our drive up to the highlands. My hands are nearly back to normal now. After ten hours of gripping a wildly vibrating steering wheel, it takes me a couple of days to get over the numbness.

My brain feels a little numb too. Must have been the altitude.

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