The Half-Eaten Gumdrop

Posted in Under the Sea on April 13th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Beauty and the Beast

Posted in Under the Sea on April 10th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Saturday dawned bright and sunny, but I was too late for a sunrise. I slept in until nearly 07:00. By the time I got up, there was no time to do a post, so I’m catching up today. It’s worth the wait, because I got some splendid shots during the day. We had a few adventures.

Jo Noble has mentioned to me a couple of times how she loves to free dive down and swim through the divers’ bubbles. It’s fun, it tickles and it’s a visual treat. The bubbles sometimes form mushroom shapes as big as your hand. If you stick your finger in the “bell” shape at the top, it explodes into a hundred tiny bubbles in a circle.

So, we decided that I’d go down after Monty and Kate got into the water  and shoot Jo swimming through the bubbles. It was a very good idea. Look at this beautiful shot:It might not be the most elegant pose in the history of underwater figure photography, but I like the animal power of it. Jo is going for the bubbles, pure and simple. She’s chasing them with all her might.

This one is a bit more dreamy. It reminds me a a reverse rainstorm:Jo is an aquatic beauty caught in an up-pour of air drops. I struggled to get some good skin tones out of this one, but the data was simply not there.

The next pose is much more sleek and lovely, but still portrays the power of the dive. If you’ve never free dived, you might not realise how much effort and skill it takes to get turned over and kick your way down, especially into salt water. It’s not as easy as it looks. Those of you who free dive will probably remember, as I do, the difficulty of learning to do it gracefully. If it’s done right, you see the swimmers bottom for a moment as she flips heels over head, the legs shoot straight up out of the water to gain weight above the water line and that weight propels the diver downwards and she reaches for a big double armful of water to pull herself downward.

Here Jo shows the technique perfectly:Isn’t that beautiful? How lucky to be there with a camera!

Since I’m now doing two dives on Saturdays we decided to have a little fun on the second one. I’m such a cheapskate that I rent only one tank. If I get an 80 (that’s a big one) I can get nearly two hours of dive time from it. Monty says I have gills. He may be right.

Anyway, on the second dive we decided to play the tropical divers’ equivalent of Russian Roulette, “Tease the Triggerfish”. Regular readers have seen triggerfish here before. Triggerfish are about the size of a football. In fact the Latin name is derived from the word for “ball shape”.

Here are two Yellowmargin Triggerfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus)  guarding a nesting cone, the big, funnel shaped area in the sand with the rubbish in the centre:Though they are not currently mating, they come back regularly to these areas to check things out. On Saturday there were about ten of them patrolling the area.

The plan was that Monty would take pictures of me trying to get close-ups without getting bitten. The have teeth. Oh, my do they have teeth, teeth like a Pit Bull and a temperament to match. I had the thickest wet suit and the most experience with a camera, so it was my duty to get up-close and personal with the little devils. Did I mention that they bite? I’ve seen chunks taken out of divers’ fins by these critters.

As it turned out, Monty and Kate were distracted by some anemonefish and weren’t of much use to me:

The did get into the fray pretty quickly, as the triggerfish were getting very agitated and were darting about everywhere. They like to get about five or six metres away from you, square off, lower their head and make a charge, waggling like crazy and visibly accelerating directly at you. At that point you begin to ponder in earnest if they are going to break off the attack or not.

The attack profile is particulary terrifying for a male diver. The demons seem to favour a mid body target which makes it appear as if they are going directly for the, ah . . . how to put this delicately . . . the groin area.

Some of you have seen this before:I got so tired of describing the two most dangerous triggerfish to divers on my boat so that I could tell them to get behind me that I had them tattooed on my back.

Now, I can hear the mumbling out there, so don’t act like you’re not sceptical. Non-divers are naturally suspicious of the tall tales, since hardly ever comes back with so much as a scratch.

I did get one very lucky shot just before I nearly soiled my wetsuit:

Did I mention the headlong charges? Did I mention the teeth? This beast was travelling about thirty KPH when I snapped this shot, just before he flicked aside with an audible SNAP.

