Nightmare From the Sea

Posted in Under the Sea on February 16th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Well, I am again today trying to get caught up. I can’t really speak, since my voice box seems to have malfunctioned. I got a call from California today, pretty important call, but I had to give up and say I just couldn’t do it. Try again tomorrow. Fortunately, there’s nothing wrong with my fingers – yet.

I’ll continue today with a few more shots from last Saturday’s dive at the Eel Garden. Some of the critters you’ve seen before. These are different angles or show different features. For instance, I showed the the ugly mug of the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis)  yesterday. Care for a game of “find the fish”? It’s not to difficult with this one. It was having trouble matching the leather coral on which it was lurking in wait for a meal:I’d really love to see one of these catching a fish. I’ve read that it’s one of the fastest actions in the animal kingdom. I imagine that all that I would see would be a puff of “dust”, probably accompanied by a loud popping sound.

I don’t often bother with most of the damslefishes. Except for a few, such as the anemonefishes, they’re not particularly pretty. However, I do like this shot of a White-Belly Damselfish (Amblyglyphidodon leucogaster):It’s one of the few shots that I have in which the image actually is prettier than the fish itslef.

You saw these two Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)  yesterday. Here is a shot of them from the side:It’s amazing how often one sees them in pairs.

You have seen a lot of images of these Solitary Coral (Fungia fungites)  here before. This one is unusual because of the white stripes. I can’t find any reference to this differentiating between species, so I’m guessing that it’s some kind of “sport” or mutation that’s not harmful to the individual. Any other guesses out there?It is not an uncommon sight, as is the purple stain that you can see at the top. I’ve seen these bright colours before on these corals.

Butterflyfish are extremely exasperating to photograph. I have very few good shots. This Spot-Tail Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellicaudus)  blasted past me at full throttle and I just pointed the camera and pressed the shutter release:Talk about a lucky shot!

Today’s nightmarish feature is this Sea Cucumber (Bohadschia graeffei):The body extends to the right, where you would find the stinky end, if you cared to look. I don’t want to think about what comes out of there.  The worst part is the end at the left, which is the consuming bit. I wouldn’t use the word “eat” to describe what this thing does. It engulfs, it vacuums, it . . . sucks!  The frilly black things with white edges are constantly reaching out, gluing themselves to anything remotely digestible and then shoving them down the ugly gob of this, this . . . thing.

Fortunately, it doesn’t move very fast.

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

The Angry Little Fish

Posted in Under the Sea on February 14th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

I still have a stinking cold and I’m still trying to catch up on my posts. I’m now only two days behind. Fortunately, I got a small treasure trove of shots from last Saturday at Barracuda Point and the Eel Garden, both at Pig Island.  I’ll show you a few today and more tomorrow. Then I need to think about something else to write about, because I can only eat so much fish each week.

I’m just listening to some songs by a group called Gare Du Nord  which, presumably means “north station”. I think it refers to a railroad station in Paris. It’s got a nice eclectic jazz/rock/electronica thing going for it. I found in on my network drive for shared music.  I don’t know who put it there, but it’s got a solid groove and nice thumpy base. My sub-woofer is under my desk. I can feel the base hits tickling the hair on my legs. Funky!

Well, you’ve seen these here before, so there’s nothing new here, folks. Might as well move on. It’s a Divericate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia): 
I hit the flash on this one, since they light up nicely. The inside is like jelly and it conducts light very well.

We had a fresh diver with us on Saturday, name of Scott. I grabbed this shot of him chasing around after a mob of Bigeye Trevally:Barracuda point was crawling with big Pickhandle Barracuda and Trevally. I’ll have some barracuda shots tomorrow, if this cold doesn’t kill me.

You’ve seen this here before also, a Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)  [young stage] which is improbably bright:They’re like the traffic lights of the reef. Too bad that I’m a little late for Valentine’s Day. This one has a nice little heart shape in the middle.

