Light and Shadow – Two Views of Beauty

Posted in Under the Sea on July 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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We had bright prospects on Saturday morning. The sun was shining in a partly cloudy sky and there seemed little chance of rain. However, when we got out into Tab Anchorage  it was clear that the sea was restless. The rolling waves promised an uncomfortable hour for any friends who were not safely under the surface of the water in the blissful calmness of Mother Ocean.

I never saw the ocean until I was twenty-five years old when Eunie and I took our infant son to Panama City, Florida while I was in Advanced Helicopter Training at Ft. Rucker Alabama. I was stunned. It was the first time I had seen a body of water wide enough that I could not see the other side. It had the aspect of infinity. Since then I have learned a curious fact. Practically anybody can get sea sick if conditions are bad enough. It takes a lot to get me sea sick, but I have been truly miserable for hours at a time during very rough passages. Therefore, I am very sensitive to the condition of my passengers. We found ourselves driven by the waves to our favourite calm cove at The Eel Garden near Pig Island  for the third week in a row.

There are a few places where we can dive even though the sea state might drive other boats back to the Madang Club for an early beer. Fortunately, The Eel Garden is a dive which never grows dull. Here Faded Glory’s  anchor and chain rests safely on the sandy bottom while the mottled lighting of the sand indicates the chaotic waves on the surface:

I decided that there were plenty of opportunities for high depth of field shots in these conditions. Here comes “Deep Focus” again.

Within moments of settling to the bottom I was presented with this little tableau. On the bottom is a Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata)  and hovering above is a Bicolor Angelfish (Centropyge bicolor):

Old-time PNG residents who enjoyed diving or snorkeling always called this “The Steamship’s Fish”, because its colours are those of the Steamships Trading Company which was one of the major suppliers of the bits and pieces of our daily lives.

Turning around the other direction, I found one of God’s Little Jokes, a bright, toy-like Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata):

Every single time I see one of these I feel a smile coming to my face. It’s something that simply can’t be stopped. In my head, I’m thinking simultaneously, “Why?” and “Why not?”

Still within the first minutes I came across this pair of Six-Spot Gobies (Valenciennea sexguttata).  This made me particularly happy, since this is only the second time I have photographed this species. The first image was less than I usually hope for. This time I got much better lighting conditions and two  of them:

Double the fun! Please don’t ask me why they are called Six-Spot Gobies when there are clearly seven spots. (We’re counting the blue spots, in case you’re wondering.)

Now we come to the images which really make me smile. Genevieve Tremblay just got some shiny new gear. She was diving with a borrowed set which had some serious deficiencies. There was nothing dangerous about it. It was simply not up to the standards which are comfortable for a new diver. Here she is teasing a Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)  and grinning at me:

How cute is that, eh? The lighting was very nice for this shot. I didn’t need to use flash and the depth was shallow enough that It was easy to get natural skin tones.

This shot taken at about twenty metres on the old catamaran shows an effect that I’m trying to learn. It’s Genevieve again with a Feather Star (Comanthina schlegeli)  in the foreground:

I could have Photoshopped out Genevieve’s hair standing on end, but decided not to. We sometimes look a little odd underwater. It adds to the charm of the image. I have a bunch more of these shots from Saturday which I will show soon.

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Oh, Blenny!

Posted in Under the Sea on March 15th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today’s interesting development concerns the Facebook/email hack that I mentioned a few days ago in The Birds! It seems that my Facebook friend had been hacked and the emails urgently asking for money to escape London were sent to her Facebook friends by the hacker. I noticed that the same person returned to Facebook, so I sent her a message asking if she had, perchance, recently been to London. She related the hacking incident to me. It is a sad tale. It reminds me to keep my own security up. I was happy to find that I had not been suckered into an elaborate fake Facebook friend scheme. She is real, and a nice person at that. I’m slightly less cynical than I was a couple of days ago. That’s always a good way to start the week.

Speaking of starting the week, here’s a Monday sunrise for you:I’ve seen better, but this one will do. I you click to enlarge, you’ll see that I caught a man in his canoe just where the sun is reflecting on the water.

Today we’re doing mostly Blennys. I’ve had quite a few of these cute little fish here before. You can find them by putting blenny in the search box. You’ve seen the Three-Lined Blenny (Ecsenius trilineatus)  before on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi:The details of the eyes are interesting, if you care to examine them by clicking to enlarge the image. Blennys are usually small fish, some species are among the smallest fish on the planet. Some Gobys are even smaller.

And here, for your viewing pleasure, is a fish that you’ve never seen before on MPBM. If fact, you’ll have to look closely to see it at all:It’s a Tripplespot Blenny (Crossosalarias macrospilus)  and this is the first one that I’ve managed to digitize:

Here’s another shot of the same specimen. It was moving around nervously from place to place. Where it landed here on this leather coral its camouflage doesn’t work very well:

The common name makes no sense to me. I see only one big spot.

