Fishy Shorts

Posted in At Sea on March 8th, 2012 by MadDog
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Having ignored the month of February here at MPBM, I’m considering all of the reasons why I no longer post regularly. Certainly my life could hardly be more different from the days when I was driven to post daily. Probably the main reason for my relative silence is that I simply do not have the two or three hours a day of leisure time it takes for me to prepare a post which satisfies me. Whatever the reasons, I don’t see the situation changing soon. Possibly someday, when I’m “retired”, I might find the time to revive a regular schedule.

Last week I spent some time organizing hundreds of video clips scattered here and yonder on a stack of hard disk drives. I was looking for clips which showed Eunie. I’m shocked by how little I have of her on video. Why didn’t I shoot more? Anyway, I did fool around for a couple of hours working up some short practice movies of fish. I’m preparing music, stills and video clips for an AV background for our upcoming wedding ceremony on April 1st. I need the practice.

This one, Reef Cruising, is a typical scene on the reefs in the Coral Triangle:

While it’s not National Geographic quality, it shows what can be done with clips from a simple camera (my Canon G11) and inexpensive movie making software. I used Cyberlink Power Director 10. It’s easy to use, much easier than the much more powerful but pricey Adobe Premier.

Here is a little clip of one of my favorite fish, the Reticulated Dascyllus (Dacsyllus reticulatus):

These tiny beauties hover over plate corals and dive quickly between the branches when frightened.

Here is a mob of pretty little Anthea dancing around a coral head:

If the bubbling noise bugs you, skip on to the last clip or turn the sound down. I was surprised by the very slow rate of my breathing. I hadn’t realized I was so calm and relaxed.

One of the most interesting creatures in this watery world is also one of the smaller, (Spirobranchus giganteus), the Christmas Tree Worm:

As you can see, they retract instantly into their tubes when disturbed.

This clip features the handsome Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii), a very common critter in tropical waters around the globe.

My last effort is the most pleasing to me. This clip features a large school Vlaming’s Unicornfish (Naso vlamingii):

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize the a little music would improve the viewability so much. It does make a big difference.

You’ll note that the last clip is not on YouTube. I’ve not been happy with the changes in YouTube since Google snatched it up. Vimeo seems more friendly to video producers. I will be doing a lot of video in the future. I want a publishing service which reduces my work load and delivers a more professional look to my viewers.

But first I have to upgrade my skills so that I can produce something which looks professional. It is not as easy as I thought.

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Sorry, Just Fish

Posted in Under the Sea on November 1st, 2010 by MadDog
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Today I can’t think of anything to say about living in my skin that doesn’t feel to me like whining. The usual array of great heavy objects falling from a colossal height continue to rain down on my head. This week’s deluge began today. The details aren’t important to anyone but me, so I shan’t bore you. It suffices to say that it’s getting hard to stand up. So, instead of going all sissy on you, I’ll tell you a little story, two in fact.

Way back when, maybe a quarter of a century ago, we were in Lae to buy a car. It was a four-wheel-drive Daihatsu jeepy sort of thing. Anyway, we were in the auto showroom waiting for some paperwork. Suddenly, everyone went sort of stiff and jittery. There were a few nervous giggles, something which usually presages trouble. Everybody seemed to be looking in my direction. After checking my fly, I looked around cautiously. Standing behind me, staring at me with teary eyes was the tallest Papua Guinean woman I have ever seen. I’d guess that she was about fifty years old, but guessing age here is pretty useless. I was paralysed by curiosity and wonder.

A glance around revealed that everyone was looking from the corners of their eyes. Folks here often seem not to notice crazy people. As illustrated by the many people who walk on the very edge of the pavement a half-metre from whizzing vehicles with their backs towards the traffic, the general idea seems to be that if one cannot see the danger, it doesn’t really exist. In this case, there didn’t seem to be any danger, but the woolly forests on my arms rose up in anticipation. She took a hesitant step, seemed to make up her mind about something and walked toward me looking straight into my eyes. That got my attention, as it is almost unheard of. She stopped in front of me and asked, “Are you Jesus Christ?”

