The Vain Varicosa

Posted in Under the Sea on July 20th, 2010 by MadDog
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Dont’ try to figure out the title of the post yet. It’s so stupid that you will simply waste your time. I’ll get to it.

Busy, busy, busy. When I went out this morning I was wondering how I was going to cram in all the things that I “had to do” before clocking out. One of them was to take this picture of a sunrise, a very peculiar one:

Frustrated with the violet hue (which, by the way, I saw with my own eyes, but can’t explain), I spent far too much time trying to get rid of it and then decided to leave it, because that’s the way it was. It is not a very good idea to fool with Mother Nature, even when she seems to be fooling with you.

But, getting back to “things I have to get done today”, I really need an attitude adjustment. There are categories:

  • That which must be done to maintain life (eat, get a little exercise, don’t offend any mobsters, etc.)
  • That which one must do to keep one’s job or jobs (should be obvious to you unless you are about to be sacked)
  • That which you would like to do just to show that you’re pulling your load (help with the housework, wash the car, mow the lawn, etc.)
  • That which you need to do in order to maintain some level of personal satisfaction (this too, you probably already have figured out)

The problem is putting them all into some kind of balance. I still haven’t gotten a handle on that. I probably never will.

So, since this is something which I do to maintain some level of personal satisfaction, I’m going to blow off some of the more essential tasks and show you the source of the ridiculous title of this post. It is a nudibranch, specifically a Phyllidia varicosa,  of which you have seen many specimens before:

The title is a stupid pun combining the species name, varicosa,  and vain, which we all understand (“You’re so vain – da da da da da da da.”) with varicose veins and don’t ask me why that popped into my mind. So having established what kind of a day it’s going to be, let’s get on with the rest of it.

By the way, I am calling that P. varicosa  image a perfect specimen shot. If anybody wants to argue that, then put up your dukes and show that you did better. I’m laying the matter to rest until I get (or I am challenged with) a better one. That’s another brag down for the day. How many do I have left? I’ve lost count already.

Here’s a nice, symmetrical shot of  a Fan Coral and a Feather star:

No, I’m not going to say a lot about it. It’ speaks for itself. Let it talk for a few seconds. Pop it up and have a look. Hear anything?

Me neither.

A little gaggle of Shadowfin Soldierfish (Myripristis adusta)  were swimming through the notch leading to the catamaran. Having plenty of air and not much else to do, I took a picture of them:

Think of that shot as part of my continuing efforts to demonstrate that not everything under the sea is as exciting and beautiful as you see it on TV.

This is a bit better. These little devils are usually almost impossible to shoot well. The Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus)  is a shy, shy fish:

This is probably the best shot which I have ever gotten of the fat little puppy-like swimmers.

Then, a few metres away, I found another one ducking in and out of a hole:

Another good puffer shot. When you’re hot, you’re hot!

Looking back up at that list, I think that I have to get to work now.

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A SCUBA Diving Bee?

Posted in Under the Sea on July 6th, 2010 by MadDog
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This morning I was out stumbling around in my garden looking for something to shoot. I was nearly ready to give up, not having found anything that I haven’t already snapped a hundred times, when I came across this small bee wearing a SCUBA diver’s mask:

It’s only Tuesday and I’m already running out of material. When I start pulling your chain about diving bees, you can tell that I am desperate. Yeah, I know that it’s silly, but look at its eyes. I have never seen a bee, or any other insect, with eyes such as this. They are huge. They also have an unusual shape, which I suspect give it an enormous field of vision. This makes me think that it is possibly an insectivorous bee. A bee which hunts on the wing would need exceptional vision. It also does not resemble the standard, flower-visiting bee. I watched it for some time. It was showing no interest in all of the flowers around it. In fact, it gave the distinct impression of a hunter lying in ambush.

UPDATE: Faithful reader and friend Alison Raynor has already nailed down the identification of this bee. It seems that I coulnd’t have been more wrong. Oh, wel. It’s not the first time:

Blue-banded bees (Amegilla cingulata) are native to Australia, but also occur naturally in Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Indonesia and Malaysia. Unlike other bee species, blue-banded bees are solitary insects. They typically build nests in sandstone, mud or the mortar-gaps in the brickwork of houses.

Blue-banded bees specialise in an unusual sort of flower pollination called ‘buzz pollination’. Normally flowers release pollen passively, but some species are specially designed to be pollinated by ‘buzz pollinators’ that grab onto the flowers and vibrate them quickly to release the pollen.

