Henry Leith and the Green Dragon

Posted in Under the Sea on January 15th, 2010 by MadDog
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No, I have not taken up writing children’s fantasy stories. A couple of days ago Anita, Wouter and I went diving at Wongat Island  on The Green Dragon  B-25 Mitchell bomber and the coastal freighter wreck, The Henry Leith.  It was an amazing day of diving, as the water in that area was as clear as I have seen it in over twenty years. Both wrecks could be clearly seen from the surface. Anita’s father, Jos, stayed on the boat most of the time, as he is pleased to do so. We all took some time while we waited for a safe period between dives to take a walk on the beautiful beach.

We started our day at The Green Dragon.  Here is an amusing shot of Wouter peering through one of the waist gun ports. There is an identical port on the opposite side of the fuselage. I stuck my camera through it and snapped Wouter as he shined his dive light around examining the ammunition feed chutes and other equipment scattered inside:

Under the port wing of the bomber there is always a mob of these fish. I should know the name of them, but it escapes me at the moment and my big fish book is at the office:I’m luxuriating in the glory of a 31.2KBS connection at my house. It took me only two years to get my phone line repaired by TELIKOM. We learn patience here in Madang – or we leave. We’re suffering another mass exodus of expatriates recently. Economic woes, lost contracts, fears of violence and a general dismay concerning the rapid deterioration of the cival infrastructure has caused many to abandon Paradise. It makes me sad to lose so many friends.

If you are a regular reader of Madang – Ples Bilong Mi you will be familiar with this scene. It is a Blue Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii)  fleeing in terror:Or, maybe not. If there were any sense to this situation, it should be the other way around. These creatures are remarkably tolerant to a close approach, as long as you do it slowly and don’t surprise it. If you put STINGRAY in the search box, you’ll find many other posts with images of this fascinating critter. We nearly always see one or two at The Henry Leith.

On the deck we found this juvenile Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):They are very easy to photograph, as they seldom move unless you actually poke them, but they are difficult to find. They normally lay in wait for a meal on a coral rubble background where they are extremely difficult to see.

Also on the deck, at the stern, we found this lovely juvenile Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans):The common name refers to its numbers not its appearance. They are commonly seen, since there are plenty of them. There is, however, nothing common about their form. They are beautiful beyond description.

At the end of the dive, while hanging near the anchor line waiting for my blood nitrogen to bubble out like a fizzy drink, I took this image of my air bubbles racing to meet the sun:If life gets to be any more enjoyable, I’m going to have to hire someone to take part of the load. I’m pretty well maxed out on pleasure.

Maybe it’s just a mood swing.

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An Impossibly Brilliant Anemone

Posted in Under the Sea on March 15th, 2009 by MadDog
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Saturday morning we made the arduous twenty minute journey out to Planet Rock  in Astrolabe Bay.  I shouldn’t moan about the travel time. Most of our dives are within ten minutes of my house.

On the Southwest corner at about 23 metres is a large Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor).   I say that with some confidence, but this one is highly unusual. Have a look: (the diver is Tracey)

Flourescent Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)
I have only seen this bright red fluorescent pigmentation in a Bulb Anemone in one other location. That was out at Crown Island.  To say that it is spectacular would be a gross understatement. I’ve been watching this anemone for nearly fifteen years. It’s hard to believe that it has remained healthy for so long.

It’s also hard to believe that I have not fiddled with the colours in these shots. I always strive to reproduce colours that are as I saw them. I prefer the natural look as opposed to the garish oversaturated colours that are seen in many underwater shots. In this case, however, I actually had to tone down the red a bit, since it looked completely fake. Here’s another shot showing a couple of Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus):

Flourescent Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)
There are many beautiful little reef scenes at Planet Rock. Here’s a typical fish playground:
Reef Scene
I botched the job of smoothing out all the little specks floating in the water. If you look carefully (click to enlarge), you will see a faint discolouration around the fish. I should do it over again, but it’s Sunday, and Tracey is leaving us, so I need to go up to Blueblood for the party. Speaking of Tracey, here she is playing with a little Porcelain Crab in an anemone:
Tracey playing with a little crab in an anemone
This shot of a Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis)  is not very good. I bumped my camera housing into a piece of coral and got a few drops of water inside. This is the primary horror of underwater photographers. Fortunately, it was only a small amount and none got onto the camera. However, the little window on the front of the housing was fogging up, so the shot is not very clear. I include it only because this is the only shot that I have of a juvenile of this species. Technically it’s not a juvenile, but it is not full grown either. Its beard is only beginning to grow:
Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis) - juvenile
I’ve yakked enough now. I’ll show you some pretty skies that we saw on the way back:A typical Madang skyWe made a circle around the end of the island chain and came back from the North. This is looking East at the North end of Kranket Island. You can see the Cumulonimbus clouds building up over the Finesterre Mountains  in the afternoon heat.

This shot is looking back towards Kar Kar Island:

Going home - the wake points to Kar Kar Island
Come to Madang someday. We’ll show you all of this.

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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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