To this day, I can’t remember how or if I answered. In fact, I’m unclear as to what did happened next. It must have been anticlimactic.

Okay, another one.

Not too many years after that, I was sitting in our Suzuki jeepy thing in the parking lot of a now defunct food store. Eunie was inside buying some stuff. I was to lazy to go with her. I had the window down. In the side rear-view mirror I noticed a thirty-something guy walking up to the car. Caution always being wise, I pulled my arm in and readied myself for some action. I didn’t like the look of his stride. It was too determined.

Reaching the car, with no preamble he said, “Hello, I’m Elvis Presley.” Ever quick with a snappy comeback, I ventured, “I’ve got a lot of your records.” And that was it. He turned and walked away. You were probably expecting more. There isn’t any.

These two incidents somehow got wired up in my brain. I suppose that the connection is obvious. Whether there is any message there is open to interpretation. Let me tell you what I took away from them. You can decide if it sounds nusto and leave a comment explaining why or why not. It’s all up to you.

Some people have problems with genes or chemistry or injury or illness – that’s a given. Other people go off to lunar mindscapes for less obvious reasons. It’s not so much that they are crazy. It’s more that life has been crazy for them. One copes the best one can. One does what one must do. One deals with it. “Just get on with life.” “Take one day at a time.” This is what we are told. But, what if it all becomes too much? Some are stronger, tougher, more resilient, more anaesthetised against pain than others. Some will survive the onslaught. Others will perish.

I have infinite sympathy for those whose minds are broken, regardless of the cause. However, I am especially sad for those who have been beaten down by life. Perhaps it is because I’ve been there, I’m there again now.  I understand the feeling that one might fall over the edge with the next shove. It’s familiar territory. It’s terrifying.

So, maybe the two people about whom I have thought so many times over the years were not so unfortunate. They seemed blissfully unaware of their predicaments. Perhaps that’s the way to go – silently slipping into insanity without being aware of it.

And now . . . On with the fish.

We’ve dispensed with the Bad. Now we’ll have the Good and the Ugly. This critter should be familiar to you by now. It’s the Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans):

I think that it’s a reasonably good picture, if you like your fish in full context. We get a nice idea of what it looks like in its habitat. I frightened this one when I poked my camera at it to get it to move to a more photogenic location. I think that it believes that it is hiding now.

Here is a shot from directly above looking down:

No matter what I did, I couldn’t make this shot look nice. It lacks something, but I can’t honestly say what. It simply doesn’t sing. Maybe somebody can tell me why. I have photographer’s block.

Here’s a nice little shot of a couple of Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii):

It’s odd that I only now notice that there is also a Pink Anemonefish in the lower left corner. I did not see it at all as I was working on the image. How the mind works! Or doesn’t.

This is a flash-lit shot of some Anthea milling around. The brightly coloured tubular objects are Organ Pipe Coral:

Though the colours are pretty, they are completely artificial. The spectrum of the flash matches sunlight at the surface of the water. You would never see these colours with the naked eye.

This little fellow is a Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus):

They usually dive down into the forest of horns of coral for protection. This one was curious and stayed out to keep an eye on me.

I wonder if he is crazy?

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Fake Art For Sanity’s Sake

Posted in Photography Tricks on August 20th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today I needed a sanity check. Life has changed so dramatically in the last few weeks that it has left my head spinning. I’m a born nester. I guess it’s my feminine side trying to assert itself. I can handle just about anything if I can get back to my nest every night. Get out to raise a ruckus and create chaos every day and then fly back to the nest and watch it on the news – that’s my idea of the proper life for a man.

Alas, ruckus raising and chaos creation aren’t high on my priority list now and I don’t have any time for those rolly-coaster rides. However, I do have a treasure trove of images and stories saved up. A huge part of it has never been seen before. For today, I chose a few of my favourites from past posts and gave myself the luxury of an hour to pretend to be an artist. It’s one thing that stimulates me without having to leave my temporary desk on a big, round table in front of the couch.