Okay, the bee doesn’t dive, but I do. I ran through some more frames from our dive at The Eel Garden last Saturday and found a few which may amuse, if not amaze you.

Though this will probably mean little to you, I can testify that this is an unusual image. This Sea Cucumber (Thelenota anax)  does not belong on this bumpy coral. It is a creature which gobbles up sand by the bucket, runs it through its innards, sifting out the digestible bits, and then excretes the sand out of its other end:

Why it is wandering around up here on this coral shelf, metres away from its feeding ground, I have no idea.

The lower fish, whiskering around in the sand, is a Goatfish, specifically a Parupeneus forsskali:

They feed by bulldozing around in the sand, throwing up big clouds of “dust” and using their whiskers to find food. The other fish is a Redbreasted Wrasse (Cheilinus fasciatus),  a fish which usually stays far enough away to be difficult to shoot. It is not unusual to find other fish hanging around where a goatfish is feeding. They often stir up items which do not interest them, but other fish find tasty.

This is a Longnose Butterflyfish (Forcipiger flavissimus):

It’s not a particularly good shot, but my excuse is, as usual, they try to stay at a distance. How they calculate the distance at which it becomes nearly impossible to shoot them, I don’t know. They must know more about cameras than I do.

This is a reather handsome Soldierfish named Myripistis amaena.  His friends call him Misty. He has a gender identity problem. That’s why he wears the butch outfit:

Chain mail is very “in” at the bars where he hangs.

You are undoubtedly tired of the Phyllidia varicosa  nudibranch. Well, you may as well get used to it, because it is one of our more common varieties and I haven’t got the absolutely perfect image on one yet:

I’ll let you know when I do.

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Parrotfish and Deep Focus

Posted in Under the Sea on May 30th, 2010 by MadDog
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Saturday dawned brilliant and promising. I was looking forward to going back to The Eel Garden near Pig Island  to find the Leafy Sea Dragon which has been reported to be on the old catamaran. I looked in vain for it last week, but a fellow diver, Hendirck, told me that he had found something promising. In return for the information, I dragged out my old Canon G10 and its underwater housing for him to try out.

Unfortunately, with all of the juggling around of cameras, housings and memory cards, I managed to show up at Magic Passage for our first dive with my G11 showing “NO MEMORY CARD”. Ai ya yai ya yai!  Stupido!  So, I did a very nice dive on which some very interesting critters were spotted, but I had no camera.

Never mind. I pretended to enjoy it, playing Divemaster and pointing out all sorts of fascinating items which I determined to burn into my brain memory cells instead of my usual memory contained in my camera. The camera is much  more reliable.

On the second dive at The Eel Garden, Rich Jones was not diving, so I used his new G11 which was out on its virgin underwater experience.

There were many very colourful parrotfish about. This is simultaneously exciting, euphoric and frustrating. If you are a snorkeller or diver you understand the first two. If you are an underwater photographer you get the latter. Google parrotfish and look at the sad offering of images. It is nearly impossible to get close to them. You must depend on the occasional quick shot when one darts past:

I don’t know the species of the one above. My fish book is at the office and I have photographed so few that I can’t remember most of the names.

This one, I do know, but I would call it a “failed” image:

It is a Hump Head Parrotfish (Bulbometopon muricatum).  They are huge. This one was at least 1.5 metres long. Unfortunately, they are delicious and easy to spear. In some areas of the South Pacific they have disappeared completely. This was a quick snap shot at the end of a long tiring chase during which I managed to corner it long enough for a very poorly framed image. The closer you get to them the bluer they look. I was about two metres away from this one in fairly dirty water.

I’ve been playing around with a photographer’s technique called “deep focus”. It sounds exotic, but it is easy to understand. The smaller the hole you are looking through, the more “depth of field” you will get. In other words, objects from near to far will be in focus if the hole is small enough.

Theoretically, a pinhole will have a focal range from very close to infinity. So, the larger the number of the f-stop you use on your camera (the size of the hole through which the light passes) the smaller the hole will be. I know it sounds backwards, but never mind. Big number – small hole  – more depth of field. That’s the way it goes. If you can get f 16 on your camera, you will get lots of stuff in focus from near to far. At f 2.8 you will get only near or far, but not both.

