From the Strange to the Beautiful

Posted in Under the Sea on March 22nd, 2010 by MadDog
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I have a couple of days left to irritate you with my babbling on about my solo dive off the beach at Wongat Island  last Saturday. I worked on a few more images yesterday evening. They run from the very strange to the very beautiful. Get ready for a trip.

I can sit back and close my eyes and imagine plunging through an alien atmosphere in a space capsule. When I land and walk around in my space suit (stay with me here) I’m stunned by the strange and wonderful creatures which abide in this hostile world. I see things like this:Every time that I dive I am acutely aware that I am entering another world. The image above is of a couple of higher invertebrates, namely Sea Squirts. This species is Phallusia julinea.  Never mind the racy name (see φαλλός ). They are strange by any standard.

I had a lot of trouble getting this shot of a Blackbarred Razorfish (Iniistius tetrazona):They are very skittish and stay just far enough away that you can’t get a good shot. I had to get this one from about three or four metres away, which is much more distant than my normal shots of small subjects. My average camera to subject distance for little critters is 3 – 30 cm. This fish is in the family of Wrasses. This is a teenager in what is called the Initial Phase. This is the middle phase of development. The Juvenile Phase comes first and the Terminal Phase represents the adults. Very often the first two stages appear remarkably different from the adults.

This freakishly beautiful monstrosity is a juvenile Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):They are ridiculously easy to photograph, since all they do is hang in the water waiting an unsuspecting fish to mistake them for a bit of rubbish and move a bit too close to the toothy end. Then, with a clicking noise and a movement too quick for the human eye to see, the fish disappears into the mouth of the Lionfish, which is the common local name for these wonderful, poison-spined fish.

Here is a group of Periclimenes  shrimp enjoying themselves at the local disco located in a coral. The name of the joint is Heliofungia actiniformis.  You can pop in there for drink and shake your booty any day except Sunday from 8 PM until the early hours of the morning:Lady shrimp are admitted with no cover charge and receive a gratuitous cocktail of their choice to enhance their mood.

I accidentally got my camera stuck in the JPG mode for about half of the shots that I got on the dive. I usually shoot RAW:That statement has nothing to do with my attire. It’s a technical thing that you either know about or don’t. I’m not going to bore you with the explanation. The problem with not  going RAW is that you lose a lot of control over the colours, especially when shooting underwater. The shot above may look nice to you, but I can see a lot of problems with the hues. Never mind. The Chromis  are pretty anyway. I couldn’t figure out which species they are.

Speaking of pretty, I’ll show you pretty.

I found a nice little crab shell on the bottom and brought it up on Faded Glory.  We never take anything living from the reef, but an empty shell (with no resident hermit crab) or a crab shell is fair game. Our friend Ush started fooling around with it and I grabbed my camera. One doesn’t want to miss opportunities for the Kodak Moments:

So, I say once again. Beauty is where you find it.

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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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Nightmare From the Sea

Posted in Under the Sea on February 16th, 2010 by MadDog
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Well, I am again today trying to get caught up. I can’t really speak, since my voice box seems to have malfunctioned. I got a call from California today, pretty important call, but I had to give up and say I just couldn’t do it. Try again tomorrow. Fortunately, there’s nothing wrong with my fingers – yet.

I’ll continue today with a few more shots from last Saturday’s dive at the Eel Garden. Some of the critters you’ve seen before. These are different angles or show different features. For instance, I showed the the ugly mug of the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis)  yesterday. Care for a game of “find the fish”? It’s not to difficult with this one. It was having trouble matching the leather coral on which it was lurking in wait for a meal:I’d really love to see one of these catching a fish. I’ve read that it’s one of the fastest actions in the animal kingdom. I imagine that all that I would see would be a puff of “dust”, probably accompanied by a loud popping sound.

I don’t often bother with most of the damslefishes. Except for a few, such as the anemonefishes, they’re not particularly pretty. However, I do like this shot of a White-Belly Damselfish (Amblyglyphidodon leucogaster):It’s one of the few shots that I have in which the image actually is prettier than the fish itslef.

You saw these two Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)  yesterday. Here is a shot of them from the side:It’s amazing how often one sees them in pairs.

