Out With the Girls

Posted in Under the Sea on July 31st, 2010 by MadDog
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The ladies predominated the numbers on the boat today by three to one. We had five divers in the water today at The Eel Garden near Pig Island.   I got some pretty pictures of marine critters and a couple of nice shots of two of my favourite models. This morning it looked like a rain-out. The sky was dismal and the sea was up. By 10:00 the sun was out, but it was still a bumpy ride. I’m all worn out from the day’s fun, so I’ll spare you a lot of my usual senseless chatter.

We went Triggerfish hunting, which can be a risky sport, but there were none around. I had thought to give the ladies a thrill, but the fish were not cooperating. Down at the bottom of the sandy bowl, I found one of my favourite anemones with a pair of Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus)  staying close to their Bulb Anemone host Entacmaea quadricolor:

I’ve been photographing this same anemone for years. Every picture is different. How could I get bored with it? These are very likely females.

Down on the catamaran, the underwater fashion shoot was all set up. The water was clear and the light was right. Geneviève Tremblay took her turn first:

I don’t think that I have to tell you that Geneviève is female.

About that time a huge school of Purple Anthea females (Pseudanthias tuka)  came rushing past:

What’s going on here?

The next thing I see is Ush doing a “Tiger Ambush” pose:

Need I mention that it is a female tiger?

I have no idea if this pretty little Starfish (Fromia nodosa)  is female or not. In fact, my science fact bin is empty. I can’t remember if there are  male and female starfish and I’m far too tired to care:

It certainly looks feminine.

That’s it. I’m finished.

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It’s More Than Purple

Posted in Under the Sea on July 21st, 2010 by MadDog
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Today is a mixed bag. What else is new. Consistency is for those with the patience to organise things. You should see my office. Fortunately, I sleep with the boss (Don’t panic. My wife, Eunie, is my boss at the office . . . okay, forget the office thing . . . she’s my boss.) so I don’t get called on the carpet for having a messy office. Nobody ever comes into the IT Dungeon anyway unless they want something.  Therefore, by common sense reasoning, requests that begin with “Whoah, what a mess . . .” are not likely to produce satisfactory results.

I say today’s offering is a mixed bag because it includes a couple of “trophy” shots and some others which could appeal only to fish geeks. By the way I am not a fish geek. I am a fish connoisseur.

The Black Saddled Toby (Canthigaster valentini)  has got to be one of cutest little fishies on the planet:

This is one of the trophy shots. I have few images of this fish which come even close to this one. I’d call it a specimen shot. Just about everything you need to know, short of dissecting this fish, is in the image. This makes me giggle like a schoolgirl.

Some might think of me as an amateur scientist. While this is oh, so true, (at least the amateur  part) my feelings about what I present to you here in my images of the magic of Mother Ocean are more akin to art. Sure, I give you the taxonomic names, when I’m reasonably sure of them. The truth is, aside from the fact that I love the way that Latin rolls off the tongue, I don’t care much about that. What I really care about is combining my life-long love of photography with the adventure of discovery of new (to me) visions of nature and new ways of visualising them.

For instance. This beautiful colony of Bubble Coral (Plerogyra sinosa)  seems to me ethereal. I can’t judge how it comes to be. I can’t fathom the mystery of how something that looks like this has a reasoned place in the scheme of things. To me it seems magical:Of course, this is not very scientific thought. As empiricists, we’re supposed to ignore such mystical ruminations. Yet, I can’t escape the idea that when a scientist loses a sense of wonder and ceases to be weighed down by the ponderous yoke of how much we don’t know, any true discoveries will be happenstance. When deliberate seeking beyond the “facts” is abandoned, nothing new will learned. We don’t even know how much we don’t know. Facts lead to more facts. But only seekers find new truths.