It works better for non close-up stuff. For instance this shot of the Nudibranch Phyllidia varicosa  doesn’t show much effect:

Sure, most of it is in focus, but there is not much to show the depth of the image. There are no obvious visual clues to indicate depth.

It this shot of coral with an anemone in the background, however, there are many clues to indicate distance:

It requires a lot of light to use the small lens opening, because not much can get through. If you don’t have enough light, you will be forced to use shutter speeds that are too slow to give sharp images. There’s no free lunch. You can have it one way or another, but not both. I manually blurred and darkened the very distant objects at the top to enhance the effect.

In both of these images I failed to note that when I changed the mode of my camera to Aperture Priority (meaning I get to set the aperture and the camera automatically sets the shutter speed) I lost my format setting and it reverted to JPG. I always shoot underwater in the RAW format mode because it allows me much more colour control. Sorry to bore you with these arcane details, but there are a few photographers out there who are constipated enough to care about these things.

Here is a pretty scene, never mind the colours are off, of some coral with Purple Antheas swimming around:

It nicely illustrates the reality which you can get with the deep focus technique.

Okay, that’s it for me. It’s Sunday evening. The sun is below the yardarm. I’m going for a wee dram and lay on the bed to watch some mind-numbing TV for a while. Then maybe I’ll rest my eyes for a bit.

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The Half-Eaten Gumdrop

Posted in Under the Sea on April 13th, 2010 by MadDog
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Once again, I find myself in the middle of the evening trying to catch up with the day. How did I hustle so much and accomplish nothing that I can call progress? It seems to be becoming a way of life. How thought provoking. The harder I work the less I accomplish. I spent half the day putting little tags on wires so that I can tell where they go. I’m drowning in wires! Throw me a life-preserver. No, wait. That’s a mixed metaphor. I’m strangled by wires! Throw me a hatchet.

This Bannerfish exasperated me from the moment I met it. First, I couldn’t get close enough for a shot. I had to chase it, something which I usually avoid, since it usually simply burns up oxygen. Then, when I finally set up a successful ambush, it sped away so fast that all I could manage was a quick panning shot. I’m surprised that it turned out so nice:More consternation arose when I tried to identify it. After a search through my pitiful collection of references I spent a few fruitless minutes with Google Images. No luck. Phooey!

UPDATE: Thanks to my old pal Tris  for jabbing me in the ribs to point out the the fish is not a Bannerfish at all, but a Moorish Idol (Zanclus cornutus).  Thanks for “helping” me, Tris.

The Bigeye Trevally (Carnax sexfasciatus)  at Barracuda Point  on Saturday were splendid. You don’t really have to chase them. You simply swim closer and closer as they whirl around.  This shot was snapped at less than two metres:I soon have to back off to slow my breathing. I let them meander around me for a minute or so and then join the procession again.

The problem with Trevally is that they are so blasted shiny! It’s very difficult, with a small-sensor camera such as my Camon G11, to get enough dynamic range to capture the dark and mid-range tones without blowing out the whites:Still, I’m happy with these shots. Even after chasing them, I still got two dives and over 100 minutes off of an 80 cubic foot tank. My gills are working just fine.

Here is a not too wonderful shot of some Midnight Snappers (Macolor macularis):The interesting bit is that we have adults and a couple of teenagers. The juveniles are black and white with spots and bands. You can still see a trace of the juvenile colouration and pattern on the two teens in the middle.

This is a perfectly normal Pyllidia varicosa  nudibranch:Vaguely amusing, eh? They are easy to photograph, so I tend to show you a lot of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re getting bored.

Okay, how about this one which has had a chunk bitten out by a predator:It’s the Half-Eaten Gumdrop mentioned in the title.

Many nudis remind me of some kind of fancy candy and, strangely enough, take me back to Vienna. The Austrians go for the fancy candy. There are shops which sell nothing else.

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Warm Fish Soup

Posted in Under the Sea on April 6th, 2010 by MadDog
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Divers have an amusing expression to describe the scene when there are far too many fish to count. Indeed, you can’t even count the number of species. We call it fish soup.

I had some warm fish soup in the tepid water of The Eel Garden  near Pig Island  on Saturday. Most of the fish that you see here are some species of Anthea:There are many varieties of Anthea.  Most are very colourful. They gather in small schools around a fixed location.

I snapped this shot as I was passing over these two Soldierfish. The one on the left is a Scarlet Soldierfish (Myripistis pralinia)  and the one on the right is a Brick Soldierfish (Myripistis amaena):A you can tell, if you click to enlarge, they were both looking up at me as I passed overhead.

