The Angry Little Fish

Posted in Under the Sea on February 14th, 2010 by MadDog
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I still have a stinking cold and I’m still trying to catch up on my posts. I’m now only two days behind. Fortunately, I got a small treasure trove of shots from last Saturday at Barracuda Point and the Eel Garden, both at Pig Island.  I’ll show you a few today and more tomorrow. Then I need to think about something else to write about, because I can only eat so much fish each week.

I’m just listening to some songs by a group called Gare Du Nord  which, presumably means “north station”. I think it refers to a railroad station in Paris. It’s got a nice eclectic jazz/rock/electronica thing going for it. I found in on my network drive for shared music.  I don’t know who put it there, but it’s got a solid groove and nice thumpy base. My sub-woofer is under my desk. I can feel the base hits tickling the hair on my legs. Funky!

Well, you’ve seen these here before, so there’s nothing new here, folks. Might as well move on. It’s a Divericate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia): 
I hit the flash on this one, since they light up nicely. The inside is like jelly and it conducts light very well.

We had a fresh diver with us on Saturday, name of Scott. I grabbed this shot of him chasing around after a mob of Bigeye Trevally:Barracuda point was crawling with big Pickhandle Barracuda and Trevally. I’ll have some barracuda shots tomorrow, if this cold doesn’t kill me.

You’ve seen this here before also, a Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)  [young stage] which is improbably bright:They’re like the traffic lights of the reef. Too bad that I’m a little late for Valentine’s Day. This one has a nice little heart shape in the middle.

I found some nice Palm Coral (Clavularia sp)  which is a different colour than most of what I’ve seen before. This has much more yellow in the polyps:I love to watch the stuff waving around in the current.

Here’s another familiar client of mine, the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):This character was all dolled up for a party, I think. Don’t ask my why the first name that popped into my head when I was working on this image was Rodney Dangerfield. If you don’t get it, then there’s no use explaining. I have a Harley Davidson t-shirt which is a bit obnoxious. It brazenly states, “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.” If you asked this fish, that’s probably what it would say.

There goes that bass tickling my legs again. It’s “Boogie All Night Long”. Reminds me of my Flickr nickname, BoogiesWithFish.

Here’s another familiar sight for regular readers. Lizardfish Love:Again, if I have to explain it . . .

I’ll finish up with the star of the show, this very perturbed little Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata):As I mention in my excerpt, I’ve had fish hide from me, chase me, harass me, bite me, defecate on me, pose for me, run from me, well, the list goes on and on. After 2,000 dives, you begin to think that nothing is going to surprise you.

However, this is the first time that I’ve seen a fish simply glare at me with naked hatred.

Hey, what did I do?

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All the Colours of the Sea

Posted in Under the Sea on February 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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This last Saturday was a banner day for photography. My new Canon G11, which you are undoubtedly getting tired of hearing about, was perking along nicely, grabbing shots with much increased dynamic and no noise whatsoever at ISO 80. The ten megapixels that it offers are more than sufficient for the magazine-size shots that I need to do my work. Don’t sniff at ten megapixels. If another camera offers more, but the resulting image is poorer in quality, what good do those extra megapixels do?

Yesterday’s post contained images from this Saturday’s dive also, as will tomorrow’s and the day after. In total, out of about one-hundred exposures, I got thirty-six which I deemed good quality. I’ve never had a two dive day that was more productive. Part of the reason for that was that my old buddy, Richard Jones, was “spotting” for me. He has amazing eyes and can find the smallest critters. Sometimes these are the most interesting. Tomorrow I’ll feature some nudibranchs which Richard found. Your mind will be blown.

But, that’s for tomorrow. Today, we’re doing colours. The dive at Planet Rock  was dark. There was a layer of muddy fresh water from the Gol Gol River  floating over the surface down nearly to the top of the sea mount at about 15 metres. I had to take many shots with flash. Though it is my preference to forgo flash when possible, sometimes it is unavoidable – there’s simply not enough light. In the first two shots, the effects of the flash are not noticeable. It simply acted as a fill light. In the others, the effect is dramatic, though the colours are, to me, artificially bright. They are, however, very pretty.