This one is called Buddy.  It is one of several images which I had reproduced in large format for sale. I did manage to sell most of them, but I decided to keep the original of this one, since I like it so much. It’s a Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus):

I ran this one through the Photoshop grinder pretty thoroughly to get the nearly cartoon-like look. The fish is still the focal point, but the filter effects changed the Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)  into a fantasy foreground.

You first saw these dolphins in Happy Accidents. I see magic in that original image every time I look at it and it seems all the more special because it was a snap shot taken in a one-second window of opportunity. These are the ones which tickle me – the ones that were gifts:

I decided to try to turn it into a rough watercolour.

Both of the following shots first appeared in The Aquarium in My Front Yard. I’ve put the original references for some of these into links so that you can compare the originals, if you are that hard-up for amusement.

This grumpy little critter is a Freckled Hawkfish (Paracirrhites fosteri):

My goal here was A Grumpy Clown,  you know, like Krusty the Clown on The Simpsons.  I think that my have nearly achieved it.

This one from the same post, of a trio of Anthea, I’m titling, Are You Talkin’ to US?

They also seem a little grumpy, though not so tough.

Of the lot, this one I like best. It took the most time to get it right. A click to enlarge it will be more rewarding.:

I’m calling it Refuge.  Maybe that has to do with my mood. It is an evening view across the harbour from our house in Madang. I don’t know when I will see it again.

Eunie is better now that she began taking the powerful anti-inflammatory which she mistakenly stopped the day after the ERCP. I am going to have to monitor her medications – yet another something which I’ve never had to do before.

I’m learning a lot of new stuff. None of which I ever wanted to know. If you’re going to win at poker, you have to learn to play the cards.

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Underwater Pencil

Posted in Under the Sea on August 1st, 2010 by MadDog
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I’ll be less chatty today, because I spent most of the day up at Blueblood. We are also dealing with a health problem which Eunie has been suffering through for a couple of months and a definitive diagnosis is probably not going to be available with the medical technology available here in Madang. It is very likely that Eunie will be leaving Madang in the next few days to go to Cairns where more sophisticated equipment is available and we can figure out what is causing her illness. Any treatment required for her problem will be available also in Cairns, so we’re certain that it’s the right move to get her out of here as quickly as possible. We’ve decided that I’d be pretty much in the way while that process is in progress, so I’m staying in Madang until we know what’s what.

I need to distract myself and possibly you also. I’ll show you a few more images which we got during our dive at The Eel Garden on Saturday. Here are a trio of Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)  with Ush cruising past in the background:

There was a lot of particulate matter in the water, so I had to blur the distant background to get rid of it. It turned out to be a pleasing effect.

You might be surprised to find a pencil on the bottom at twenty metres, but if you hear the story, it will make sense. Divers sometimes use pencils to write on plastic slates. This one was accidentally dropped, I suppose. Why didn’t it float to the surface? It’s wood, eh? Well, after several submersions at depth, they soak up so much saltwater that they don’t float any more;

Here is a flock of Three-Spot Dascyllus (Dascyllus trimaculatus)  drifting around their somewhat crowded anemone host:

They appear to have only one spot at first glance. If you get close up you can see a paler spot. However, search as I may, I have never found the third spot. Obviously whoever named the fish was math-challenged.

This is just a nice little reef scene – not much to say about it:

This is my most favoured shot of the day. I snapped it just as I was coming up at the end of the line to reboard Faded Glory:

So, now you know what it looks like when you’re watching your diver friends clambering back on the boat. The big bubbles which you see in the foreground are mine.

I hope to have more information by tomorrow evening concerning our plans for the near future.

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Light and Shadow – Two Views of Beauty

Posted in Under the Sea on July 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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We had bright prospects on Saturday morning. The sun was shining in a partly cloudy sky and there seemed little chance of rain. However, when we got out into Tab Anchorage  it was clear that the sea was restless. The rolling waves promised an uncomfortable hour for any friends who were not safely under the surface of the water in the blissful calmness of Mother Ocean.

