More Salty Goodness from Leper Island

Posted in Under the Sea on January 10th, 2011 by MadDog
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I’m now one dive behind. Our last Leper Island  dive was some time ago. Yesterday, which was Sunday, we did a dive on the wall up at Blue Blood in a spot where I had not been before. I’ll be showing some images of the incredible variety of flatworms we found there. That’s for later. Today, I’ll show some more shots from the Leper Island  dive.

With the help of friends beginning on Friday evening, I managed to keep myself distracted over the weekend – Friday at the Country Club for a very difficult quiz, Saturday on Sanguma,  with Rich Jones and Jenn Miller and Sunday up at Blueblood with a group of friends. Distraction was particularly important to me, as Saturday marked four months since Eunie’s death and I desperately needed to avoid deepening my depression by brooding on it over the weekend.

I imagine that distraction is important to anyone suffering from severe reactive depression. I’ve been depressed for longer periods of time – this episode is in its sixth month and is pushing me closer to the edge than I have ever been. I’ve never before suffered depression so profoundly disabling. It is very scary. There is no aspect of life left untouched by it. It drags down every joy and leaves its ugly traces in every dark corner of the mind.

Strange as it may be, I’ve experienced some significant comfort from a friendship with someone who is equally depressed for other reasons. Comparing notes and discussing symptoms and coping strategies has been very helpful to both of us. The most valuable thing for us, however, has been to have someone to talk to who understands exactly the feelings which are so troubling, someone who is experiencing them at the same time. There is great value in speaking the with the same vocabulary and sharing the same emotions.

Again, a blessing.

On to the pictures.

You’ve seen the Sailor’s Eyeball (Valonia ventricosa)  many times here:

This is a particularly nice one. Repeating myself as usual, I’ll mention that this is the largest single celled organism on the planet. It’s an algae. The skin is like tough plastic and transparent. It’s full of green fluid.

Here is an image of a plate coral that is clearly dying. You are looking straight down on the colony:

Everything below the white line is dead. The white line shows where the symbiotic protozoans have either died or been expelled from the polyps. Above the white line, the coral appears more or less healthy.

Here is a starfish which has lost part of a leg to a predator. It has begun to grow back, but it appears comically small:

It will continue to lengthen and thicken until it matches up with the rest of the previously stubby leg.

Here is a coral garden shot with a big colony which brings to mind a mountain covered by rice paddies:

I enjoy trying to make these little reef scenes appear to you as close as I can get to what I saw with my own ancient eyes. It is a pleasant distraction with some minor purpose. It is infinitely better than watching the television set, an addiction to which I have not been able to put aside. Distractions . . . Blessing or curse? I suppose it depends on the nature of the distraction, eh?

Here’s another reef scene with a spiky coral:

I saved the best for last, hoping to end up with something a little more flashy. Here are a couple of Nemo wannabes for your amusement. Specifically, they are Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula)  hovering in the protection of their beautiful Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica):

The colours are not natural due to my use of flash, which puts artificial sunlight where it never shines. Still, it does make a pretty picture.

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Things I See

Posted in Under the Sea on November 23rd, 2010 by MadDog
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Today I went to the Fred Hollows Eye Clinic at the hospital here in Madang. You may have read about my paranoia concerning the near certainty of losing or misplacing my eyeglasses. Silly as it seems it was of so much concern to me that I was compulsively checking my one pair of multi-focal glasses to make certain that I knew where they were at all times if I didn’t have them on. The resulting behaviours would have been comical had it not been for the fact that merely thinking about misplacing them and having to call a friend to search my house would set me trembling. I blame it on stress. I have to blame it on something.

I had gotten three pairs of glasses to replace my one varifocal pair. While I’m yakking on about pairs of glasses I want to ask you why is it a pair  of glasses? I know it’s because there are two lenses, but it still doesn’t sound right. It’s a little like a pair of pants or a pair of pliers. Are there objects called a pant or a plier? I don’t think so. I can see a pair of socks. That makes sense; there are two separate socks. Together they make a pair. However if there are not two things called a pant, then how can you have a pair of pants? Same goes for pliers. I couldn’t say, “I had gotten three glasses”, because that might be confusing if the context was not clear. You might think I was talking about drinking glasses. No, I had to say three pairs  of glasses so you would know that I’m talking about  . . . Okay, this is getting silly. I’d better move on. I have to admit, however, that this is something which has bothered me for years. I feel better now that I’ve gotten it off my chest.