Green has been my favourite colour since I don’t know when. When I was a small child, it was red. I don’t know when I changed to green. I don’t even know if guys are supposed to have a favourite colour. I don’t talk about it much over the pool table with my mates, though I’m always soothed and mellowed by the green playing field. Maybe that’s why I’m such a lousy shot. Anyway, have a look at this lovely green Coral (Acropora tenuis):Click it to magnify and see the lovely details of the polyps waving in the current. Each little ledge on each tower is an individual animal. It is truly a thing of beauty.

Here’s another Acropora  species with a dramatically different colour:I’m always faintly startled when I run across one of these outlandishly purple corals. They seem somehow out of place. I wonder if a nearby toy store exploded and scattered misshapen shards of bright plastic on the sea bottom.

This shows why we have a pretentious name for the Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica).  You can see a scattering of  Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  chilling out and having a few beers:What a lovely playground they have.  There are few sights in the sea which are as calming and wondrous as this symphony of colour displaying a commensal relationship between vastly different organisms. Neither can flourish without the other.

Starfish fans will enjoy this lazy looking Linckia laevigata.This is the same species which often appears as a bright blue variation.

This Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)  contains the brightest red pigment of any creature that I have seen in the sea:This is a very young colony. They tend to become less colourful as they grow. Young ones, such as this, can often be seen as tiny crimson torches thirty metres away on a day with good visibility.

I’m a great fan of Feather Stars. This is a particularly nice image of some species of Lamprometra.  They are difficult for me to tell apart. I’ve been watching old episodes of Fawlty Towers  during the fifteen minutes that I can stop working each day. I can’t get out of my mind what Manuel (he’s from Barcelona, you see) says when he misunderstands a command from Basil Fawlty: “Eet ees deefeecult.”You can clearly see the “feet” of the feather star in this shot. If you gently tickle a foot with your fingertip, the creature will wildly thrash its arms around, waving madly. It’s a most comical sight. I’m going to have to shoot a video clip of it some day.

Here is a close up shot of another individual of a Lamprometra  species Feather Star:I didn’t think that the shot would turn out to be much. Now I’m simply blown away by it. Beware. If you stare at it long enough you may feel yourself getting slightly high, that is if you recognise “high”. Click on it to make it bigger and have a look. It’s mesmerising. This is a living thing. How can that be?

I don’t recommend it as a desktop background.

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More Underwater Critters

Posted in Under the Sea on January 27th, 2010 by MadDog
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Well, the charter to Bag Bag Island  is off. There have been several small craft lost at sea in Astrolabe Bay  over the last few days. There’s a fierce nor’easter blowing and the chop is reported to be up to three metres. I’m poor and wild, but I’m not completely insane. The money was good, but the risk too great. As soon as I told my good friend Trevor Hattersley about the charter he called me back several times to talk me out of it. That is what good mates do. Thanks, Trev.

So, I find myself presently incomeless, but safe and dry.

Therefore, let me attempt to entertain you for a few minutes with some miscellaneous pretty pictures and some verbal rambling. This Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)  is not the stuff of of raw excitement, but it’s interesting to speculate how something that looks like this is actually alive:I’m reminded of the old Star Trek  episode in which the rocks were sentient, albeit slow movers.

After a few thousand dives and more time underwater than most people spend at church in a lifetime, you get to the point at which you can make educated guesses. Here’s a shot of a motion-blurred Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus orientalis)  and terror-frozen Many-Spotted Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides):I knew how this shot would play out. The Many-Spotted Sweetlips will freeze for a while when it spots you. It will try to hide by pretending not to be there. “Look at me. HAH! Can’t see me, can you?” Then, as it slowly sinks in that it’s being observed, it will begin to swim away, usually without too much fuss. The Oriental Sweetlips, however, is easily panicked and makes haste to use the nearest escape route. I could see around a corner that the two fish were slowly finning in the sluggish current side-by-side. As soon as I popped my head up over the top of the coral bomie, the spotted fish froze for a moment and the Oriental Sweetlips headed for the door – thus the blurry fish image.