I never saw the ocean until I was twenty-five years old when Eunie and I took our infant son to Panama City, Florida while I was in Advanced Helicopter Training at Ft. Rucker Alabama. I was stunned. It was the first time I had seen a body of water wide enough that I could not see the other side. It had the aspect of infinity. Since then I have learned a curious fact. Practically anybody can get sea sick if conditions are bad enough. It takes a lot to get me sea sick, but I have been truly miserable for hours at a time during very rough passages. Therefore, I am very sensitive to the condition of my passengers. We found ourselves driven by the waves to our favourite calm cove at The Eel Garden near Pig Island  for the third week in a row.

There are a few places where we can dive even though the sea state might drive other boats back to the Madang Club for an early beer. Fortunately, The Eel Garden is a dive which never grows dull. Here Faded Glory’s  anchor and chain rests safely on the sandy bottom while the mottled lighting of the sand indicates the chaotic waves on the surface:

I decided that there were plenty of opportunities for high depth of field shots in these conditions. Here comes “Deep Focus” again.

Within moments of settling to the bottom I was presented with this little tableau. On the bottom is a Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata)  and hovering above is a Bicolor Angelfish (Centropyge bicolor):

Old-time PNG residents who enjoyed diving or snorkeling always called this “The Steamship’s Fish”, because its colours are those of the Steamships Trading Company which was one of the major suppliers of the bits and pieces of our daily lives.

Turning around the other direction, I found one of God’s Little Jokes, a bright, toy-like Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata):

Every single time I see one of these I feel a smile coming to my face. It’s something that simply can’t be stopped. In my head, I’m thinking simultaneously, “Why?” and “Why not?”

Still within the first minutes I came across this pair of Six-Spot Gobies (Valenciennea sexguttata).  This made me particularly happy, since this is only the second time I have photographed this species. The first image was less than I usually hope for. This time I got much better lighting conditions and two  of them:

Double the fun! Please don’t ask me why they are called Six-Spot Gobies when there are clearly seven spots. (We’re counting the blue spots, in case you’re wondering.)

Now we come to the images which really make me smile. Genevieve Tremblay just got some shiny new gear. She was diving with a borrowed set which had some serious deficiencies. There was nothing dangerous about it. It was simply not up to the standards which are comfortable for a new diver. Here she is teasing a Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)  and grinning at me:

How cute is that, eh? The lighting was very nice for this shot. I didn’t need to use flash and the depth was shallow enough that It was easy to get natural skin tones.

This shot taken at about twenty metres on the old catamaran shows an effect that I’m trying to learn. It’s Genevieve again with a Feather Star (Comanthina schlegeli)  in the foreground:

I could have Photoshopped out Genevieve’s hair standing on end, but decided not to. We sometimes look a little odd underwater. It adds to the charm of the image. I have a bunch more of these shots from Saturday which I will show soon.

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The Sunrise Canoe

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on April 20th, 2010 by MadDog
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The weather in the mornings is very mixed up now. Most mornings are still grey and lifeless. The change of seasons from wet to dry is going to be very welcome. This morning a big storm over the Huon Peninsula was battling the rising sun for control of the sky. It was fun to watch the fracas from a distance:On calm mornings the water of the harbour makes a beautiful reflecting pond.

I heard a little commotion to my left. Usually all that I hear in the morning is the sound of fish jumping. My neighbours were getting into their canoe to paddle over to town:I asked them if they would make a little detour so that I could get a shot of them back lit by the rising sun.

At the risk of boring you, I’ll insert a little photographic note here. If you look at the two images you can see that the colours have been massaged differently. One of the pleasures of modern-day digital photography is that, if you don’t like what your camera (or nature, for that matter) gave you, you can easily change it. If you don’t like red roses, make them yellow or even blue. For the first shot, I liked the overall warmth of the tones more or less as they came from the camera, with only a huge gob of saturation to punch them up. However, when I got to the canoe shot, it just didn’t sing to me. The artificial addition of the blue to the water gave me just what I was after – creating a vignette around the canoe.

Okay, now let’s get wet. I have a mix of the unusual and the common today.

Though this is a common enough critter, many people have never seen one. That is unless you are a regular visitor here, in which case you may be yawning now. It is a kind of Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata):

Aside from the ridiculous colours and peculiar shape, it does indeed squirt. If you get too close to it, it puffs water out and closes its two openings. Here you can see them all puckered up, locking out anything that might come inside for a nibble of its innards.