Anyway, I got a +4 for distance, a +5 for computer work and a +6 for close-up work like reading in bed. What I discovered is that after a while the distance formula was not working any more. It was too strong. Things a bit close were fine, but when I was driving the distant objects were fuzzy. I went back today and got a pair of +3.5 glasses. That did the trick. Now when I’m driving everything from the gauges to infinity is in perfect focus. I’m happy with that, considering that these eyeglasses cost me only about $8.00.

Okay, that was not very interesting, I admit. Nevertheless, I wish to report to myself here in my journal that I can now see perfectly at any distance. The only problem is that I have to carry around four pairs of eyeglasses. Also, most of the time my eyes feel as if they are about to pop from their sockets. Am I giving myself eye strain? Hey, I’m blessed. Some people can’t see at all.

So, here are some things I have seen lately. By the way, I wasn’t wearing any of my pairs of glasses. I have a prescription dive mask. It is perfect underwater. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out of the water. Otherwise, I would just wear it instead of buying so many pairs  of glasses.

This is a very cute little Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus):

I call them them “puppy fishes”, because they look like . . . mmmm, puppies.

Okay, this is not going so well. I seem to have forgotten how to write tonight.

This is a colony of sea squirts called Lissoclinum patellum:

I could think of several things which I’m reminded of when I see these and none of them are pleasant, so I won’t trouble you with that. I find it amusing that something as lowly as a sea squirt can be placed in the phylum, Chordata, which is the same phylum to which I belong. Or maybe it’s not so surprising when I think hard about it. Sea squirts have something like a spinal column only while they are mobile juveniles. As adults they form colonies and lose all of their backbone. They become blobby and are plastered solidly in place. Come to think of it, that’s not so different from me after all. I’m a giant sea squirt. I’ve become rooted into immobility and have lost my backbone. I’m going to double up on my calcium pills and see what happens. Is that a wild goose I hear calling to me?

Okay, there goes what I so laughably call my brain again. It’s off on a tangent, slipped a gear, got its wires crossed, blew a fuse. Little purple sparks are coming out of my ears. I’m unable to escape the chorus of Frankie Laine’s old hit Cry of the Wild Goose:

My heart knows what the wild goose knows,
I must go where the wild goose goes.
Wild goose, brother goose, which is best?
A wanderin’ fool or a heart at rest?
Let me fly, let me fly, let me fly away.

Where does a moody hankering for change cross over into the realm of escapism? I remember a time not so long ago when I would have hopped a plane to Kathmandu if only that wouldn’t have left such a big mess behind. I could get a job as a dishwasher somewhere. I’d be the best dishwasher in the business. You could eat off my plates. Yeah, I wanted to run. Recent events have made many of us flinch. The flinching continues. Today a friend and I voiced it in the same moment, “How much can we take?” I’m reminded of the line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail  when the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog viscously attacked King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Run away!

Well, I don’t really want to get all sombre tonight. I’ve felt that way all day and now I need to cheer up a bit. A little balance is in order, eh? Sometimes situations are so miserable that you can find nothing resembling humour. However, you can always stand back a bit and laugh at your own reactions.

This bizarre critter is a kind of sea slug or Bêche-de-mer,  a Bohadschia argus:

This one has a single incredibly sticky white filament trailing out of its . . . uh, unpleasant  end. Often there are many filaments. It is a defence mechanism. This individual was angry and defensive because I accidentally disturbed it while I was photographing something else. I know from experience that you do not want to allow these filaments to come into contact with your skin or anything else for that matter. If scientists could develop a glue as efficient and durable as this stuff, they would see big bonuses in their pay-checks.

This strange wormy thing with an all-over beard is a kind of nudibranch called a Pteraeolidia ianthina:

I’m reasonably sure of the identification, but if I’m mistaken I’ll blame Rich Jones. He recently took back his giant nudibranch field guide upon which I had been drooling for the last few months. So many nudibranchs to photograph, so little time.

Here is another nudi, one of my favourites. It’s an Electric Swallowtail (Chelidonura electra):

What an utterly charming name. It dredges up visions of Unicorns, Ashwinders, Mermaids, Mooncalves, Murlaps and Kneazles.  (that should keep you Googling for a while).

This is the only balding Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica)  which I have seen:

I have no idea what has caused it to lose its tentacles in this spot. It is not something which I have observed before. It seemed otherwise healthy. I once fed a Magnificent Anemone  half of a banana. It took it about fifteen minutes for it to transport the banana treat across its tentacles, passing it along the tips like a rock star being carried along on the up-stretched hands of fans. The banana finally ended up in the anemone’s mouth. I didn’t stick around long enough to ask it if it liked it.