UPDATE: I’m taking the unusual step of bringing a comment from my excellent Facebook friend Steven Goodheart into the post as an update, because it is so apropos:

Your thoughts reminded me of these words of the great naturalist, Loren Eiseley,

“In the end, science as we know it has two basic types of practitioners. One is the educated man who still has a controlled sense of wonder before the universal mystery, whether it hides in a snail’s eye or within the light that impinges on that delicate organ. The second kind of observer is the extreme reductionist who is so busy stripping things apart that the tremendous mystery has been reduced to a trifle, to intangibles not worth troubling one’s head about.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

But, there is a place for the fervent geek. Witness this very ordinary and wildly uninteresting image of three Sevenstripe Cardinalfish (Apogon novemfasciatus):

I guarantee that it will win no prizes. The fish are just a little blurry. Indeed, I had a couple of choices, based on the image, of what to call them. However, I did see them with my eyes and I have seen them hundreds of times. They are just difficult to photograph, because they are tiny and restless. I take a geek’s pleasure knowing that I finally have an image of them. One more fish to check off the endless list. One more tiny model car. One more baseball card. One more comic book. One more Star Trek doll. (Actually, I don’t think that the collectors like it when you call them dolls.)

You get the idea.

Ah, but on to the trophy shots. This is the magnificent (not to be used lightly) Purple Anthea (Pseudanthias tuka):

As any fool can see, it’s not just purple. It’s got a lot of different colours. In natural light (these were taken by flash) it looks more blue. Nevertheless, you can’t miss them. They glow like neon lights. They also have a funny beak-like nose which makes me think of Jimmy Durante.

By the way, here is Jimmy Durante:

See what I mean?

Okay, it’s a stretch, I admit. Anyway here is another trophy shot of P. tuka:

And with that, I am running on empty.


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Cruising the Eel Garden

Posted in Under the Sea on April 12th, 2010 by MadDog
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Well, here it is on a Monday evening at 19:30 and I’m dead tired and behind the eight-ball. Monday was what Mondays are. How does so much messiness accumulate over the weekend when everybody’s supposed to be playing or resting or otherwise not creating problems for someone else to solve?

So, I’ve had my beer and my cigar and I’m going to sit here for a while and annoy you. It’s my hobby, being annoying and inserting my absurdist opinions and philosophy cagily into these supposedly informative and amusing accumulations of words that we refer to as posts.  I’m like the guy with the huge model train layout in his basement who, after dinner, forces guests to lumber down the steps to the dank recesses of the underground toy railway where they will be treated to several hours of mind-numbing narrative concerning the building, operating and care of . . .

Excuse me. I drifted off into my alternate universe there for a moment.

Anyway, when we were cruising The Eel Garden  on Saturday, we surprised a few critters by blowing masses of poisonous air at them and flashing blinding lights in their eyes. This critter was neither surprised nor blinded. It’s dead:Sometime recently, possibly the preceding night, this poor little bivalve met its maker. Fortunately it had no brain to wither in fright nor mouth with which to scream. It is, nevertheless, a sad little scene. I vainly tried to find a shell book here at the house to identify it, but I think that I must have hauled them all off to the office. I call it the Alien Writing Shell;  always have and always will.

I was showing Kate the comical floppiness of an Elephant Ear Sponge when this surprised Brittle Star crawled out and said, “What the . . . “We flashed it with the Men In Black memory zapper thingie that is built into my camera and left it to recover. It will be blissfully unaware of the experience.

Monty Armstrong was busily snapping away with his new Canon G11. You can see a nice, big, fat Phyllidia varicosa  nudibranch there at the bottom of the image. We now have three G11 setups in our little gaggle of divers, though Rich Jones has yet to baptise his:

His excuse on Saturday was that he had a cold. Personally I think that his decision to forego diving had something to do with the fact that there were no less than six bikini-clad young ladies on board our two vessels. I’m too old to notice such things, of course.

This male Purple Anthea (Pseudanthias tuka)  was at least as surprised as I was when I flashed him. It was a snap shot that I didn’t expect to come out at all. I had just popped over the top of a bommie and he was desperately thinking about which way to flee: This is the only good shot of the male of this species that I have. It was simply dumb luck to get it.

A Dardanus  species Hermit Crab was likewise surprised and equally annoyed when I knocked his house down much the same as the wolf did to the three little pigs:This one seemed particularly peeved and simply glared at me for a while before reaching down and pulling his abode upright again. Not all crabs are created equal. Some are crabbier than others.

A rarely seen Mantis Shrimp (Odontodactylus scyallarus)  gave me only about two seconds before scurrying under a ledge:I sometimes amuse myself by pondering what these creatures would think of us if they could, in fact, think at all. If they were the philosophical equivalent of humanists, would they count us as miscreants or mentally disturbed? If they had religion would we be Gods who disturbed their peaceful world for our demented amusement?  I can dig it either way.

If I’m lucky, I won’t dream about that tonight.

