Undersea Bits and Bobs

Posted in Under the Sea on January 26th, 2010 by MadDog
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Don’t ask me why, but I think of nudibranchs as the furry little bunny rabbits of the sea. They’re not furry. They don’t breathe air. They have no legs. They do sometimes, however, have what may appear to be ears, but are not. Here’s a little funny-bunny Nudibranch (Phyllidiella pustulosa)  for you:As you may have surmised, I’m a bit mentally frazzled today. I have a tentative job to run someone out to Bag Bag Island  in two days and it has me a bit disconcerted, as I usually have more time to plan a trip like that. It’s only about 120 kliks round trip, including a fudge factor for finding the spot where the guy wants to be, but it’s wild country and if you have problems, you’re in for a long, long stay. There are no regular boat runs out there, so the money is good. I can’t afford to pass it up, but I’m not like the fishermen with big boats who tootle out to Bag Bag on a lark. I’ve got to get my act together tomorrow and be ready to go at 06:00 the next day. I need to get used to this kind of work, because there will be a lot of it in our future.

Here’s another P. pustulosa  (I hate that name – it’s so . . . indelicate) for you:

The one in the shot above is a fairly small specimen. Most of those that we notice are three or four times as large. It was crawling on a bit if stuff that wasn’t attached to anything. That’s why I picked it up to show to you. We don’t normally bother the critters unless there’s sufficient reason and a genuine purpose (the reason being that I wanted to show you the size and the purpose was that picking it up was the most interesting way to do it).

This Nudibranch (Fryeria menindie)  is even less bunny-like, but it does have a couple of yellow ear-like appendages:I could not get myself around to shoot this one sraight from the side without scrunching my face up against the coral, which would have induced an itchy rash oozing stuff that you don’t want to hear about and lasting for weeks. Therefore, its front end and back end are slightly out of focus. These are the travails of an underwater photographer. I like to dwell on the minor irritations of life. I do this so that the big ones can’t take up all of my precious moaning time.

I’m a little puffed up about this image. These Trumpetfish (Aulostomus chinensis)  are difficult to shoot:I managed to fire one off at this fine specimen just as he was attempting to scurry from one completely ineffective hiding position to another. Of course, they can’t really hide. They just like to imagine that they are invisible. All that they require is a few sprigs of sea fan or coral to make them believe that they have disappeared. I can still see them, of course, but the shot is ruined. It’s rare to get a good side shot such as this of one which is not obscured by something.

I include this shot simply because it’s a good example of “what I see when I’m diving”:It’s a little mob of female Purple Anthea (Psudanthias tuka)  hovering over a lovely coral formation which I think is Turbinaria reniformis.  It does make a pretty scene. I got that shot at Barracuda Point.

Returning home on Saturday, I stopped right in front of our house and took this shot to the South showing the big wood chip loading equipment at JANT (Japan and New Guinea Timber). They grind up trees to make paper:That’s the Finisterre Mountains  in the background. You can also see the Lutheran Shipping Engineering Yard on the far shore.

I seem to have nothing witty to wrap it up.

Happy Australia Day.

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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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Reef Scenes – The Magic Kingdom

Posted in Under the Sea on December 14th, 2009 by MadDog
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It has been a joy over the last few years to get truly into the digital age of photography. Having learned the smelly-chemical method before I was twelve years old, I stuck to the film media for several years after the first digital cameras. I had inadvertently joined the massive ranks of ‘serious photographers’ who were shouting down digital cameras of the time as playthings not worthy of the art. They were  pretty miserable at first. My first digital was a 1.3MP model which was okay for snapshots, but inadequate for anything else.

One of the great frustrations (among many) of shooting underwater on film was that I could never, except by dumb luck, get an image to look the way that I saw it with my own eyes  – in other words – natural.  I have discovered, especially in the last year or so, that the secret lies in the techniques used. I’m not going to bore you with all that. If you’re interested, I’ll trade all of my secrets for a case of beer. It’s not a big deal.

