A Feather for the Captain’s Hat

Posted in Under the Sea on March 17th, 2010 by MadDog
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The steam from the Saturday dive at Magic Passage has just about run cool, so tomorrow I’ll have to invent something different with which to annoy you. It shouldn’t be difficult, as that’s one of my genuine talents.

Speaking of annoying, we had a bit of a fracas at the office yesterday. Our outside IT consultant, Mark, who has been wonderfully helpful to me as I’ve been rolling out a completely new network, inadvertently left a desktop computer system unit in his vehicle. We heard frantic cries from our receptionist, Ruth, that someone had stolen the computer from Mark’s car. A couple of people out in the street were pointing in a general direction, so Mark and I gave chase. I’m sixty-six, but fit, so I hotfooted it around following peoples’ pointings until I ended up with someone who said that the thieves gone to the bus stop near the market. Mark was on his cell phone and talking to bystanders, so he had to catch up with me.

Some people waiting for vehicles at the stop had seen the boys carrying the computer and told us what bus they had taken. Mark’s call to the cops actually got some attention and they soon gave chase. We never got the afternoon’s work finished, but at least Mark found out where the computer went. Now all that remains is to “extract” it from the thief.

I won’t make an example of Papua New Guinea, since the same thing happens everywhere. However, I will ask why so many people witnessed what was obviously a crime and did absolutely nothing to thwart it? If I had seen kids breaking into a car and filching the contents I would have done something,  though I’m not sure what. It would depend on the situation.

In fairness, I should mention that some people came to the office door immediately to tell us that the computer had grown legs.

And now, for something completely different:That’s a nice little reef scene in which I was hoping to get a nice image of the anemonefish. Just as I was taking the shot, an Angelfish swam past. I can’t identify it, but it is certainly very pretty.

Later, I was attracted to this very nice, neat round Acropora hyacinthus  coral with a pretty little reef scene behind it:There were many feather stars waving around in the fairly strong current, so I decided to snap a few.

These are all Comantheria briareus,  as near as I can tell. The taxonomy is a little confusing and many species can be identified only by counting the arms, something which I am not going to do:The arms are extremely sticky, being like Velcro. They will stick to anything, your hand, your wetsuit, fins, camera, etc. The arms tear off when they stick, so we try to be very careful when moving around them. It’s far too easy damage a feather star by simply brushing against it.

Here’s an nice shot showing how they attach themselves to the bottom by grabbing on with their “feet”:There are many subtle colours, even within the same species.Okay, that’s the feather bit. How about the Captain’s Hat?

I’m not a guy to shy away from beauty, wherever I find it. Anyone who is a regular reader will know that. I found a bit of beauty on Sanguma  on Saturday when Jennifer Miller was modeling her new hat. Jenn is usually found in the company of my good friend Richard Jones who, along with our mutual mate, Pascal Michon, our resident Frenchman, have purchased Sanguma  from our other mutual buddy, Trevor Hattersley:I think the Captain’s Hat is donned in celebration of the recent purchase. I don’t really care, because Jenn needs no further adornment. She’s a lovely lady and a dear friend to all of us motley expatriate crew.

So, congratulations to Captain Jenn and shipmates Rich and Pascal. May you catch many large fish and share the occasional nice filet of Spanish Mackerel with your poor, non-fishing dive buddy.

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Saturday Diving – A Row of Boats

Posted in Under the Sea on March 14th, 2010 by MadDog
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Sunday dawned clear and bright. Just what I needed to lift my spirits when I realised that my sinus infection (oh, I’m sure  you want to hear about that) has come back with a vengeance. I may possibly have insulted it during my very pleasant dive yesterday at Magic Passage.  Actually, I’m not telling the truth. The part that is not  true is that this is actually Monday’s sunrise:Could be Egypt, eh?

Conditions at Magic Passage  couldn’t have been much better. There was a manageable current flowing in from Astrolabe Bay,  making the water nice and clear. I usually get into the water first, to get out of everyone’s way and check to make sure that I’ve anchored where I think  I anchored. I got this shot from about seven metres below Faded Glory  and Sanguma,  which we had parked alongside each other:

Funny thing – coincidence strikes. The Beatles song Come Together  is playing with a heavy bass bias here in the IT Dungeon as I write. (In case you’re wondering, I was thinking of the boats coming together over the reef.)