You’ve seen these fat slugs before. It may not sound politically correct to call them that, but that’s exactly what they are, so it’s okay:It’s a Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas),  a particularly pink one. They are usually more brownish. Possibly it has a fever.

Sometimes I need to show you a really bad image just so that you can see that underwater photography is a crap shoot. This is a Blacktip Shrimpgoby (Cryptocentrus polyophthalmus),  a fish which I seldom see:I knew the shot would be awful, because the fish was back in a hole and I couldn’t get close. Nevertheless, it’s the only image that I have of this species. I’m not bursting with pride.

This, however, is a nice little reef scene with a couple of male Purple Anthea (Pseudanthias tuka):When I saw these two, they were engaged in a little ritualised sparring. I snapped the shot as they were returning to their corners for a time-out. That’s why they are swimming away from each other.

Here is a perfectly beautiful image of a nudibranch that I still  can’t identify:I’m going to have to invest some money in a better nudi book.

You’ve seen these Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)  here several times. I’ve mistakenly called them Diverticulate Tree Corals elsewhere. Gonna have to fix that:The one above is particularly nice. Good, symmetrical shape, rich colour; I like it.

Enough of the fishy stuff. Let me show you two UFOs that I caught on camera the other day. Actually there may be three, a big green one with an orange one riding on its back and a purple one up higher:

I yelled at them, but nobody came down to visit. If there were aliens aboard, they must be a snooty lot.

Of course, all that is wishful thinking. The coloured blobs are obviously lens flares caused by internal reflections within the optics of the bright orb of the sun.

Someday I’ll show you my real  UFO shots. They’ll blow you away!

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Coral All Around

Posted in Under the Sea on October 25th, 2009 by MadDog
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On a dive at a healthy reef, what dominates your view? Well, it’s not fish, let me tell you. It’s coral. Just because it doesn’t move or have garishly bright colours doesn’t mean that it’s not interesting. I’ve had some emails from people who keep live coral in their saltwater tanks. We tried this a few times here with our tanks, but quickly found that it is very risky business. Corals are more difficult to keep alive. If a few polyps die, your entire tank will be dead the next morning.

Still, I like to photograph corals. It’s fun to look for the most representative specimens. What’s more fun is to look for the weird ones.

Here’s what I would call a specimen shot of a Coral (Acropora robusta): 

Coral (Acropora robusta)

As you can see, I’m not going for dazzling beauty or perfect composition. My goal is to show a typical specimen in a typical habitat using my very best efforts to show it as it actually appears to a diver so that other divers and collectors can easily and positively identify the species. That assumes, of course, that I myself have correctly identified it. That’s where the rub comes in and that’s why I’m hoping to get some feedback from readers. I’m 90% positive of the identification of the robusta  above, but the next few are, to one degree or another, doubtful.

Here is a close up of a Favites  species that I can’t identify positively. If reptilian aliens landed on our planet, I imagine that their skin would look like this:

Coral - Alien Skin (Favites sp.) You’ve seen this pattern before here.

I find this one quite pretty, though I’m not positive of the identification? I’m pretty sure,  but not really sure.  How’s that for a scientific identification. Sounds like something a doctor would tell you. I guess it depends on what is wrong with you. If it seems to be not-so-bad, you want really sure.  If it might be fatal, you’ll hope for only pretty sure.  (maybe  would be better or probably not  would be best)

Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii [young_stage])

Anyway, I’m identifying it as Coral (sure about that), Lobophyllia hemprichii  [young_stage].

This specimen is even prettier, but I’m even less sure about the identification. I think  it might  be a young stage of Pectinia lactuca,  but please don’t quote me on that:Coral (Pectinia lactuca [young stage ?]) [doubtful]

Actually, it looks like a fancy bow tie to me.

All of the shots above look very nice when you click to enlarge them. I’m getting beautiful shots from my Canon G10. I wish I had some extra bread to buy a new G11 with the factory housing. I’ve recommended that combination to several correspondents and I’m hoping to get some images from them soon to show to you.