However, it does give me severe pleasure to present to you images that look exactly as the diver (me) saw them, or at least as close as I can get. For instance, you often see close-up shots here that are products of careful shooting and laborious processing with Photoshop. The truth is that we seldom actually get that close. Here is a more normal diver’s eye view of a Spot-Tail Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellicandus):Spot-Tail Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellicandus)It may not be spectacular, but it’s what the diver actually sees. If you are going to get any closer to this little butterflyfish, your name had better be Houdini.

On the other hand, it is sometimes nice to get close. These polyps on a Sea Fan (Acabria sp.)  seem to be a white mass from a metre away. It is only when you get close that you can see their flower-like beauty:Sea Fan (Acabria sp.)It shots such as this, getting the colours right is the most difficult part of the job. When I can sit back and think to myself, “Yep, that’s just as I saw it.” then I know that my work is done.

Here is a group of Purple Anthea females (Psudanthias tuka)  with stalks of Whip Coral (Sea Whip – Junceella sp.)  in the background:Purple Anthea [females] (Psudanthias tuka)The colouration of the Purple Anthea is problematic. In most cases, they do look purple in colour. However when viewed with the light at a different angle, they often appear more blue, as in this image.

Here is a beautiful Divericate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya [Roxasia] sp.)  with more Sea Whips in the background:Divericate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)It is such a pleasure to sit back after fifteen or twenty minutes of work and say, “Uh-HUH!  That’s just the way it looked to me.”

Here is another coral species that has been a bother to me for a long time (Tubastraea micrantha).  It is a deep, deep forest green colour and is found only below about twenty metres where the light is beginning to dim to shades of blue:Coral (Tubastraea micrantha)It is devilishly difficult to get the deep green colour without trashing all of the rest, even with Photoshop. This is the best that I have managed so far. It came at the cost of desaturating much of the surrounding area. However, I can attest that the colour that you see on the coral itself is exactly as I saw it. Just ignore the stuff beside it.

Another type of image that I enjoy capturing is the community as a whole. Here is a little anemone garden featuring the Tomato Anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus).  These are females. The male, in this unusual case, is much less pretty, being more or less solid light orange:

Coral Reef Community with Tomato Anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus) [female]
It’s such a thing of wonder to glide up over clump of coral and look down on a beautiful scene such as this. I can’t imagine ever tiring of it.

Your mileage may vary.

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Back Into the Briny Deep

Posted in Under the Sea on April 26th, 2009 by MadDog
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It has been a few weeks since I’ve been out diving. The weather has been miserable and nobody is motivated to go out in the rain. Yesterday, however, I did get lucky and had two divers and a snorkeler on the boat. We went to the south end of Leper Island.

I thought that I had my camera fixed, but it still locks up when I go deeper than about five metres. I think that I know how to fix it now, but I can’t be bothered to work on it because I’ll be winging off to Port Moresby and Brisbane on Wednesday (yikes, only two days away!). I’m going to try to post every day, but it may not be possible. If I go missing for a day or two, I’m not dead (probably), I’m just on the road.

I’ll show you a few shots that I did manage to get on Saturday, even though all I could do with my camera was press the shutter release. Here is a small school of Blue and Yellow Fusiliers (Caesio teres):

Blue and Yellow Fusiliers (Caesio teres)It’s not a particularly good shot, but the pattern of their bright yellow tails scattered across the image is amusing. I have another image of this fish in A Nasty Customer and Fancy Pants.

These Bblackspot Snappers (Lutjanus ehrenbergii) swam past in a constant stream for two or three minutes. There must have been thousands of them:

Blackspot Snapper (Lutjanus ehrenbergii)The water on the surface was quite cold, at least by our standards. It was raining a little and the wind was picking up. It was a delicious experience to dive down under the cold fresh river water on top into the wonderfully warm water below. Our average water temperature down as far as you dare to go is between 28 and 29° C (82-84°F).

I’ll finish up today with a nice little shot of a small mob of female Purple Antheas (Psudanthias tuka):

Female Purple Anthea (Psudanthias tuka)The Antheas are among my favourites in the category of small fish. There are a multitude of varieties here. They float like clouds of jewels over the coral.

I will probably have one or two more posts before I’ll be reporting from Brisbane.

G’day, mate.

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