This shot is my pick of the day. It’s a very common Cushion Star (Culcita novaeguineae)  which is most uncommonly beautiful:

It takes things such as this to remind me of the incredible riches of my life. People pay vast sums of money for the privilege of doing the things which I enjoy every week. I’m still able to see these things as privileges which are not to be taken for granted.

I must accept that Madang is not my eternal home. Some day I will have to leave this place. Maybe my body will stay here in the ground and my spirit will depart. Or perhaps while body and spirit are still merged circumstances will arise which require me to leave and I’ll be led to another place. The future is very fuzzy.

I think that even that fuzziness is a blessing. I’m listening. And I’m leaving plenty of room for surprises.

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Back Under the Sea

Posted in Under the Sea on September 21st, 2010 by MadDog
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On Saturday, after what seems like a year, but was only about six weeks, I went back into the water. It was a grey day and Astrolabe Bay  was calm. I went out on Sanguma  with Richard Jones.

Since Faded Glory  rolled over and sank in about two metres of water in front of my dock the day we left for Australia to get medical treatment for Eunie, I have no boat at present. It is at the marine repair shop waiting for me to pick it up. Trevor Hattersley has checked on it a couple of times and says that it’s running well. If the control cables don’t rust and freeze up, she should be good to go.

I tie the stern to a mooring point well out from the dock – usually. Over several weeks the mooring point had been moving closer to the dock. I did not know why. I do know that it was too close. I couldn’t get enough pull on the stern from the mooring, so at high tide the bow of the boat got hooked over the edge of the dock. When the tide went down . . . well you can guess what happened. Water came seeping, then roaring over the transom and the back end of the boat settled on the bottom and she rolled over on her side.

When it rains it pours.

Anyway, this afternoon Richard Jones brought Sanguma  over to my house and I put on my dive gear and went out and wrapped a big chain around the engine block that is the base of the mooring point. I then tied a new piece of rope around the chain and put a float on the end of it. Okay, now I can go over to the marine repair place and get Faded Glory  back home where she belongs.

Isn’t that exciting? One less thing.

At Planet Rock  the water was full of particulate matter. That makes for pretty poor picture taking unless you are up very close. The marine photographer’s mantra in murky water is “the closer the better”. Any time you see a Broadclub Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus)  is reason enough to take a shot at it:

This is certainly not the best shot of this critter that I have managed. In fact, it’s rather ho-hum. Nevertheless, I saw it and here it is for your viewing pleasure. I have heard that some restaurants serve cuttlefish. I wouldn’t eat one if I were starving (well, maybe). It’s not as if they are endangered, it’s just that they are my friends. One doesn’t eat one’s friends.

The Magnificent Anemones (Heteractis magnifica)  were splendid. The whole top of the rock is plastered with them in many riotous hues. On Saturday most of them were in their “jug” configuration. I confess I don’t know what this indicates. They are usually stretched out more or less flat for feeding. Possibly the day was dim enough that they reckoned it was night:

Who knows what an anemone thinks? I certainly don’t.

This one shows one of the many bright colours on the underside:

I have some more shots of other colours which I will post in a day or two. I’ve backed off to posting every other day, since I need to conserve my strength to mine the mountain of paperwork that has been generated by Eunie’s passing and still do my work at the office. Who knew I would be so busy? I didn’t expect it. Add that to the list of Things I Never Thought Of.

Th last shot here is my favourite. These are Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)  with a couple of Bigeye Trevally at the bottom of the image:

They led me on a merry chase to get the shot. When playing with such schools one needs to be careful not to ascend too quickly. That can lead to serious consequences. “The bends” or Decompression Illness is only one mistake away.

For those out there who are checking up on me I’ll say that I’m “doing as well as can be expected”. Actually, my friends are telling me that I”m doing considerably better. I’m having a hard time seeing it that way, but I’ll take that as encouragement. I will go to Divine Word University on Thursday morning to make arrangements for a memorial service in the chapel there. Rich Jones is going with me as an advisor and to hold my hand. I seem to need a lot of hand-holding these days.

Hey, that’s what friends are for.

