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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Still More Fish and Some Waves That Will Blow Your Mind

Posted in At Sea, Under the Sea on August 10th, 2009 by MadDog
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I hope to get back to writing about a variety of other things that I’ve been thinking about lately, but thinking is about all that I’ve had time to do. I’m rebuilding our entire computer network at the office while trying to write two articles for magazines. Still, though I got a little behind posting, I’m nearly caught up so that there are no holes in my calendar. You’ll have to suffer through a steady diet of fish for a couple of more days until I get to the place in my head where the ideas hide and I can let them out for a little fresh air. It’s getting a little stinky in here.

First, I have some peculiar little ocean critters to show to you. Then, I”m going to blow you away with some images of waves from the “Wave Master”, Clark Little.

This little creature is a Leaf Scorpionfish. I love the way that he stands on his ‘foot’ which is really a modified pectoral fin. They stay very still until something edible comes into range. Then their mouth opens and the tasty bit is sucked in so quickly that the eye misses it altogether. The swallowing action of this type of feeding is among the quickest movements of any creatures on the planet:

Leaf Scorpionfish

The Lionfish, a kind of scorpionfish, is a very common sight. Of all the exotic fish seen at marine aquariums, this is probably the most likely to be shown. They drift through the water as if in a dream. They don’t mind if you get very close, but it’s a good idea to remember that all of the family of scorpionfish have poisonous spines. If I remember correctly, the Lionfish has thirteen spines down its dorsal fin that are filled with a toxin that could be fatal:


Now here is a fish that looks scary until you realise that it’s only as long as your finger. It’s a Reef Lizardfish. They are fairly easy to photograph as long as you don’t move too quickly and hold your breath as long as you reasonably can. I like to shoot them face-on, because it shows their magnificent dentition:

Reef Lizardfish

There are several colour phases in this species. The colour also depends on the lighting on the day and how deep the shot was taken. Here is another toothy menace showing different lighting and a different colour phase:

Reef Lizardfish

You’ve seen this image before, but I have reworked it for the magazine. It is an unusual Moray Eel image, because of the shape of the jaw. I haven’t figured it out yet. Normally this species has a more rounded jaw and less regular teeth:
Moray Eel

Whatever is going on with this guy, I wouldn’t want to get my hand stuck in there. Many people are injured by Moray Eels every year. I’ve never heard of it happening around Madang. I’ve stuck my camera right up in the faces of many Morays at least a hundred times. If I get too close, they just pull back into their holes. Maybe someday I’ll run out of luck and have some handsome scars to show off. Until then, I’ll just assume that our Morays are as placid as the rest of us. Living in Paradise can do that to you.

Finally, I have three images here which I sincerely hope will blow your mind and get you grabbing for your wallet. I ripped these images from the web site of the Wave Master, Clark Little. I’m hoping that if he notices, he will realise that I’m trying to promote his work and what I’m doing here comes under the heading of “fair use”. Anyway, legalities aside, sit back and have a look at these beauties:

One of Clark Little's fantastic wave images

His web site shows how he gets these amazing shots. He must be as much an athlete as the guys who ride them.

Clark Little - the Wave Master of image makers

Visit his web site and buy something. This guy deserves to get paid for his work.

Can't get enough of Clark Little's amazing wave images

And, with that, there’s nothing left to say. If you’re still hungry, come back tomorrow. I’m serving fish again.

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Feeding Frenzy

Posted in Under the Sea on December 7th, 2008 by MadDog
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At Planet Rock yesterday the water was full of particulate matter and not much fun for taking pictures. Therefore, we had to do everything up close.

I did manage one nice Big-Eyed Trevally shot at a distance of about one metre, but I had to clean up many specks to make it usable:

Big-Eye Trevally

There’s even a Bluefin Trevally at the bottom of the frame.

