Catching Up With the Fish

Posted in Under the Sea on January 20th, 2010 by MadDog
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I’ll begin the day’s foolishness with a puzzle fish. By browsing my big fish book and the web, I can usually identify nearly everything that I photograph. Sometimes it comes down to whether I have the time to search diligently. I am now overcome by hopeless despair, because I cannot identify this fish:I know that it is a Shrimpgoby, but I haven’t been able to find an exact match. There are a few wanna-be candidates, but with each there is some feature that does not match. I’m very happy with the image, as it is the first time that I have spotted this species. However, I’m frustrated that I can’t identify it.

You’ve seen the Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)  here many times. I often present it as a “find the fish” puzzle. It is superbly camouflaged:I captured the image of this one because of its stubbornness in the face of danger. They are usually quick to scoot away if you approach too closely. This one, however, was determined to occupy its favourite perch, even though I was fooling around with the anchor chain at the end of the dive and nearly dropped it right on its tail.

The Sandperches and Lizardfishes share many commonalities. You can easily see how a beginner might confuse this Latticed Sandperch [female] (Parapercis clathrata) with a Lizardfish:If you want to see a male of this species, you can find one here.  It looks pretty much like the female, except that it has a black spot on it’s head and a big orange lower lip making him look a bit like Rachel Uchitel.

Here’s an image with which I am very happy, It nearly (I said nearly ) makes up for the wretchedness demonstrated by my inability to find that cursed Shrimpgoby. This is a beautiful Humphead Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus):Wrasses, in general, go through dramatic changes of appearance as they progress through life. There is usually a Juvenile Phase (JP), an Initial Phase (IP – sometimes called the Intermediate Phase) and a Terminal Phase (TP). This individual is in the Initial Phase. That means that it is reproductively mature, but has not yet assumed the body form of a fully mature adult. For instance, its hump head will become much more pronounced as it ages.

The Humphead Wrasse is sometimes called the Māori wrasse, Napoleon wrasse or Napoleonfish. Japanese divers invariably call it the Naporean Fis.  I should also mention that this is a huge  fish, compared to the specimens which you usually see here. I guess that this individual is about 1.5 metres long and weighs a couple of hundred kilos. In some areas they have become locally extinct, because they have the unfortunate attribute of being extremely  tasty.

Since I have some nudibranch lovers out there I’ll throw in this (Fryeria menindie):I fear my ID here may be a little shaky. If anybody cares to venture another guess, I’ll surrender without a struggle.

Finally, let’s retreat to a far corner of the saloon for a little giggle. Deep in the bowels of The Coral Queen,  we found the sink where the beleaguered sailors could refresh themselves.The light was so poor here that I had to resort to monochrome to get a usable image.

Now you have it. Everything and  the bathroom sink.

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Back to the Coral Queen

Posted in Under the Sea on January 16th, 2010 by MadDog
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Though diving is all about relaxation and discovery to me, it’s nice to enjoy the occasional adrenaline shot. Yesterday, Anita, Wouter, Jos and I decided to go for a little more excitement. To my knowledge, The Coral Queen,  a large freighter resting on the bottom on the inside of the barrier reef near Rasch Passage  has not been dived for possibly a decade.* It was once a very popular dive, especially at night, when it was occupied by many thousands of flashlight fish. As it became more popular, the flashlight fish were frightened off to another hiding place and The Coral Queen  gradually faded back into dim memory.

The truth is, unless you are a wreck fanatic, the site doesn’t have much to offer. There is little growth and few fish because the hulk lies in a place behind the reef that has little exposure to nourishing currents.

I had the wreck located by sonar on my GPS readout on Faded Glory,  so we opted to give it a try. Having bought a long rope, we attached some dive weights to it and threw it over the bow as we passed over the top of the wreck.

On our first dive down, we discovered that I’d missed it by enough that a thorough search pattern, lasting about a half-hour, failed to show us the wreck. I did get one interesting shot of a rather rare Beaded Anemone (Heteractis aurora)  during an otherwise miserable dive:When we returned to Faded Glory  I told Wouter to have a go at locating the wreck again while I prepared to drop the shot line a second time. When Wouter saw the image of the wreck pass under us, he told me to heave the shot line over. As the barrel that it was wrapped around stopped spinning when the weights hit the bottom, I geared up for a quick trip down to see if we had the wreck. Voila! The weights were about two metres from the hull of The Coral Queen.

I came back up and we cruised around for a while to give us a little more surface time. We then descended again into the murky water. Here is a photo of Wouter tying off the shot line:Anita watches in the background. Wouter is a very experienced diver and is a bit of a wild man. By that I mean that he dives wrecks regularly in the North Sea, something which I find amazing that anybody would want to do. Deep, cold, murky dives in raging currents to see rusting hulks is not my cup of tea. However, it has been nice to have an experienced technical diver along. Anita has nearly two hundred dives, so she is no bother at all – she simply does her thing.

Here are the weights and the knife set aside so that we can bring them up when we finish the dive:There being little light and nothing much to photograph, Anita and Wouter put on a little demonstration of their customary “Titanic” maneuver, which they swear that thet do every time that they dive a wreck:Belgians are a strange lot.

Wouter did manage to find this lonely cleaner shrimp:I’m not sure what it was there to clean, as there were few fish about.

Here is a ventilation funnel. Whoopee!

Because of the low light level, I had to shoot at ISO 800, something which the Canon G10 does not like. The images are very noisy. Good photography was not the goal of this dive.

After ascending back to Faded Glory,  Wouter went down again to attach a float to the end of the line leading down to the wreck. Here you can see his bubbles coming up and the yellow float:The marker will float about two metres under the surface and allow us to easily find and tie up to the wreck without playing the guessing game that we played yesterday.

It’s nice to be able to dive The Coral Queen  again. I’m looking forward to doing it at night to see if the flashlight fish have returned. The only problem is that you have to descend the line to the wreck after dark with no lights  whatsoever, not even a glow stick. I’ve done it several times and I can testifythat is a thoroughly spooky experience.

* Of course, I don’t know what everybody else is doing. If you have done The Coral Queen in the last ten years, please leave a comment. I’d like to know the recent history of diving the wreck.

UPDATE: I got this historical information from Jim Birrell: The Coral Queen  was owned by Laurie Crowley at Lae. He originally owned Crowley Airlways at the old Town airport. His hangars were located at the rhs looking towards the sea. He also owned various helicopters and small light aircraft. He used the Coral Queen  for backup support. He still lives in NSW somewhere. Growing up in Lae with his kids we sometimes went for rides on the small coastal ship Coral Queen.  It was later sold and ran up and down the coast between Lae and the sepik.

Thanks for that, Jim. We really appreciate the comments which we recieve from our readers. I’ve only been here since 1981, so my historical knowledge is woefully lacking.

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