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Make the Scene, Man – at the Reef!

Posted in Under the Sea on February 23rd, 2010 by MadDog
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Since I’m enjoying a temporary cease-fire which was prompted by an all-night connection to the web which updated my computer for the first time since last September, I’ll dispense with dispatches from the FEBA (that’s Forward Edge of the Battle area for the militarily-challenged) until or when the aforementioned connection evaporates once again. One can’t stay cranky all the time. Well, one can,  and some do,  but it’s simply not good for the soul.

To display my return to joviality and whimsy let me show you a delightful, if somewhat dangerous, juxtaposition of objects that I discovered only yesterday in a technical facility which I shall, out of pity, not name:

Using all of my vast training in covert operations, I boldly snapped this shot while nobody was looking. In fact, as near as I could ascertain, nobody was doing anything at all. Notice that it was nearly quitting time anyway.

What I propose here is a Caption Contest. The rules are simple:  (1) The caption must begin with, “In case of fire”, (2) You must leave your entry as a comment here on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi,  (you can also leave a comment on my status post on Facebook, but the official entry must be here), (3) There will be no losers. Everybody who enters will automatically get first place, (3) You may not use any of the seven words that George Carlin made famous, no matter how funny they are (sorry, but this makes it much more challenging anyway), (4) I can make up more rules whenever I want.

I may choose, if I feel like it, to ignore rule number 1, but your caption had better be very  funny!

If you want to argue any of the rules meet me on Facebook. My handle is CrazyByChoice.  I’ll take on all challengers with one lobe of my brain tied behind my back. Also, feel free to break any of the rules, as rules are, as any fool knows, made to be broken.

Now I can hear the mumbling out there, “Hey, man. What about the Reef Scene, man? I wanna make the scene, man.” Quit your whining, I’m coming to it.

Well, here’s a reef scene In Your Face, man! These Orange Finned Anemonefish (Amphiprion chrysopterus)  are doing the boogaloo for you:Oh, to be so carefree! The only thing that you have to worry about is something coming along out-of-the-blue, so to speak, and eating  you.

While skulking about the reef surreptitiously snapping  images of innocent critters frolicking I caught this sneaky little Dwarf Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys falco)  attempting to hide from me:Fat chance, dwarf!

And now, I shall attempt the unattemptable. I shall attempt to show you what can not be shown. These juvenile Three-Spot Dascyllus (Dascyllus trimaculatus)  are unphotographable:(Much like My Funny Valentine) If you’re puzzled, welcome to the meeting. They are the little black ones with two white spots. If you’re wondering why they are called “Three-Spot”, welcome again. What’s funnier yet is the adults are dismal grey fish with no spots at all. Nevertheless, the point is that I’ve never been able to get a shot of them because they are so very, very black. My new Canon G11 (blah, blah, blah) has made it nearly possible. Hurrah for Canon. What’s next? World Peace?

Well, we’ve time for a couple of more fillers. Here’s another A. chrysopterus  looking a little lost. He was just about to ask me, “Blubbla bulubluba bla?” when he noticed that I was not a fish:Hence the look of befuddlement. Things were getting a little swishy there on top of the reef. I had only about a metre of water above my head.

And finally, because you’ll never  get tired of looking at female Purple Anthea (Pseudanthias tuka),  here are some for you:Well, never say never.

Is it just me or is there something terribly wrong with that saying? I mean, does it make any kind of sense at all? If you can never say never then how can you ever say never say never?

Must be the drugs. Sudafed and Cipro make me dizzy.

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Sunday at the Office

Posted in Under the Sea on February 21st, 2010 by MadDog
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Wooo Hooo, I just LOVE driving all the way to work on Sunday morning to do a post because swampsucking TELIKOM can’t figure out how to twist two wires together so that somebody can get an actual dial tone for more than two hours. However, it does produce the occasional side-benefit. Witness this lovely, if somewhat sombre, morning scene at Coconut Point:The water was all sparkly and the sky looked like it had just dropped some acid. Very trippy, indeed.