You have seen a lot of images of these Solitary Coral (Fungia fungites)  here before. This one is unusual because of the white stripes. I can’t find any reference to this differentiating between species, so I’m guessing that it’s some kind of “sport” or mutation that’s not harmful to the individual. Any other guesses out there?It is not an uncommon sight, as is the purple stain that you can see at the top. I’ve seen these bright colours before on these corals.

Butterflyfish are extremely exasperating to photograph. I have very few good shots. This Spot-Tail Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellicaudus)  blasted past me at full throttle and I just pointed the camera and pressed the shutter release:Talk about a lucky shot!

Today’s nightmarish feature is this Sea Cucumber (Bohadschia graeffei):The body extends to the right, where you would find the stinky end, if you cared to look. I don’t want to think about what comes out of there.  The worst part is the end at the left, which is the consuming bit. I wouldn’t use the word “eat” to describe what this thing does. It engulfs, it vacuums, it . . . sucks!  The frilly black things with white edges are constantly reaching out, gluing themselves to anything remotely digestible and then shoving them down the ugly gob of this, this . . . thing.

Fortunately, it doesn’t move very fast.

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Massive Rainbow Heralds More Fishy Things

Posted in Under the Sea on February 15th, 2010 by MadDog
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Let’s start out this morning with something that we don’t see every day. If you’re a regular reader, you know that our house faces east and looks out across Madang Harbour. If condition are just right, as the sun is lowering in the west and it is raining over Madang Town on the peninsula, we might get a bit of a rainbow. A few afternoons ago we got a spectacular double rainbow. I was too slow to get the camera going, so I missed it. Wouldn’t you know, a few days later, we got another good one. Fortunately I was just getting out of the car and had my camera with me. I ran out to the back of Faded Glory and grabbed this five frame series which I stitched together in Photoshop to make a rainbow panorama:I’m a bit surprised that I got no red in the rainbow. It is usually pretty strong. Maybe someone out there can explain it.

I have some more shots from our dives on Saturday at Pig Island where we hunted the Eel Garden and Barracuda Point. The Eel Garden is a favourite place to stalk the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):It’s not fair to use terms like “ugly” for such a creature. They probably look fine to each other. In fact, this is probably the Steve McQueen of scorpionfishes.

If I’m making less sense than usual today, I’m blaming it on my horrible cold. I feel as if my head is stuffed full of cotton and I can’t concentrate on anything. I should be at home in bed, but I’ve finally coerced the TELIKOM technicians to do a bit error rate test on my line to my house so that I may get back an Internet connection. Unfortunately, they have no vehicles on the road. The manager mentioned something about registration, so my guess is that someone either forgot to register them or the cheque bounced. Either is equally likely – or both.

Anyway, the Barracuda Point dive was equally productive. Here is a lovely mob of Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello) cruising past me:Something is terribly wrong with these barracuda. They are supposed to be ferocious predators. Many attacks on humans are reported. Our barracuda, however , seem to be uncannily tame. I regularly swim up to them an stick my camera withing inches of them. The don’t seem to mind at all. If I get too close, they simply make a bump in the line to accommodate me. If I get closer still, they break the line and join up elsewhere. It’s a breathtaking experience.

A week wouldn’t be complete without some nudis. We’ve been finding many of them recently after a long period during which we hardly saw any at all. This Phyllidiella pustulosa is one of our most common varieties:I realise that I’m showing you a lot of them. I hope you’re not getting bored. We’re all nudibranch geeks here. My speciality is not in identifying them, but rather taking the most perfect images that I possibly can. I want to eventually come up with an identification guide for all of the species in the area. As there are hundreds, I’m afraid that I’m in a race with the Grim Reaper to complete the project.

Another that I’ve been trying to get The Definitive Image of is the Notodoris minor:Put “notodoris” in the search box to see how I’m doing. I’m not sure these shots are better than the last batch.

I certainly have more anatomical detail in these images, but I’m not as happy with the molding of the body surfaces:Since I’m still having to catch up on my posts and I have an impending battle with TELIKOM today, I’ll sign off and wish you a good day.

Please don’t get too close to your screen. I wouldn’t want you to catch this cold.

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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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More Freaky Underwater Stuff

Posted in Under the Sea on February 2nd, 2010 by MadDog
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I have a few more shots from our recent dive at Magic Passage to show to you this morning. I’m not feeling very chatty today, so you’ll be spared the usual verbal assault that comes along with the pictures. The more images that I process from the Canon G11 the more impressed I am. Now, if I can just find a student, I can get started on something that I’ve wanted to do for years – teaching underwater photography!