We call this fun.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Warm Fish Soup

Posted in Under the Sea on April 6th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday – It’s Not All About Diving

Posted in At Sea, Under the Sea on April 4th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Regular readers of Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  probably think that Saturdays are all about the edgy sport of diving, photography and taxonomic names. One might be forgiven for thinking that it’s all so unbearably geeky. If you’re not a diver, but you’ve been around them, you know that they can be a snobbish lot, making whooshing noises with their gear and strutting around arrogantly in their wetsuits. Well, the truth is, everybody looks better in a well-fitting wetsuit, even me. It’s like an all-body girdle. You’re trimmer when you need trimming and you bulge in the appropriate places. So, one might be forgiven for wanting to be a diver. It’s semi-cool. Sort of like driving a Datsun Z car.

Hah! Saturday is not all about diving. It’s also fun for a very pleasant gang of people half my age who enjoy the pleasure of getting out on the water and away from the office. Here we are on Faded Glory  with Sanguma  in the distance heading for Pig Island  for some tropical water pleasure:It was a strange sort of day – half sunny, half  gloomy.

When we tied up with Sanguma,  the inevitable Scrabble game began:If you click to enlarge, you can see that Ush has a fairly good selection of letters to play with. Maybe that explains the expression on her face.

When the sun came out, everyone got into the water:Each boat has a generous selection of “noodles” to assist in the floating pleasure.

Monty Armstrong and I both did two dives, so it was not all fun and games. Monty just bought a new Canon G11 with the factory underwater housing, the same rig that I use. I feel a contest coming on:Richard also has the same camera and housing. We have yet to coax him to bring it into the water. Above is a nice little starfish that I snapped. I’ll have many more underwater shots later in the week.

Jade and Andrew Marshall were out on their boat with some friends and their very cute three month old Blue Heeler. After a dunking in the ocean, which he did not appear to enjoy, he was warmed up by Ush. Not surprisingly, he did seem to enjoy that.

Everybody seemed keen to get out again for the evening to enjoy the wonderful phosphorescence in the water. I was skeptical about the weather, but agreed to have the boat ready to leave at 17:30.

On our way out, my fears for the weather proved well founded when the western sky got very angry:It turned out to be a fairly miserable evening. We suffered rain, mosquitoes, a pesky chop which kept the boats bouncing against their fenders and finally a cold wind which drove us all back to Madang by 20:00.

Nevertheless, all was not wasted. We encountered a small group of mermaids frolicking in the warm sea:There is seldom anything such as a bad Saturday in the Land of Surprises.

Tags: , , , , ,

A Once In a Lifetime Shot

Posted in Under the Sea on March 27th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

The weekend got off to a perfect start this morning when I crossed the terminal wires on my boat battery and blew the voltage regulator on my engine. I had to cancel the day for five divers standing on the dock waiting for me. I hope the remainder of their weekend went better than mine. Fortunately, Richard Jones is in town, so I went out on his boat, Sanguma  along with Jenn, Jo and Ush.

I have lots of other news about the weekend, some good, some not so. I’m sitting at the office on Sunday afternoon writing this because the power to the security camera pole where my wireless connection makes its hop to my house has been out all weekend and, of course, my wonderful TELIKOM phone lines won’t carry data today because there were a few drops of rain last night.

I could keep on complaining for hours, but I don’t have the time. Too bad. It’s my favourite hobby.

One of the bright spots of the weekend is in this image:If you’re not a diver, you might not think that it’s such a big deal. Believe me, it is.  The shot above was taken by available light at about eighteen metres at The Eel Garden  at Pig Island.

What you’re looking at is two giant Notodoris minor  nudibranchs engaged in a super slow motion mating act. (UPDATE: Frank Peeters points out that this is actually one N. Minor.  His explanation is perfect; I can’t argue with it. See our comments below. I’m only slightly deflated.) The reason I’m showing you three nearly identical images of the same scene are partly technical and partly because I’m so dumbfounded by my luck that I can’t stop inserting the images in this post. It’s one thing to see a Notodoris minor.  I’ve found a spot at The Eel Garden  where I can usually find one if I take the time to look. It’s another thing to find two of them together. However, I have never before, and very likely never will again catch two of them in the act of laying and fertilising eggs. The shot above was lit by the flash on my camera.