Speaking of trippy, I showed you some Blue Coral (Heliopora coerulea)  in a mixed bag of things that I picked up on the beach. It took me a long time to figure out where it came from. There’s nothing that looks like it underwater. Then I discovered that it is actually brown on the outside. I began looking around for the right stuff and finally found a little bit that had been broken off. On Saturday’s dive, I found a big spot where something, probably a clumsy diver, had broken off a couple of knobs:As you can see, it’s improbably bright blue inside. I’d be interested to know what causes this blue colouration, but I’m far, far too lazy to research it. The beach at Wongat Island  is covered with the stuff that has been broken up by natural means and washed up and tumbled. That’s what you see in the image to which I’ve linked to in the paragraph above. The image here is the live stuff that has been broken off.

I simply love these chubby, cuddly looking Starfish (Choriaster granulatus).  They are the puppies of the Starfishes:I noticed that this one was particularly pink, especially in the centre. The do vary somewhat in tint. The posture here is suggestive that it’s leaping over the boulder with its arms outstretched, probably hollering “Whoopee!” Don’t believe it. Their top speed is about a half-metre an hour.

Here’s some very gaudy female Purple Antheas (Pseudanthias tuka)  flitting around at the local mall:The male is around somewhere, probably near the edge of his harem, keeping an eye out for poachers.

I showed you one of these nightmarish Sea Cucumbers (Bohadschia graeffei)  a few days ago:This is a much better shot. It clearly shows the sucker-like food-gathering thingies that reach out continuously and grab onto anything remotely edible.  As soon as one of these appendages has sucked something up, it bends around in a particularly creepy fashion and shoves itself down into the gob of the squishy, prickly, disgusting critter.

You’ve gathered by now, I’m sure, that this is not among my favourite creatures of the sea.

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More Underwater Critters

Posted in Under the Sea on January 27th, 2010 by MadDog
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Well, the charter to Bag Bag Island  is off. There have been several small craft lost at sea in Astrolabe Bay  over the last few days. There’s a fierce nor’easter blowing and the chop is reported to be up to three metres. I’m poor and wild, but I’m not completely insane. The money was good, but the risk too great. As soon as I told my good friend Trevor Hattersley about the charter he called me back several times to talk me out of it. That is what good mates do. Thanks, Trev.

So, I find myself presently incomeless, but safe and dry.

Therefore, let me attempt to entertain you for a few minutes with some miscellaneous pretty pictures and some verbal rambling. This Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)  is not the stuff of of raw excitement, but it’s interesting to speculate how something that looks like this is actually alive:I’m reminded of the old Star Trek  episode in which the rocks were sentient, albeit slow movers.

After a few thousand dives and more time underwater than most people spend at church in a lifetime, you get to the point at which you can make educated guesses. Here’s a shot of a motion-blurred Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus orientalis)  and terror-frozen Many-Spotted Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides):I knew how this shot would play out. The Many-Spotted Sweetlips will freeze for a while when it spots you. It will try to hide by pretending not to be there. “Look at me. HAH! Can’t see me, can you?” Then, as it slowly sinks in that it’s being observed, it will begin to swim away, usually without too much fuss. The Oriental Sweetlips, however, is easily panicked and makes haste to use the nearest escape route. I could see around a corner that the two fish were slowly finning in the sluggish current side-by-side. As soon as I popped my head up over the top of the coral bomie, the spotted fish froze for a moment and the Oriental Sweetlips headed for the door – thus the blurry fish image.

You’ve seen these fat slugs before. It may not sound politically correct to call them that, but that’s exactly what they are, so it’s okay:It’s a Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas),  a particularly pink one. They are usually more brownish. Possibly it has a fever.

Sometimes I need to show you a really bad image just so that you can see that underwater photography is a crap shoot. This is a Blacktip Shrimpgoby (Cryptocentrus polyophthalmus),  a fish which I seldom see:I knew the shot would be awful, because the fish was back in a hole and I couldn’t get close. Nevertheless, it’s the only image that I have of this species. I’m not bursting with pride.

This, however, is a nice little reef scene with a couple of male Purple Anthea (Pseudanthias tuka):When I saw these two, they were engaged in a little ritualised sparring. I snapped the shot as they were returning to their corners for a time-out. That’s why they are swimming away from each other.

Here is a perfectly beautiful image of a nudibranch that I still  can’t identify:I’m going to have to invest some money in a better nudi book.

You’ve seen these Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)  here several times. I’ve mistakenly called them Diverticulate Tree Corals elsewhere. Gonna have to fix that:The one above is particularly nice. Good, symmetrical shape, rich colour; I like it.