Let’s step back from the bright colours for a minute for something a little more sombre:

Dull Sky and ShipI nearly deleted this image.

I’m glad that I didn’t.

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Hold Your Nose – We’re Going Under!

Posted in Under the Sea on September 26th, 2009 by MadDog
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We’re going diving, but first I have to get this out of my brain:  How smart can Google be?

I Googled this (without the quotes) “how many people are killed by falling coconuts each year?” Out of the ten hits at the top, nearly all claimed that 150 are killed in an average year by falling coconuts. This is, you understand, of no little importance to me. I spend a lot of time out in my garden, which is lined with 25 metre coconut trees. I’m quite certain that a konk on the head with a coconut from that height would spoil my entire day.

Interestingly there was one hit from THE ISLOMANIAC ™ (islomaniac: īl-o-mā’nē-āk’ [noun] One with a passion or craze for islands) which claims that the number is purely mythological. And, as you’d expect, there was a rebutting comment exposing an obscure journal article as evidence supporting the quantity.

So, never mind that Google pointed me to pertinent information on the first hit, I’m nevertheless no more informed than I was before.

Still unsatisfied that Google is trusworthy to point me to useful information, I tried the classic: “how many angels can dance on the point of a pin?” Again, Google pointed me to some interesting pages, but failed to answer the fundamental question for me. It seems that nobody knows for certain where the question originated (though it is a very obvious  query and of huge significance), but Wikipedia has an interesting, if brief, history of it.

The most informative hit was number nine from the Journal of Improbable Research.  It’s titled Quantum Gravity Treatment of the Angel Density Problem  and, though it still fails to quantify the exact number of angels, it does set some handy upper and lower bounds. I was especially amused to be brought to the realisiation that, if angels are small enough, and are not massless, an angel sock-hop of sufficient popularity could produce a black hole!

Okay, enough philosphy. Let’s get wet.

Here’s how the fan coral looked without the flash:

Sea fan - natural light

Here’s how it looks with the flash:

Sea Fan - flash exposureFakey, fakey, fakey. Okay, that is the end of my nearly daily protestations of using artificial light for UW photographs. You must  be getting bored with that.

This is an interesting coral that we see on nearly every dive. It’s Lobophyllia hemprichii.  We call it, “That bright red stuff.” It is, indeed, red. You can see it glowing from a great distance:

Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)

Here is a thick branch of Staghorn Coral with an encrusting sponge (Echinochalina sp.)  eating it from the bottom up:

Encrusting sponge (Echinochalina sp. ?) growing on Staghorn Coral

You wouldn’t think sponges could be that viscious.

This critter is a Leopard Sea Cucumber, a kind of bech-de-mere (Bohadschia argus).  You can see some little bits of seaweed and coral sticking to it. They sometimes cover themselves completely with camouflage material. They are rather beautiful, if squishy, creatures with an astounding defensive weapon. The stickiest, nastiest substance on the planet.

Sea Cucumber ( Bohadschia argus)

I don’t have an image of my own to show you, so I’m filching (with attribution) this from The image is by Gary Bell:

Leopard Sea Cucumber by Gary Bell /

If you poke (a no, no) or otherwise bother the Leopard Sea Cucumber, it will emit these seemingly innocuous white filaments. You could not be more wrong if you think that they are no bother. Pity any critter who gets stuck on these. They don’t sting, but they are nearly impossible to get off. You have to let the dry (and STINK) until they flake off.

Winding down now, I have one more shot for you. This is a perfectly ordinary coral (Goniopora djiboutiensis)  on the left. That’s not the interesting item in the image:

Coral (Goniopora djiboutiensis) on the left with a crayfish hiding on the right under the ledge

What is amusing it the lobster hiding under the ledge on the right. Sometimes it is easy to fixate on a particular specemine and miss something 30 cm away. I could have had a good chance for an image of a critter not yet in my collection, if I’d only noticed it.

Maybe next time.

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