I found some nice Palm Coral (Clavularia sp)  which is a different colour than most of what I’ve seen before. This has much more yellow in the polyps:I love to watch the stuff waving around in the current.

Here’s another familiar client of mine, the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):This character was all dolled up for a party, I think. Don’t ask my why the first name that popped into my head when I was working on this image was Rodney Dangerfield. If you don’t get it, then there’s no use explaining. I have a Harley Davidson t-shirt which is a bit obnoxious. It brazenly states, “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.” If you asked this fish, that’s probably what it would say.

There goes that bass tickling my legs again. It’s “Boogie All Night Long”. Reminds me of my Flickr nickname, BoogiesWithFish.

Here’s another familiar sight for regular readers. Lizardfish Love:Again, if I have to explain it . . .

I’ll finish up with the star of the show, this very perturbed little Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata):As I mention in my excerpt, I’ve had fish hide from me, chase me, harass me, bite me, defecate on me, pose for me, run from me, well, the list goes on and on. After 2,000 dives, you begin to think that nothing is going to surprise you.

However, this is the first time that I’ve seen a fish simply glare at me with naked hatred.

Hey, what did I do?

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

Underwater Guest Shooter – KP Perkins

Posted in Under the Sea on February 11th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

As it’s already after 15:00 today and I’ve not written a word yet, I’ll be mercifully brief. I did break free from the office yesterday afternoon to take KP Perkins for her last dive in Papua New Guinea, at least for the foreseeable future. You may remember this shot of her from another recent post:KP had asked me to give her some basic photography lessons, since her previous experiences had not been very satisfying for her. I took her out to Pig Island  and we dived The Eel Garden. The surface water was horrible. We could barely see our hands in front of our faces. Underneath, is was not so bad.

KP took most of the shots. One of the most difficult things about underwater photography is staying in position for the shot. Most divers are not used to moving their bodies to achieve precision; you just sort of swim through the water like a fish. KP got her introduction to motion blur. Shooting without flash as in this image of a Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata),  will quickly show you how shakey your hands are:Macro shots, such as the one above are the most difficult.

Wider field shots such as this river of tiny catfish (Plotosus lineatus) are more forgiving:The common Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)  is good practice, because, as long as you move in slowly, you can get pretty close before it gets fed up and scurries to another location:Still life shots such as these Palm Tree Coral (Calvularia species)  polyps also make easy shots:I took this one. I wanted to show KP how, with good bracing and a two-hand hold, I could get a crisp shot at 1/6 second:The image stabilization in the camera is not supposed to be much good at such slow shutter speeds. However, if you can get braced firmly enough, it yields perfectly good images. The little critter is a Phyllidiella pustulosa  nudibranch sliding downhill as fast as he can.

We switched to flash for a while to give KP a little practice. Here is a terrific shot of a Phyllidia varicosa  nudibranch:I can’t remember looking as bad as this in any photograph. But it’s not KP’s fault:I wish I could think of something funny to say about it.

Here’s a tidy little reef scene with the Palm Tree coral, a Seriatopora hystrix  (the golden one) coral and a couple of little yellow fish which I can’t seem to identify at the moment:KP is a very quick study, as you can see. A couple of hours of Photoshop work after the dive and she already has the beginnings of a respectable portfolio.

This only feeds my desire to to underwater photography courses in the best diving spots on the planet.

Any takers?

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

Catching Up With the Fish

Posted in Under the Sea on January 20th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

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.

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

I Bet That You Have Never Eaten One of These

Posted in Under the Sea on December 17th, 2009 by MadDog
No Gravatar

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?

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

Eat a Pufferfish and Die!