One thing that I love to do at Planet Rock at the end of a dive, when we’re just using up our air, is to turn over some small rocks to expose the organisms on the undersides and watch the feeding frenzy of fish coming in to gobble up the tender morsels that are usually inaccessible to them. It must be like a trip to the ice cream shop:

Feeding Frenzy

I count six different species (some partially obscured) feeding in an area the size of a large beach ball.

We spotted this small moray eel in a crevice:

Small Moray Eel

Anthea are difficult to photograph. They are small. They move constantly. They run away from you. They are just generally uncooperative. This is one of the best Anthea shots that I’ve yet managed:

Orange Anthea

The larger one with the purple is the male. He’s guarding his harem.

The Checkerboard Wrasse is, I think, one of the prettiest fish in the local waters. This is the best shot I’ve gotten of one:

Checkerboard Wrasse

I got it by the “Turn the Rocks Over and Wait” method.

Here’s another wrasse, the name of which escapes me at the moment. It’s rare to capture a photo of a fish actually feeding. I’ve seen it many times, but it happens so quickly that you can never get a picture.

This wrasse is just about to grab a tidbit from a small stone that I’ve just flipped over:

Feeding Wrasse

Water clarity is wildly variable here, because we have so many huge tropical rivers dumping sediment and stuff you don’t even want to think about into Astrolabe Bay. However, if you can get close enough great shots are still possible.

It helps to learn to hold your breath for a few minutes and think like a fish.

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The Aquarium in My Front Yard

Posted in Under the Sea on November 29th, 2008 by MadDog
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With my dive count now over two thousand, it’s amazing to me that all but possibly a hundred have been within a ten minute boat ride from our dock. This must surely make me one of the luckiest divers on the planet.
Since I’m feeling so lucky today, let me show you some of the lucky shots that I got this morning with Tris, Tracey and Pascal.

I’ve seen this fish around many times, but have only today been able to get a photo of one. I can identify most local fishes generically, if not specifically, but I haven’t bothered to look this one up yet. I usually don’t bother to learn a lot about a certain species until I have a photo of it that I can label with it’s taxonomic name. I usually go by common names, as do most divers:

Mystery FishFor now, I will call it “The Mystery Fish.”

This toothy little horror is Clark’s Anemonefish. The teeth are real and they do hurt when they bite. What’s more, they like to bite:

Clark's Anemonefish

Here’s another anemonefish that is not so feisty. This is the Pink Anemonefish. The interesting feature of this show is the oral disk of the anemone at the centre of all the tentacles. This is, of course, where the anemone puts its food for digestion. I fed an anemone half a banana once. (Yes, divers get bored.) It seems that they will eat just about anything. It took about fifteen minutes for it to ‘swallow’ the banana. I didn’t wait around to see if it coughed it back up:

Pink Anemonefish and Magnificent Anemone

The other interesting thing about oral disk is that it is where many of the anemonefish sleep.

Here’s some beautiful yellow anthea of some kind frolicking around in the coral:


Everybody recognises this mean looking fellow. It is, of course, the giant moray eel:

Giant Moray Eel

This particular fellow was being very uncooperative. Every time I tried to get close enough for a shot, he’d pull his head back into his hidey hole. They are usually not so shy. In fact, the situation is usually the exact opposite – staying far enough away so as not to scare yourself into soiling your wetsuit.

We’ll end up with two cute and harmless cousins – members of the hawkfish family.

This is the Arc-Eyed Hawkfish. Explaining the name would be superfluous:

Arc-Eyed Hawkfish

And, this grumpy but passive little guy is the Freckled Hawkfish:

Freckled Hawkfish

Again, the origin of the common name is obvious.

I’ve sometimes been asked why I capitalize all of the fish names. There’s some controversy over capitalization of fish names. I won’t get into that boring academic fussiness. I will just say that it’s common courtesy to capitalize proper names.

I ask myself if I was a fish, how would I introduce myself – how would it be written as a conversational snippet?

Maybe something like this:

I’d walk up to a table in a fashionable restaurant where seated is a ravishing woman. I’d take her hand, bow slightly, and say, “Hawkfish, Freckled Hawkfish.”

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