You’ve seen the Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata)  several times here, mostly females. I admit a bias towards photographing females:Males of this species have a big, black spot on each side just above the pectoral fins behind the eyes. You can see in this young specimen that it is just developing. You can see an adult male specimen in this post.

I’ll toss a little colour onto this page with one of the reddest fish that I know, the Scarlet Soldierfish (Myripisits pralinia):They tend to hang around in these little caves in the reef. You can see another one in this post.

It’s time now to go out to check for the sunrise quality level. I know, I know, it’s a dirty job. Such is the life of a beach bum.

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Leper Island – No Lepers – Never Were

Posted in Under the Sea on February 7th, 2010 by MadDog
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I already went into the whole thing of Leper Island  never having had any lepers on it. If you want to read the quasi-amusing details, you can find them here. On Saturday, we first dived Planet Rock  (more about that tomorrow) and then the southern tip of Leper Island.  I had only about 70 BAR of air left in my tank, but that was enough for forty minutes of bimbling around on top of the reef snapping anything that moves and some that don’t.

For instance, here’s the familiar (to regular readers) female Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata):

The female looks just like the male, minus the big black bulls-eye behind the eyes.

I’m just nusto about spirals. They are everywhere in nature. This coral (Acropora clathrata)  often makes pretty spiral shaped shelves with frilly coloured edges:I’d like to have a coffee table with one of these cast in acrylic plastic. No, cancel that. I’d have to kill about a million coral polyps.

There were some beautiful sand waves on top of the reef. The water above was quite bumpy. There was a lot of chop and some slow rollers coming over the top. This makes the sand pile up in lovely symmetrical waves. It also makes photography difficult, as sand is flying everywhere and you are being dragged around like a two year old child kicking and screaming through the supermarket because mom won’t let you have that 90% sugar breakfast cereal that makes you think that you’re Superman:Never mind. If you eat enough of that stuff you’ll soon be on crack cocaine.

Despite the thorough trashing, I was able to get a couple of nice three frame reef panoramas. The Canon G11 makes this a snap. There is even a stitching feature in the software that comes with the camera so that you can do the job without Photoshop:Much as I hate to brag, I have to mention that one of my previous reef panoramas will soon be on display at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium as a 7 by 2 metre background for one of their displays.

I didn’t think that it was that good. However, after I spent a few hours working on it, making it about 24,000 pixels wide and working the colours over until it made me go mmmmm, I sent it off to them and they liked it. Here’s another one:Now, if I could just get someone to actually pay me  to do this stuff . . .

These last two shots make me feel like the King of the Sea. This is a rarely seen juvenile Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus orientalis):During over 2,000 dives, I’ve only seen one maybe three or four times. They are very cautious. Being only about as long as your pinkie and as conspicuous as a fire engine red 1959 Cadillac, they are understandably secretive.

They usually try to hide under ledges. They never stay still. They swim ceaselessly in a tarty, twirly, Chubby Checkers kind of “Come on Baby, Let’s Do the Twist” dance which doesn’t at all help them to avoid predators. I don’t see where they get the energy, let alone how they  stay alive:I have to mention that I would never have gotten these shots to look as good if they had come from the Canon G10 instead of my new G11. The increase in the dynamic range allowed be to capture both the deep, deep brown and the dazzling whites without losing all detail.

I’m the proverbial happy camper. Except my camp is underwater.

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Catching Up With the Fish

Posted in Under the Sea on January 20th, 2010 by MadDog
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I’ll begin the day’s foolishness with a puzzle fish. By browsing my big fish book and the web, I can usually identify nearly everything that I photograph. Sometimes it comes down to whether I have the time to search diligently. I am now overcome by hopeless despair, because I cannot identify this fish:I know that it is a Shrimpgoby, but I haven’t been able to find an exact match. There are a few wanna-be candidates, but with each there is some feature that does not match. I’m very happy with the image, as it is the first time that I have spotted this species. However, I’m frustrated that I can’t identify it.

You’ve seen the Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)  here many times. I often present it as a “find the fish” puzzle. It is superbly camouflaged:I captured the image of this one because of its stubbornness in the face of danger. They are usually quick to scoot away if you approach too closely. This one, however, was determined to occupy its favourite perch, even though I was fooling around with the anchor chain at the end of the dive and nearly dropped it right on its tail.

The Sandperches and Lizardfishes share many commonalities. You can easily see how a beginner might confuse this Latticed Sandperch [female] (Parapercis clathrata) with a Lizardfish:If you want to see a male of this species, you can find one here.  It looks pretty much like the female, except that it has a black spot on it’s head and a big orange lower lip making him look a bit like Rachel Uchitel.