I nearly missed this Slender Grouper (Anyperodon leucogrammicus)  as it tried to sneak past me:One trick that I’ve learned is that fish will almost always flee to deeper water. Therefore one needs to have a head’s up stance to catch the ones which have spotted you and will soon be trying to take the shortest route to a deeper hiding place. This usually means that when they pass directly to your right or left, they will be a close as they are going to get to your camera.

This is a very young Bubble Coral (Plerogyra sinosa)  only about 4cm in diameter. At this stage they look more like a strange, puffy flower:To the right and below is a colony of very small Sea Squirts which look to me to be Eusynstyela latericius.

This sneaky little Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus)  thought that he was hidden behind a bit of coral about a metre away from me. I popped up and caught him with his mouth open:I’m an old stalker. I can usually get a shot if I don’t have to give chase. I’m not as fast on the long pursuit as I used to be. Ah, but crafty I am.

How foolish it is to attempt to hide from me. This is a fairly rare orange variation of Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii):I tried to get a shot in the clear, but finally gave up and accepted this one instead. I can pretend that I intended it that way.

PRESENTER: See how the timid anemonefish attempts to hide behind the tentacles of the anemone? It seldom exposes itself to danger by leaving the poisonous, protective arms of its host. This symbiotic relationship is reinforced by the protection that the anemonefish receives from the anemone. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Works for me.

Nudibranchs are a pushover. This Phyllidia varicosa  moves so slowly that the whole idea of evasion is silly:

I love to photgraph nudis. I can just float in the water with my camera about 5cm from the little devil and relax while I snap away.

The nidibranch is none the wiser.

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Still at The Eel Garden – Can’t Get Enough of It

Posted in Under the Sea on March 3rd, 2010 by MadDog
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I’ll keep the babble at a minimum today, as my brain is running on empty and I’m moving at molecular speed though I have my mental pedal to the metal. In case you’re interested in the gory details, my sinuses are expanding exponentially and will soon be causing grey matter to ooze out my ears. It makes it even harder than usual to think. Oh, I can still think about a lot of things, – no worries there. The problem is that none of them are useful.

This does not bode well, as I have a very important appointment tomorrow, the outcome of which will have a huge effect on the next few years of  our lives. I’m sincerely hoping for a clear brain in the morning, if not clear sinus cavities.

I see that I’ve already exceeded my babble limit, so I’ll get right to this cute little Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii) guarding his host with due diligence:We used to see a lot of this species, but lately they seem to be getting more scarce. This always worries me when I note changes in species distribution. I don’t have enough technical knowledge to know if it’s important or not and I’ve had no luck, so far, in interesting any marine researchers to return to Madang, which used to be one of the main playgrounds for such eggheads.

Yesterday, if my memory is working correctly (no guarantees) I showed you another of these corals of the Galaxea genus:They are particularly beautiful and incredibly detailed. This one is the Galaxea fascicularis. It’s worth clicking on to see the detail of the polyps.

This shot is a bit of a double treat. The kicker is that I found it right under the bow of Faded Glory. We anchored in the sand, but the boat drifted a little over the top of the reef. I caught this just as I was returning to the boat. It’s a pair of seldom-seen Skunk Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos) lurking in a similarly rare and beautiful Merten’s Anemone (Stichodactyla mertensii):Quite a nice surprise at the end of a painful dive.

Going back a couple of days, I showed you this same Nudibranch (Phyllidia varicosa) shot with natural light. As I was going through the images from that day I noticed that I had also taken flash exposures of it. For the first time in a long while, for a macro shot, I think that I prefer this flash shot to the natural light exposure:I think that the explanation is that the light was poor and I had to do a lot of fiddling with noise and a bit of motion blur to get the shot by natural light. This one has much more realistic detail. I didn’t even bother to give it a bath to remove all of the little bits of ocean gook that usually cover everything.

Here’s another fish that you saw recently as a part of a pair. I found this side-on shot of a Split-Banded Cardinalfish (Apogon compressus) which I had previously rejected because I thought that it was over exposed:As it finally turned out, it is not a bad specimen shot, except that the intense blue of the eye is lost. Someday I’ll get the perfect shot of this fish.

Okay, I’m falling out of my chair now. I think I’ll go home and go to bed. I have computers to work on, but my brain is rebooting every time I think of that. It’s taking much longer to come back on line.