I’ve also shown Solitary Corals (Fungia fungites)  here many times. This one had a particularly outrageous purple edge:I devoted a few precious minutes to Googling, but I can’t find the cause of the purple discolouration. It is not species related, since it occurs randomly in individuals. Of two lying side-by-side, one may have purple and the other white or brown edges.

You’ve also seen the famous Sailor’s Eyeball (Valonia ventricosa)  here before:It is basically a huge single-cell green algae. It is sometimes refered to as a seaweed. When I Googled the taxonomic name I was amazed at the amount of scientific interest in this golf-ball sized cell. Here’s an example:

The degradation of microfibrils from Valonia ventricosa  by cellulase has been studied. As a result of enzymatic attack the elementary fibrils making up the microfibrils tended to separate and the ends of the microfibrils became oblique or pointed. The terminal planes made angles of 60 … 66°, 33°, or 20 … 25° with the microfibril axis. These planes are assumed to correspond to the 41 , 43 and 45 planes of the cellulose lattice and it is suggested that they are planes along which it is progressively more difficult for hydrolysis to proceed. On the basis of these considerations a suggestion has been proposed to explain the form of erosion cavities formed by soft-rot fungi described by previous workers in wood fibres and tracheids.

Please, if you understand that, would you explain it to me? I get the gist of it, but details make my head go funny.

Moving on to something more connectable to our familiar world we have three Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)  playing tag:This is one of the rare shots in which I was able to capture the amazing blue glow that is often seen in the white bars. It is a very weird thing to observe. I think that it is not true pigmentation, but rather some strange sort of refraction, similar to the colours of some butterfly wings and bird feathers.

On the other hand, they are simply very , very pretty.

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Warm Fish Soup

Posted in Under the Sea on April 6th, 2010 by MadDog
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Divers have an amusing expression to describe the scene when there are far too many fish to count. Indeed, you can’t even count the number of species. We call it fish soup.

I had some warm fish soup in the tepid water of The Eel Garden  near Pig Island  on Saturday. Most of the fish that you see here are some species of Anthea:There are many varieties of Anthea.  Most are very colourful. They gather in small schools around a fixed location.

I snapped this shot as I was passing over these two Soldierfish. The one on the left is a Scarlet Soldierfish (Myripistis pralinia)  and the one on the right is a Brick Soldierfish (Myripistis amaena):A you can tell, if you click to enlarge, they were both looking up at me as I passed overhead.

I nearly missed this Slender Grouper (Anyperodon leucogrammicus)  as it tried to sneak past me:One trick that I’ve learned is that fish will almost always flee to deeper water. Therefore one needs to have a head’s up stance to catch the ones which have spotted you and will soon be trying to take the shortest route to a deeper hiding place. This usually means that when they pass directly to your right or left, they will be a close as they are going to get to your camera.

This is a very young Bubble Coral (Plerogyra sinosa)  only about 4cm in diameter. At this stage they look more like a strange, puffy flower:To the right and below is a colony of very small Sea Squirts which look to me to be Eusynstyela latericius.

This sneaky little Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus)  thought that he was hidden behind a bit of coral about a metre away from me. I popped up and caught him with his mouth open:I’m an old stalker. I can usually get a shot if I don’t have to give chase. I’m not as fast on the long pursuit as I used to be. Ah, but crafty I am.

How foolish it is to attempt to hide from me. This is a fairly rare orange variation of Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii):I tried to get a shot in the clear, but finally gave up and accepted this one instead. I can pretend that I intended it that way.

PRESENTER: See how the timid anemonefish attempts to hide behind the tentacles of the anemone? It seldom exposes itself to danger by leaving the poisonous, protective arms of its host. This symbiotic relationship is reinforced by the protection that the anemonefish receives from the anemone. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Works for me.

Nudibranchs are a pushover. This Phyllidia varicosa  moves so slowly that the whole idea of evasion is silly:

I love to photgraph nudis. I can just float in the water with my camera about 5cm from the little devil and relax while I snap away.

The nidibranch is none the wiser.

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