Needless to say, I grabbed many, many exposures of the pair. I did not want to risk something going wrong. I tried several different camera settings. I made up this image in Photoshop which, though it seems faded compared to the others, shows the fine structures in high detail and really gives a more accurate idea of the shape of the things:The image above is over twice the pixel dimensions that I usually put in the journal. I normally limit resolution to 1600 pixels. This makes them load faster if you want to click to enlarge. It also protects me a little from those who steal images from the web and foist them off as their own. Yes, it has happened to me. My copyright (see the bottom of the page) allows free non-commercial use of any of my images without seeking permission as long as you simply attach my name to the image or (preferably) include a link to Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  That’s fairly small payment for the work that I put into presenting my best work on this site. I’ve found plenty of my images on other web sites with no attribution. I’m not sure why someone would do that, but it doesn’t make me particularly happy. Anyway, if you want to see some amazing details of the egg-laying nudis, click on the image above and be ready to download about a half of a megabyte.

I also thought that you might be interested to see the old wrecked catamaran river barge which is right beside the place where I find the Notodoris minor:That image is a stitch-up of seven separate frames. It covers about 160°.

Since we’re doing a lot of yellow today, I’ll throw in this snap-shot of a Latticed Butterflyfish (Chaetodon rafflesi):I’d rather that the other one had gotten out of the way a little sooner. This image was the result of a ten minute chase. Butterflyfish are very frustrating.

I’ll have more weekend adventures later. They include a very nice party, a car theft by a drunk, a house invasion and possible rape (we don’t know yet) and probably some other things that I’ve already suppressed deep in my memory vault.

I’ll also have some nice shots of my peeps.*

* I’m destined to live the dream for all my peeps who never made it. -Naz

Tags: , , , , , ,

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

Posted in Under the Sea on March 3rd, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

More Eel Garden Goodies

Posted in Under the Sea on March 2nd, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Well, it’s official now. I’m as sick as a dog. I went over to see our beloved Dr. John Mackerel (A . K. A. Tinpis ). He shoved around and pounded on my face, causing considerable pain. Then he put his stethoscope, fresh from the freezer, against my back while I pumped as much air as I could manage in and out of my chest. “Well, that’s horrible.” he pronounced. Tinpis  has a charming bedside manner, but he cares  about us. We know it and it counts. I don’t remember the mumbo-jumbo syndrome name, but it basically means that my entire airway system from behind my eyes to the bottom of my lungs has been Pearl Harboured by some very nasty bugs. I actually don’t feel as bad today as I did yesterday, but I’m toppling over more often, since my balance mechanism is basically shot.

Never mind. I have a week of something reasurringly named Augmentin Duo which I shall dutifully down twice a day until I’m back to fighting strength.

We’ve had a sunrise draught lately. This is the best one that I can come up with for the last week:Still, not bad for this season.

This is the thoroughly exasperating little Black-Spotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus).  I say exasperating because it is the Carlos the Jackal  of fish – it never wants to have its picture taken:I caught this one just as it was diving for cover.

I don’t know why more underwater photographers don’t grab more images of coral. This Galaxea astreata  is a stunning little beauty:Measuring only about 50cm wide it packs a staggering array of colours and detail into a very small package. I put this image up at 2,000 pixels wide, so you might want to try it as a screen saver or background. It has plenty of detail.

I’ve been seeing some very nice Feather Stars lately. Usually, they’re not all that interesting and they are also difficult to photograph, because something is lost in the translation – I can’t really explain it. However this Comanthina schlegeli  turned out very pretty with the plate coral as a background:I find it amusing that they are sometimes waving their arms around madly and other times seem to be napping.

The Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica)  is always a beautiful subject for photography. They come in many different colours and the anemonefish which inhabit them prefer a colour which matches their own, to some degree. You can’t see any anemonefish in this shot, just some female Purple Anthea and a couple of different Damselfishes:The shot above was exposed with the natural light from the surface. I prefer this lighting, because it more accurately reflects what I saw.

Here is the same specimen shot with the flash turned on. There are some advantages:You can see the brilliant colour of the underside of the anemone and the way the anemone is attached to the underlying coral.

I’m going to have to see how long it takes me to recover from this illness. It’s very dangerous to dive with severely blocked sinus cavities, not to mention painful. Some divers have suffered severe hearing loss from diving with even a simple cold. I’m known as the “old lady” of diving in Madang, since I insist on following the rules (at least as long as it doesn’t affect my  diving). I’ll be careful.

I want to be doing this when I’m 90.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,