He roller-coaster he got early warning
He got muddy water he one mojo filter
He say “One and one and one is three”
Got to be good-looking ’cause he’s so hard to see
Come together right now over me

I think that it is one song that nearly every person of my age who was brought up in The Western World (whatever that is) can probably sing along with without mumbling too many of the words. It always seemed like nonsense to me – nonsense ambiguous enough to mean anything you like. I give you the examples of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky  or James Taylors’ American Pie.  Still, the pitiless call of reason leads me to conclude that the song must  be about the members of the band. Four musicians, four verses, lots of obscure references – it’s not Rocket Science. If you’ve nothing better to do and you want to enrich your mind with some spaced-out references from the 60’s you might check here and here if you’re feeling clueless. The first link seems plausible. The second feels more like stoner-speak.

Errr . . . drifting away there. Back to the dive. One of the first things that I encountered was this lovely little anemone which I am embarrassed to say that I can’t identify accompanied by two juvenile Clark’s Anemonefish (Apmphiprion clarkii):My finger is for scale, not for food. However, while snorkeling at The Eel Garden  later I was demonstrating how the larger cousins of these youngsters would play with your fingers and occasionally nip at them. One of the larger specimens of A. clarkii  bit viciously three times. Each time it would grab a bit of my skin in its jaws and shake its body furiously before letting go. Since I was out of breath anyway and needed to surface, I decided to end the demonstration.

This morning I felt a distracting itch on my hand and discovered a bite mark left by the little terror:Don’t let anybody tell you that Nemo is not dangerous.

In the clear incoming water, the beautiful Anthea were glowing like neon lights:We were blessed by a bit of sunlight on Saturday, the first we’ve seen in some weeks. The weather here has been dismal, at least by Paradise standards.

Richard Jones led the little expedition, though he was possibly a little miffed when I was uncooperative and lazy at the beginning of the dive. He got even later by mugging me:However, I shall have the last laugh. He complained a few days ago about me getting his “bald head” into the picture – his words, not mine. I would call him “partially bald”. My response is, “How could I miss it?”

Later on, a band of Cassells showed up in Felmara.  This array of fishing lures caught my eye:The Cassell Floating Fishing Party motored off after a while and left us to enjoy the lowering sun.

Just another Saturday in Paradise.

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To The Aliens in My Front Yard – Live Long and Prosper

Posted in Humor, Under the Sea on March 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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The Laboratory Monks tell us that a huge portion of the genes that spell out what we appear to be (Yeah, I’m a phenotype, just like you. Except I’m less inhibited.) are exactly the same. Okay, lets say that I share like maybe 90% of the genes with my dog, Sheba. That could explain a lot. But, we don’t look much like each other. Chimps are even closer, something like 98%. Don’t take these numbers seriously, I’m not checking them. I’m just sketching the general sketch here. In one sense, I’m nearly as mousey as a mouse, as moosey as a moose . . . you get the picture.

But, when you go into the ocean . . . wow . . . There be monsters there. HARRRGGHH!

When did you ever see anything like this in your front yard?Well, any fool knows that it’s just a cuttlefish, specifically a Broadclub Cuttlefish, technically a Sepia latimanus.  But, have you ever stopped, maybe after a stiff Scotch or two, and pondered just how different  it is? If you think about it long enough, you go all funny. People are always telling me that I think too much. Maybe they are right.

But, how do you shut it off? I mean, look at this thing:You can’t see it here, but it was flashing  me. No, not that way. Waves of brilliant colours were sweeping over its body. If that were not enough, it was growing lumps even as I watched. Check out cuttlefish flicks on YouTube if you want to blow your mind.

They also have this funny (not ha-ha, I mean hair standing up on the back of your neck funny) thing that they do with their arms that seems chillingly communicative. It’s like, “Hey, stupid! Yeah, you. Cat got your tongue? Can’t you see I’m talking to you?” I’ll demonstrate at the end of the post. You’ll be amazed.

As if that’s not bad enough, we have the cloaking devices. You see the alien? I’m one up on you, because I know its secret:Here on Earth we call it the Longsnout Flathead. The Men in Black call it a Thysanophrys chiltonae.  (Thy Chi  for short). I can’t pronounce what their cousins call themsleves back on Betelgeuse XVI.