Enough of the fishy stuff. Let me show you two UFOs that I caught on camera the other day. Actually there may be three, a big green one with an orange one riding on its back and a purple one up higher:

I yelled at them, but nobody came down to visit. If there were aliens aboard, they must be a snooty lot.

Of course, all that is wishful thinking. The coloured blobs are obviously lens flares caused by internal reflections within the optics of the bright orb of the sun.

Someday I’ll show you my real  UFO shots. They’ll blow you away!

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Wrapping Up a Week of Diving

Posted in Under the Sea on January 17th, 2010 by MadDog
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We ended up a week of diving, bush trips and industrial-strength socializing with Anita, Wouter and Anita’s father, Jos, today. It’s been a pleasure having them with us. Yesterday I realized that I had no photos of Jos. So, I took this shot of him steering Faded Glory:

Jos turned out to be very handy with a boat. On our last day, he handled the boat while the rest of us did a drift dive at Magic Passage. Communications were a little light, as we do not speak each others’ languages, but he is a very pleasant fellow. I wish that we could have had some heart-to-heart conversations.

Here is a shot of Anita and Swami Monty in the water at Magic Passage with Faded Glory,  Jos at the wheel, coming up in the distance:Anita, Jos and Wouter are leaving tomorrow morning. Wouter is an avid diver and runs with a crowd of dedicated techno-human-dolphins in the North Sea. I wouldn’t be surprised if we begin to get applications for diving here in Madang. It’s an entirely different experience from their normal dives. I think that Wouter found it a pleasant break from the adrenaline-drenched sport as it is enjoyed off the coast of Belgium.

Among the critters that we saw on our last two dives at Magic Passage  and Rasch Passage  was this Starfish (Nardoa rosea)  practicing Extreme Yoga:I am able to contort my body like this, having practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen. Okay, okay, I’m not as nimble and Gumby-like as I once was. However, I’ve not yet reached the point, at sixty-six, at which I need to ask myself, “Can I still do that?” This is a great blessing for me, as the physical activities (yeah, all  of them) are important keys to my well-being. I owe much of this to my Dad, an accomplished athlete, acrobat and dancer who taught me the principles of physical fitness as a life-goal and the concept of the body-aware spirit.

We may as well have a look at another starfish. This one, I think, is a Fromia nodosa  with its little toes curled up very cutely: You can’t swing a dead cat here without smashing a starfish. We have many different species and I have neglected them severely. I’m certain that their tiny little feelings are hurt. I’ll fix that in the future.

I got a bit of a “wow” experience from this huge mob of Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus):We would normally see a dozen or two in a plate coral. This was a huge plate and was home to a couple of hundreds of these lovely little purple-lipped fish. I love to play “scare the fish” with the Dascyllus.  If you slowly stretch your arm out over the plate with your hand closed in a fist and then quickly open your hand the entire gaggle will dive simultaneously into the coral and disappear. It’s like magic. Now they’re here – now they’re not. If you look closely, you can see them trembling in their little nooks and crannies where they hide from predators.

Barrel Sponges fascinate me. Some of them are huge. This Xestospongia testudinaria  is about two metres from bottom to top. Some are much larger:

You can see a few Purple Anthea (Psudanthias tuka)  swimming in front of the sponge. The “purple” in the common name is a relative term. As with many fish, the colour that you see underwater is radically dependent on the depth, the colour of the sky and the condition and tint of the water. Sometimes P. tuka  appears purple and sometimes blue. The yellow dorsal fin edging and caudal fin are constant. The fish appear a bit motion blurred, because I was forced to a slow shutter speed by the low light level.

I am exceedingly happy, nay, overjoyed by this image:As you may gather, I’m easily aroused from my usual “so what” attitude. When I saw this fish, I became terribly excited. That will give you an idea of what a fish geek that I am. The reason for my shaking hands and fumbling fingers is that I have never seen this fish before; it was my first sighting. It is a species of Shrimpgoby (Ctenogobiops tangaroi).  There are several fortuitous aspects of this shot, aside from the novelty factor. First, there is the brevity of the sighting. I barely had time to raise my camera, hold my breath for a few seconds and fire off a shot before it disappeared down its hidey-hole.

Another lucky aspect of this image is that I caught the fish’s partner, a commensal shrimp (Alpheus ochrostriatus)  bulldozing a load of sand out of the shared shelter.

I’m not looking a gift fish in the mouth.

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