This is a cute litte baby Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima) only about as wide as your hand:Awwww, cootchie, cootchie, coo. If you click to enlarge, you will see its “eyes”, which are the turquoise spots around the edges. I had a hard time taking this shot, since I had to get the camera close, but every time I did, the clam would sense the shadow – they can’t really “see”, but simply sense light and dark – and withdraw into its shell.

Here is a nice shot of some Feather Stars (Comantheria briareus):These things are all over the place. There are many different colours. They have little “feet” to hold onto the rocks and they move very slowly about, looking for the best supply of food drifting past. The arms are very sticky and break off easily, so you have to be careful when moving around them not to cause them harm.

This is a beautiful Blue Encrusting Sponge (Haliclona sp):I have noticed that these are spreading like weeds in the area of Magic Passage. I don’t know what that means, but I’m a little worried about it. It is ridiculous that there are no facilities for marine research in Madang, something which I am hoping to do something about soon. More about that later – stay tuned. Anybody out there wanting to do marine research in the area should contact me.

I have a couple of new Sea Squirts for you today. This is a Sea Squirt of the Botryllus genus:The species name was not given in my resource book. It may not even have a name yet. There is so much here that is unidentified. Geeks may notice that the colony is growing on a different kind of Sea Squirt, possibly a species of Polycarpa. You can clearly see the spiracle at the upper left – it’s the big black hole.

This is a Sea Squirt of the Didemnum genus and a real beauty it is:The colour is amazing. You can also see that one Feather Star has chosen this spot to perch for a while. It is interesting that the colours are similar. I can’t imagine that this is anything less than chance, since there are absolutely no brains involved here. It’s blind luck that the hue of the Feather Star and the Sea Squirt colony end up being the same.

Finally, here is another shot of the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis) which I showed to you recently. It is a bit easier to see the fish in this shot:Most of the scorpionfish are well camouflaged. The Papuan is a master. I’m the serious photographer in our little mob of divers, but there are several who are better at spotting things. I let them swim around looking for stuff and I wait to hear someone banging on a SCUBA tank. Then I go over an shoot the critter.

It’s good to have friends.

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The Papuan Scorpionfish – Junior and Senior

Posted in Under the Sea on January 31st, 2010 by MadDog
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Today I have some more shots from my dive at Magic Passage yesterday in a ripping current. That’s exactly what you want at that site, as long as it’s coming in, bringing cold, clear ocean water. It make for great visibility, but it was a little too strong yesterday, making photography difficult. The strong currents there cause a lot of swirling around the features of the passage, so, one second you are being sucked in one direction and the next moment, it’s just the opposite. It can be hard on cameras and heads alike.

But first, here’s this morning’s yummy sunrise, a five exposure panorama:

For the techno-geeks out there, this shot was taken at first ligh, just enough to barely read the knobs on the camera, hand held from the bobbing stern of Faded Glory and shot at ISO 1600. Not bad for a point and shoot camera. Click to enlarge and have a look. There was noise, alright, but I smashed it into submission with the normal settings of Noise Ninja Pro after merging the frames in Photoshop. This is a huge reduction of the original which was about 6000 pixels wide – enough to paper your lounge room wall.

Back into the water, here are some very young Silver Sweetlips (Diagramma pictum)  right at the mouth of Magic Passage. I got this snap shot as I was fighting against the current. The G11 did a fine job:You all know that I like “find the fish” shots. This isn’t the most difficult one that I’ve shown you, but it’s still a good example of a master of camouflage:It’s a rather large specimen of the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis),  probably the most common variety of scorpionfish that we see here. Did you find it quickly?

Here is a close up and personal shot of its head:

Pretty, isn’t it? In a functional sort of way.

Thanks to the eagle-eyes of my good dive buddy Rich Jones, I got my first good image of a baby version of the big daddy above. I wouldn’t have spotted this in a million years unless I was stuck on that rock with nothing else to do:It is about 3cm long and fades in perfectly with its surroundings.

I’m very happy with my new G11. The next step is to take both cameras down on the same dive and take identical shots for comparison. Get ready for some techno-babble, but with pretty pictures to soften it.

Then I’m hoping to start conducting on-site UW photography lessons. I”m looking for serious students with at least an Advanced Open Water certificate.

Anybody interested?

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