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More Eel Garden Goodies

Posted in Under the Sea on March 2nd, 2010 by MadDog
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Well, it’s official now. I’m as sick as a dog. I went over to see our beloved Dr. John Mackerel (A . K. A. Tinpis ). He shoved around and pounded on my face, causing considerable pain. Then he put his stethoscope, fresh from the freezer, against my back while I pumped as much air as I could manage in and out of my chest. “Well, that’s horrible.” he pronounced. Tinpis  has a charming bedside manner, but he cares  about us. We know it and it counts. I don’t remember the mumbo-jumbo syndrome name, but it basically means that my entire airway system from behind my eyes to the bottom of my lungs has been Pearl Harboured by some very nasty bugs. I actually don’t feel as bad today as I did yesterday, but I’m toppling over more often, since my balance mechanism is basically shot.

Never mind. I have a week of something reasurringly named Augmentin Duo which I shall dutifully down twice a day until I’m back to fighting strength.

We’ve had a sunrise draught lately. This is the best one that I can come up with for the last week:Still, not bad for this season.

This is the thoroughly exasperating little Black-Spotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus).  I say exasperating because it is the Carlos the Jackal  of fish – it never wants to have its picture taken:I caught this one just as it was diving for cover.

I don’t know why more underwater photographers don’t grab more images of coral. This Galaxea astreata  is a stunning little beauty:Measuring only about 50cm wide it packs a staggering array of colours and detail into a very small package. I put this image up at 2,000 pixels wide, so you might want to try it as a screen saver or background. It has plenty of detail.

I’ve been seeing some very nice Feather Stars lately. Usually, they’re not all that interesting and they are also difficult to photograph, because something is lost in the translation – I can’t really explain it. However this Comanthina schlegeli  turned out very pretty with the plate coral as a background:I find it amusing that they are sometimes waving their arms around madly and other times seem to be napping.

The Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica)  is always a beautiful subject for photography. They come in many different colours and the anemonefish which inhabit them prefer a colour which matches their own, to some degree. You can’t see any anemonefish in this shot, just some female Purple Anthea and a couple of different Damselfishes:The shot above was exposed with the natural light from the surface. I prefer this lighting, because it more accurately reflects what I saw.

Here is the same specimen shot with the flash turned on. There are some advantages:You can see the brilliant colour of the underside of the anemone and the way the anemone is attached to the underlying coral.

I’m going to have to see how long it takes me to recover from this illness. It’s very dangerous to dive with severely blocked sinus cavities, not to mention painful. Some divers have suffered severe hearing loss from diving with even a simple cold. I’m known as the “old lady” of diving in Madang, since I insist on following the rules (at least as long as it doesn’t affect my  diving). I’ll be careful.

I want to be doing this when I’m 90.

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Hungry? Have a Delicious Sea Cucumber (Bêche-de-mer)

Posted in Under the Sea on December 22nd, 2009 by MadDog
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On Saturday, our regular dive day, we went to Barracuda Point,  on the eastern side of Pig Island.  The water at the surface was filled with particulate matter, but below about twenty metres, it was fairly clear. Just after we entered the water we saw this huge Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas).  This species is also known as the Prickly Redfish or the Pineapple Fish. Of course, it’s not a fish at all, neither is it a pineapple. However, its species name, ananas,  does mean pineapple. Well, okay, a pineapple is actually Ananas comosus.

Bêche-de-mer


Believe it or not, people eat them. I guess people eat just about anything, but I have a problem with this one. Of course, there are many different species. None of them look tasty to me:Prickly Red Fish, indeed!

How prickly? Have a look at this. If you scaled this up to human size, we’d all be covered with 10 cm wide spiky star-shaped red warts:It’s pretty in a very bizarre way – definitely one of the more unusual skins that I’ve seen.

Here is the front end:Or is it the back end? Some Bêche-de-mer have easily discernible front and rear ends. I didn’t take time to give this one an anatomical exam. You can usually tell by the trail of sandy poo left behind. There was none here. Maybe it was constipated.

Keeping with my rare Christmasy mood, Here is a bit of green to go with our red. It is a particularly lovely Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica):The outside of the ‘jug’ is the underside of the anemone. They usually lie in the feeding position, which is spread out like a carpet. If the surge gets to be a bit much or it is not a good feeding time, the skin contracts and pulls up, often leaving only a few tentacles sticking out of a hole. Surprisingly, any anemonefish residing in the anemone will be popping in and out of the hole, much as you see here. By the way, the fish here is the Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion).

Keeping in the spirit of “what you see is what I saw” here is an image of some Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)  coming up the side of the reef. Note all of the particulate matter floating in the water:It’s not all clear sailing.

Not forgetting my intent to bring you a Christmas Tree Worm every day until the 25th, here is your Spirobranchus giganteus  for today:Happy holidays!

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