Okay, now  do you see it? Unlike in outer space, the cloaking device fails to be 100% effective underwater. I think has something to do with refraction angles or some such tomfoolery:Still pretty effective, eh? The eyes are the problem. If they cloak their eyes, they can’t see you. It’s a sort of self-defeating defense. Not much use. The eyes always give them away. They need to work on their technology. Maybe they should feed a few of their theoretical scientists to us. That would give them an incentive to come up with a fix.

Here I have used my soon to be patented MadDog Alien Disclosing Anti-Cloaking Ray Dispenser on this Flathead (a close cousin of the Coneheads, in case you were wondering) to display it in its fully disgusting not-like-me-at-all splendor:I should warn you not to stare into its eyes too long, especially if you click the image to enlarge it. I recently heard of a teenager who did that. It was horrible. He stopped cutting school, quit smoking pot, finished all of accumulation of 1,600 hours of his court mandated community service and stopped saying, “Whatever.” If these things have that kind of power they could take over any time they darn well please.

So, as I always play the safe side and don’t look for trouble where it doesn’t sound like fun, I’m publicly communicating my good intentions to any and all aliens, above or below the Dihydrogen Monoxide interface:

I’m using the same creepy hand signal that the Cuttlefish and Mister Spock use. You thought it was Hollywood, eh? Sucker!

Sheesh, I look like I’ve been raised from the dead. Call me Lazarus. You like my Lieutenant Dangle shorts? I cut the pockets off so people wouldn’t think I was a cast member of Reno 911.  That’s a genuine Harley Davidson belt buckle, by the way, given to me by Trevor Hattersley and Karen Simmons for some event, my birthday or Christmas or something. I can’t remember. I have to keep saying this, because I once attributed the gift to someone else and I’m still grovelling for forgiveness. Ooooh, I’m digressing severely.

Anyway, to all you aliens out there:  I’m a nice peaceable guy. You don’t get in my face, I won’t get in yours. My motto is live and let live or whatever it is you do.

In short:  Live Long and Prosper.

I’ll try to do the same.

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Planet Rock – Move Along People, Nothing To See Here

Posted in Under the Sea on March 7th, 2010 by MadDog
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I may as well continue feeding you a steady diet of fish for a couple of more days, at least until I run out of images from our dive on Planet Rock  yesterday. Richard Jones, (A. K. A. “Eagle Eyes”) has been spotting for me. It’s like having an experienced tracker along on a safari. We’re not shooting big game, but I bet Rich could spot a lion’s ears peeking above the savanna grass at 200 metres.

Here’s Rich doing his thing:Not a single nook or cranny escapes his attention.

However, while Rich is poking around looking for treasure, I’m usually takin’ in the scene, man. When you first start diving you’re looking for the big, flashy stuff. After the shine wears off you can begin to appreciate the simple beauty of a starfish:It looks as if it’s strolling along the bottom, which, in fact, it is – though very slowly. I admire the starfish’s lack of urgency. When you pass, there’s always a little whisper, “Hey, man. Stay cool.”

You look for the odd juxtapositions. There’s no shortage of them. Here two species of Solitary Coral seem to be cuddling:Nobody told them that it’s wrong. It’s blissful ignorance. Life is simple in the sea. You only have three things to think about. You eat. You reproduce. You are eventually eaten or otherwise return to Mama Ocean’s storehouse of building materials.

You can never swim far without encountering a bit of magic. Here little jewels of amber hover over a plate coral.They are Reticulated Dascyllus,  but that matters not a bit when the magic overcomes you. Everything is alive and a part of the whole. Identity merges into the gestalt.  Are the Dascullus Reticulatus  and the coral inseparable – needful of one another? Technically, no. However, the sense that you get is that it is all meant to fit together just as it is. Everything is copacetic.

Here and there passes a Unicorn . . . no, not really. Nevertheless, what it is is no less magical:A Trumpetfish hurries to escape the camera. It’s no less a beautiful mystery if you call it Aulostomus chinensis.  The background blurs and the camera strains to follow the motion. The photographer feels a part of the daily life of the reef. I think of the Don Knotts movie, The Incredible Mr. Limpet.  I feel somehow more peaceful and accepted as a fish. I move like a fish, through a three dimensional world. My breathing slows and my body relaxes. I’m in the sea. I’m of  the sea. I am home.

