Dive Day – A Little Surprise!

Posted in Under the Sea on June 5th, 2010 by MadDog
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Saturday morning weather looked promising. It appears as if the dry season is arriving on time this year. This will be a great relief to the many people who depend on their gardens for their main food supply. I was feeling quite happy as I prepared Faded Glory  for departure.

I arrived at the Madang Resort Hotel wharf where we meet and rent air tanks for our little dive club from Sir Peter Barter’s dive shop, a generosity which allows us to go diving every week. Most of us could not afford to do that otherwise. As friends appeared, I noticed a strange look on some of the faces. They seemed to be looking over my shoulder as I was leaning over tending to some gear. When I turned around I did a double-take of movie quality. Grinning down at me was Roz Savage, who seemingly had not had enough of Mother Ocean. It was very pleasant to have her along and allow her to be simply “one of the mob”.

The lighting was all wrong for this cute shot of Geneviève Tremblay:

It looks as if she is about to be eaten by the big sea slug in the foreground. It was only about a half-metre long.

A week or so ago, Geneviève took this shot of me checking our anchor line. I don’t often get any decent pictures of myself. This miffs me a bit, because I never tire of looking at myself:Geneviève did a nice job of composing the shot, so all I had to do was Photoshop my love handles down to  less grotesque dimensions. One wants to look as good an one might. The emphasis is on might.  The amusement of exercise escapes me. I simply try to eat as little as possible.

I used up a fair bit of air chasing these Bigeye Trevally (Carnax sexfasciatus)  up and down over Planet Rock:

I was very lucky to catch the bubbles of a diver in the background.

Another treat was this Broadclub Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus)  which allowed me to snap several shots before it tired of the game and rocketed off with a puff of ink:

Any day when you get a cuttlefish shot is a good day.

I like this one of the little fish hiding right next to the gaping jaws of a Moray Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus):

Possibly they know that this is probably the safest place for them. If you stand behind a bully who ignores you, you are unlikely to be bothered by anybody else.

Though we were trying to allow Roz to enjoy not being the centre of attention for a few hours, I could not resist this shot as were were coming up the anchor line to Faded Glory  after our dive:

I can’t imagine a more perfect day.

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Planet Rock – When Is Close Enough Too Close?

Posted in Under the Sea on March 6th, 2010 by MadDog
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Feeling much better after a week of taking a gut wrenching (you know what I mean) antibiotic, I found that I could pop my ears on Saturday morning. So, I took a 12-hour Sudafed at about 09:00, reckoning that I would be flopping on my back in the water at about 11:00. Jo Noble and I motored out in Faded Glory  along with Richard Jones and Jenn Miller riding in their boat Sanguma.

We arrived to find a metre of Gol Gol River  water clouding our vision of the top of the reef, along with a medium current and a long, rolling swell – not good omens. Only Richard and I were diving, so we quickly sized up the conditions and decided to go for it. I still wasn’t feeling as strong as I might, but we decided before going in that we would come back up immediately if it wasn’t any fun.

We’ve been diving lately with Rich as my “spotter” and me manning the Canon G11 camera. Today we once again proved to be a successful hunting team, gathering several trophies. I’ll have more over the next few days.

The question that came up several times on this dive is, “When is close enough for a really good shot a little bit too close for comfort?” First, I should mention that I’m a natural-born coward. Bravado is not my forte, I’m adverse to pain and my inclinations are less toward masochism and more toward narcissism. Therefore, I tend to be careful. I want to be doing this when I’m 90.

Still, one wants to get the shots that make people say, “Wow!” Sometimes you have to discomfort yourself a mite to do that. This shot of a Giant Moray Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus)  was like snapping a cute little pussycat:My lens was a good 15cm from his jaws and he wasn’t looking perturbed at all. If I tried to move closer, he just slithered back into his hidey-hole. A self-regulating safety situation for the both of us.

This younger individual was in no mood for fooling around:A soon as I crept up on it I got the, “Are you ready to deal with this?” attitude. I backed off a bit to let it get used to my intrusion and then came in for a second visit.

This time I got the, “You better get outta my face, man!” posture:Truthfully, though I never wear gloves, the most serious injury I might sustain from a Moray of this size is some very nasty lacerations and a scratched up camera. Nevertheless, I decided that this was close enough. I didn’t want to turn the poor critter into a man-eater. We don’t encourage our Morays to develop a taste for people.

We do have many dangerous critters in these waters. However, hardly any of them are aggressive, unless you physically molest them, which I take great pains not  to do.

An example is the whole family of Sorpionfishes. You’ve seen many of the varieties here. This one is the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):You may have to look hard to find the fish. They are masters of camouflage. Therein lies the rub. Though they would never actually attack, they intensely dislike being molested. There are a series of highly venomous spines along the dorsal fine and other places on different species. Any one of these spines can envenome you in a way that you are guaranteed to find not only extremely painful, but possibly fatal, though that is a rarity.