Here’s an image with which I am very happy, It nearly (I said nearly ) makes up for the wretchedness demonstrated by my inability to find that cursed Shrimpgoby. This is a beautiful Humphead Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus):Wrasses, in general, go through dramatic changes of appearance as they progress through life. There is usually a Juvenile Phase (JP), an Initial Phase (IP – sometimes called the Intermediate Phase) and a Terminal Phase (TP). This individual is in the Initial Phase. That means that it is reproductively mature, but has not yet assumed the body form of a fully mature adult. For instance, its hump head will become much more pronounced as it ages.

The Humphead Wrasse is sometimes called the Māori wrasse, Napoleon wrasse or Napoleonfish. Japanese divers invariably call it the Naporean Fis.  I should also mention that this is a huge  fish, compared to the specimens which you usually see here. I guess that this individual is about 1.5 metres long and weighs a couple of hundred kilos. In some areas they have become locally extinct, because they have the unfortunate attribute of being extremely  tasty.

Since I have some nudibranch lovers out there I’ll throw in this (Fryeria menindie):I fear my ID here may be a little shaky. If anybody cares to venture another guess, I’ll surrender without a struggle.

Finally, let’s retreat to a far corner of the saloon for a little giggle. Deep in the bowels of The Coral Queen,  we found the sink where the beleaguered sailors could refresh themselves.The light was so poor here that I had to resort to monochrome to get a usable image.

Now you have it. Everything and  the bathroom sink.

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I Bet That You Have Never Eaten One of These

Posted in Under the Sea on December 17th, 2009 by MadDog
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Not much is happening here in Madang. That’s just as well, since the mood here this year is distinctly sour. Town is crowded with people moving from place to place and the tension in the air is electric. There is a liquor ban in place until at least after New Year, some say until March. It won’t do a lot of good, since there is plenty of bootleg beer and weed available. Like the Chinese say, the next month or so will be “interesting times”.

Anyway, to prepare your palate for the holidays, I’ll show you some items that I am nearly certain will not be showing up on your menu.

This is a familiar character on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi,  Mr. Lizardfish. Its given name is Reef – that’s Reef Lizardfish. Does that sound like a good name for a Hollywood actor? It’s a stage name, anyway. Who would buy tickets to see someone named Synodus variegatus  in a movie?Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)

Never mind. I took an extra silly pill this morning.

This adorable little thing has the equally adorable common name of the Papuan Toby (Canthigaster papua):Papuan Toby (Canthigaster papua)It’s a flash-lit shot that I got at the B-25 bomber The Green Dragon.  The colours are slightly oversaturated by the flash, but it’s so pretty that I’m not going to complain. Sometimes I prefer to forget my fussiness about getting things accurate and go for the gorgeous. This little sweetie persuaded me to let it shine.

Here is a tasty little Nudibranch. It’s a shame that they don’t make candy that looks this pretty. It’s a Phyllidia coelestis:Nudibranch (Phyllidia coelestis)

Nudibranchs are becoming strangely scarce around Madang. I am very suspicious about the pollution level in Astrolabe Bay.  First the sharks disappear and now the Nudibranchs. What’s going on?

This little beauty is a Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata):Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata)

I shot it on the top of the reef at Magic Passage  last Saturday. The light was very good. In this shot I deliberately oversaturaded the colours of the fish. It’s a trick that I use to remind myself of the colours that I saw. Fortunately I have an excellent visual memory. Unfortunately, I can barely remember my name, or anybody else’s. I can remember a face for a decade. Five minutes after coming aboard Faded Glory  and introducing themselves, I have to ask new divers to remind me of their names.

I had the brilliant idea of showing you a different coloured Christmas Tree Worm (Spirobranchus giganteus)  every day until Christmas:Christmas Tree Worm (Spirobranchus giganteus)

I don’t know how that is going to play out. I’m running out good images in my accumulation. I’ll have to get a lot of shots on Saturday.

Finally, the least likely to show up on your plate are these miniscule, but undoubtedly yummy shrimp:Shrimp in fungiform (Heliofungia actiniformis) coral (species unknown, possibly Periclimenes holthuisi)
These are tiny, nearly transparent commensal shrimp that live in a fungiform coral (Heliofungia actiniformis).  The species here is the problem – identifying it. It could be Periclimenes holthuisi  or possibly P. venustus,  though there are specific markings on each of those species that are missing or distorted in these specimens.

The interesting thing here is that it is possible  that you are looking at an undescribed species. It happens all the time here. Every year species formerly undescribed are discovered near Madang. This could  be one.

Anybody out there want to check this one out?

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