And she rewards me for my admiration, respect and love. She sparkles for me:The sweet Anthea  gather round me and frolic. I join their dance and music rushes through me.

We must protect our mother. If she dies, we shall all perish with her.

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Planet Rock – When Is Close Enough Too Close?

Posted in Under the Sea on March 6th, 2010 by MadDog
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Feeling much better after a week of taking a gut wrenching (you know what I mean) antibiotic, I found that I could pop my ears on Saturday morning. So, I took a 12-hour Sudafed at about 09:00, reckoning that I would be flopping on my back in the water at about 11:00. Jo Noble and I motored out in Faded Glory  along with Richard Jones and Jenn Miller riding in their boat Sanguma.

We arrived to find a metre of Gol Gol River  water clouding our vision of the top of the reef, along with a medium current and a long, rolling swell – not good omens. Only Richard and I were diving, so we quickly sized up the conditions and decided to go for it. I still wasn’t feeling as strong as I might, but we decided before going in that we would come back up immediately if it wasn’t any fun.

We’ve been diving lately with Rich as my “spotter” and me manning the Canon G11 camera. Today we once again proved to be a successful hunting team, gathering several trophies. I’ll have more over the next few days.

The question that came up several times on this dive is, “When is close enough for a really good shot a little bit too close for comfort?” First, I should mention that I’m a natural-born coward. Bravado is not my forte, I’m adverse to pain and my inclinations are less toward masochism and more toward narcissism. Therefore, I tend to be careful. I want to be doing this when I’m 90.

Still, one wants to get the shots that make people say, “Wow!” Sometimes you have to discomfort yourself a mite to do that. This shot of a Giant Moray Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus)  was like snapping a cute little pussycat:My lens was a good 15cm from his jaws and he wasn’t looking perturbed at all. If I tried to move closer, he just slithered back into his hidey-hole. A self-regulating safety situation for the both of us.

This younger individual was in no mood for fooling around:A soon as I crept up on it I got the, “Are you ready to deal with this?” attitude. I backed off a bit to let it get used to my intrusion and then came in for a second visit.

This time I got the, “You better get outta my face, man!” posture:Truthfully, though I never wear gloves, the most serious injury I might sustain from a Moray of this size is some very nasty lacerations and a scratched up camera. Nevertheless, I decided that this was close enough. I didn’t want to turn the poor critter into a man-eater. We don’t encourage our Morays to develop a taste for people.

We do have many dangerous critters in these waters. However, hardly any of them are aggressive, unless you physically molest them, which I take great pains not  to do.

An example is the whole family of Sorpionfishes. You’ve seen many of the varieties here. This one is the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):You may have to look hard to find the fish. They are masters of camouflage. Therein lies the rub. Though they would never actually attack, they intensely dislike being molested. There are a series of highly venomous spines along the dorsal fine and other places on different species. Any one of these spines can envenome you in a way that you are guaranteed to find not only extremely painful, but possibly fatal, though that is a rarity.

The main danger is, of course, is that you may inadvertently come into contact with one before you even see it. A couple of weeks ago I was about to lay my hand on a rock to steady myself for a shot when the “rock” moved. I felt pretty stupid to realise the unpleasantness which I had just escaped.

Here’s a closer shot. This is about as close as you want to get:Of course, it’s not going to “attack”, but in its haste to get away, I could get punctured.

You’ll probably have to examine this shot closely to find the Octopus:You can easily pick out the breathing tubes. One of its  eyes is the reddish object just below the branchy stuff hanging down to the left of centre.

Of course, an octopus has absolutely no interest in attacking a human, at least not one of this size. It was simply hiding from us. Richard saw it moving across the bottom. As soon as it spotted him, the critter holed-up.

I was on a dive in Hawaii once when our dive leader stuck his hand in a hole, wrestled around a bit, and pulled out an octopus with a arm spread of about a metre.

I assure you that I would never  do that.

I can’t be a very nice experience for the octopus.

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More Eel Garden Goodies

Posted in Under the Sea on March 2nd, 2010 by MadDog
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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.

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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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