Posted in Under the Sea on December 10th, 2009 by MadDog
No Gravatar

No, I’m not putting a curse on you. Many readers will already be aware that the pufferfishes, among several other varieties of fish, are extremely poisonous when eaten by humans. This is because their bodies contain a deadly poison called tetrodotoxin. There are several dive sites around Madang at which you can usually find a large Fugu,  as they are called in Japan. This one is a Star Pufferfish (Arothron stellatus)  and its name is Elmer Fudd:

Star Pufferfish (Arothron stellatus)
I thought that you might enjoy meeting it. The idea of anything other than a cartoon character being so homely is simply too much to bear.

The Japanese eat these things. Since 1958 one must have a special license to prepare Fugu  for consumption. Apparently, the final exam for potential Fugu  chefs is to eat some of their own dish. If they survive, they pass.

Elmer will demonstrate patience for about thirty seconds, giving the photographer enough time for one or two shots such as the one above. When Elmer has had enough, he’ll turn around, scraping his belly on the sand:Star Pufferfish (Arothron stellatus)

And lumber away in a huff:

Star Pufferfish (Arothron stellatus)

Bye-bye Elmer.

Here is a fish that you’ve seen here before. It’s the Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus):Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)Tomorrow we’ll be looking at some of the yummy coral at this spot on the South end of Leper Island.  For now, just savor the superb camoflage of this critter.

We’ll finish up with something decidedly non-fishy, a Tubeworm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi):Tubeworm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi)It’s worth clicking this shot to enlarge it. I had seen tubeworms for many years before I examined one closely and discovered the conplex organs in the centre. I’m not sure what it all does, but a tubeworm certainly could pass for an extraterrestrial organism.

Aliens in my front yard! Eeeek!

Tags: , , , , ,

Lizardfish Love

Posted in Under the Sea on October 2nd, 2009 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Meet Ozzie and Harriet. The surname is Lizardfish. Ozzie Lizardfish, looking a bit frazzled, is on the right. Harriet Lizardfish, his sweetheart spouse, is on the left:

Reef Lizardfish - (Synodus variegatus)

Lizardfish, in general, have slender, more or less cylindrical bodies with one dorsal fin. The are predators. Check out the teeth on Harriet! They lay well camouflaged, as you can see, in wait for the unwary passerby and launch a lightning attack followed by a big gulp. Ozzie and Harriet identify themselves ethnically as Reef Lizardfish or, as they prefer, Synodus variegatus.

There is no sexual dimorphism that I can see and it doesn’t mention any in the literature that I checked. I’m not getting raunchy here, I’m just saying that the girls and boys look pretty much alike, unlike some species of fish (and other critters) in which the genders appear quite different (compare a hen and a rooster, in case you still don’t get it). Here Ozzie (or is it Harriet, I’ve lost track now) comes up for a little Lizardfish cuddle:

Reef Lizardfish - (Synodus variegatus)

I have noticed that it is very common to see Lizardfish in pairs. I don’t know if they are mating pairs or just good friends, but it could be quite a different thing altogether. I chased these two around for several minutes. You can’t get very close to them, as they are quite skittish. Try as I might, I could not drive them apart. The instant that one fled my obnoxious intrusion, the other followed. In a second or two, they were once again within inches of each other:

Reef Lizardfish - (Synodus variegatus)

They seem to prefer the side-by-side arrangement as in the shots above. However, they will sometimes alight a few inches apart:

Reef Lizardfish - (Synodus variegatus)

I only got this one shot of the other possibility of why they may like to pair up. It is quite common to see them in this sort of position. In fact it seems, from my observations, the more likely configuration:

Reef Lizardfish - (Synodus variegatus)

My theory is that there is an advantage for predators who occasionally hunt in pairs to adopt this “covering all angles” position. Lizardfish are, I’m sure, quite tasty little morsels for other predators, so, while they are waiting for a meal to come swimming by, they are also looking out for those predators which are searching for a light Lizardfish snack. They cover all the ground in this position for both finding prey and avoiding being preyed upon.

Anyway, that’s my theory.

You can see more Lizardfish here, and here.

Tags: ,