The main danger is, of course, is that you may inadvertently come into contact with one before you even see it. A couple of weeks ago I was about to lay my hand on a rock to steady myself for a shot when the “rock” moved. I felt pretty stupid to realise the unpleasantness which I had just escaped.

Here’s a closer shot. This is about as close as you want to get:Of course, it’s not going to “attack”, but in its haste to get away, I could get punctured.

You’ll probably have to examine this shot closely to find the Octopus:You can easily pick out the breathing tubes. One of its  eyes is the reddish object just below the branchy stuff hanging down to the left of centre.

Of course, an octopus has absolutely no interest in attacking a human, at least not one of this size. It was simply hiding from us. Richard saw it moving across the bottom. As soon as it spotted him, the critter holed-up.

I was on a dive in Hawaii once when our dive leader stuck his hand in a hole, wrestled around a bit, and pulled out an octopus with a arm spread of about a metre.

I assure you that I would never  do that.

I can’t be a very nice experience for the octopus.

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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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Some Fish, a Friend and a Guest Lizard

Posted in Guest Shots, Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on November 4th, 2009 by MadDog
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Text will be terse today, as I am swamped by work in the computer room. Everybody needs everything right now.  It’s not something that system administrators are not used to. It does get a little irritating when you’re also trying to roll out an entire new network at the same time.

Enough complaining. Let’s have some fish.

This cute little critter with the improbable beard is, of course, a Goatfish – what else would you call it? Specifically, it’s a Manybarred Goatfish (Parupeneus multifasciatus):

Manybar Goatfish (Parupeneus multifasciatus)

The whiskery things are used to find food. It digs around in the sand for a meal. As you watch, you can see the whiskers flying around like mad. It’s speculated that they are extremely sensitive to the electrical fields around living things. Spooky, eh? I wonder if weapons researchers are checking into this.

This little one has the delightful name of the Pink Anemonefish . How harmless does that sound? If you’re on more formal terms it’s (Amphiprion akallopisos):

Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)

Everybody knows that this is a Moray Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus).  What you may not  know is the it is the wrong colour.  This is another reason that I’m always whining about the use of flash for underwater photography. The eel looks nothing like this with the naked eye in natural light:Moray Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus) Compare it with these images taken with available light here, here, here and here. This shot was too deep for available light. I had no choice but to use flash.

Steven Goodheart sent several very nice nature shots, but I could not get any but this one to load properly. It’s worth a solo appearance. It is, as Californians will recognise, a Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis):

Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) by Steven Goodheart

This is a particularly nice shot for identification and I like it because the composition is also very clean.

And now, because I never tire of seeing myself on the silver screen, I’ll show you this shot of me at Blueblood with our missing friend Heidi Majano:

Hiedi Majano and Jan Messersmith at Blueblood

As is usual with most keen photographers, we hardly ever get an image of ourselves that we really like. This one tickles me. Put “heidi” in the search box in the sidebar to see some of her great images.

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Underwater Variety Pack

Posted in Under the Sea on March 31st, 2009 by MadDog
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I spent the day wrestling a herd of piggish computers in the mud-hole of DHCP and DNS problems. It’s fixed now, but I feel all stinky from the smell of fear (you IT guys know what I’m talking about – when nobody at the office smiles at you UNTIL YOU MAKE IT WORK AGAIN).  Please, somebody, anybody . . . take my job!

So, I’ll relax for a few minutes and show you some fishy stuff.

There are lots of pretty starfish. But, there are few large pretty starfish. This is one of them. Behold Choriaster granulatus:

Starfish (Choriaster granulatus)

The specimen above was about 25cm across.

This blue giant is a Hump Headed Parrotfish (Bulbometopon muricatum):

Hump Headed Parrotfish (Bulbometopon muricatum)

It’s very difficult to get close to them. This was an exceedingly lucky shot. I swam as fast as I could to get close to it quickly as it glided along slowly. Suddenly, it turned, possibly to get a better look at me. I snapped. The big blue fellow hustled away down the slope and was out of sight in a couple of seconds. They eat coral. We sometimes see big groups (up to maybe 20) swimming around chomping on the hard coral. The front of the head is very bony and the teeth are like giant concrete dentures.

This floppy thing is a Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica). It has become detached by the surge of the waves on the top of the reef. It’s not a problem for the creature. When the waves settle down, it will spread out and reattach itself. If you click to enlarge you can see the little sucker thingies on the underside that fix themselves to the rocks. There are two Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii) living in this anemone. I’ve featured many kinds of Anemonefish here on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.

Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica)

Finally, we have this shy horror, the Giant Moray Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus).

Moray Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus)

I love to see the look on a diver’s face when he first sees one of these. It’s really too funny for words.

So, I won’t try.

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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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