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Improving the Eel Garden Dive Site

Posted in Under the Sea on March 1st, 2010 by MadDog
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I had no business diving on Saturday. I’ve been fighting off a cold which turned into sinusitis and a bronchial infection for over two weeks now. However, I could “pop” my ears after taking a 12-hour Sudafed, so I decided to have a go for a shallow dive. When I flipped over the side of Faded Glory  onto my back and sank about a meter before popping up again, I knew I’d made an error of judgement. However, as I was already in the water, I decided to grab my camera and see if I could get deep enough to do any good.

My ears cleared okay, but my entire head felt as if it was being squeezed in a vise. There  lot of cavities in your head that are supposed to be filled with air at normal atmospheric pressure – that’s you’re sinus cavities. When you’re congested, they don’t connect up right and you can’t equalise pressure between them. It hurts like billy-blue-blazes. I found if I went down only a half meter at a time, and kept equalising all the time, I could keep the pain manageable.

For you divers out there, keep in mind that I have over 2,000 dives, so I have a fairly good idea of what I can actually get away with. I was pushing the limits and taking a calculated risk that I wouldn’t rupture a blood vessel. Don’t try this at home. Just because I do stupid things doesn’t mean that we’re in a contest to see who can be the more stupid. Be the winner – stay safe!

Here you can see Richard Jones taking a depth measurement at the level of a stainless steel pin cast into the reef. We will attach a chain to it with a float about two meters below the surface. To that, we’ll attach a short rope with a ring in the end and a small surface float to mark it:When approaching for a dive, someone (appointed by the captain – ME) will dive over the side holding a moring line, run it through the ring, and then hand it up to another crew member to be tied off to hold the boat in position. This way we don’t have to drop anchor at dive sites. We are usually very careful to aviod damage, but sometimes it happens. Note that you can see Faded Glory’s  anchor lying in the sand just beyond him in the distance.

We gave up trying to get funding to put in permanent moorings at all of the popular dive sites. There are plenty of agencies who talk the talk about saving the reefs, but none that we’ve found who walk the walk. My advice, if someone approaches you in Madang about “saving our reefs” is to ask them to give you a list of active projects for which they are spending money to do something useful instead of just moaning about it. I’m fed up with aid agencies that show you the fancy brochures and web sites, but give you the blank stare when you ask for money to do something that will actually get the job done.

With my head pounding like a jackhammer, I descended to about six meters and discovered a fish that I’ve never seen before. I was lucky enough to get a couple of good shots of this Six-Spot Goby (Valenciennea sexguttata): Hey, this fish has six blue spots on each side. Shouldn’t it be a Twelve-Spot Goby? It’s not exactly gorgeous, but It’s a new one for me, so I say hurrah!

Here’s our beautiful little friends the Purple Anthea (Psudanthias tuka)  sparkling like jewels above the sandy bottom of The Eel Garden near Pig Island: There are both males and females there in that image along with a variety of other species. A typical “fish soup”.

You’ve seen the Nudibranch (Phyllidia varicosa)  here before, but not one this large, I don’t believe:This one couldn’t have hidden behind two golf balls. The colours are gorgeous. It looks like some kind of fancy candy.

This is a particularly nice shot of a Longfin Bannerfish (Heniochus acuminatus)  which I certainly did not think was going to be worth saving:It just flashed past me as I was clearing my ears for the hundredth time. I swung my camera around and pressed the shutter release in its general direction. When I checked the shot on the screen, I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t have gotten that good a shot normally if I’d spent all day trying. Sometimes the camera just does its job.

This is a funny little image of some arms of a Feather Star (Comanthina schlegeli)  sticking out of its hidey-hole:I don’t know what it was doing crammed down in there. It certainly isn’t any kind of normal behaviour that I’ve seen before. They are usually our where they can wave their arms about in the breeze.

Since Rich Jones was spotting for me, I knew that I’d get something special. He found this Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus)  hiding down in a crevice:It was a devil of a shot to get. There was too little light and the flash just made it all garish and contrasty. I finally set the camera for a very tight aperture to get the best depth of field and backed off the flash power to its minimum setting. I was surprised to get anything at all, let alone the nice shot above.

There’s something going on the image above that puzzles me. There are far too many antennae in that image. There must be two shrimp in that hole. Where is the other one? It looks like it could be behind the visible one. I leave the reader to ponder that one.

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