Planet Rock – Nudibranch Metropolis

Posted in Under the Sea on February 10th, 2010 by MadDog
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Last Saturday, with my buddy Rich Jones spotting for me, we had a nudibranch-fest at Planet Rock.  Because of the river water covering the top of the sea mount, there wasn’t enough light to avoid using the flash on my Canon G11. However, this worked to my advantage when shooting nudibranchs.

There are so many kinds of nudibranchs that I sometimes have difficulty identifying them. I have a book on marine invertebrates, but it includes only about a hundred nudibranch species. There are far more than that within twenty minutes of my house. Sometimes it’s difficult to get it down to even the genus level, because species within a given genus can appear wildly different.

Ah, I can hear some yawning out there, so let’s get down to the pretty pictures.

This one is fairly easy. I can tell that it’s a Pteraeolidia  of some kind, probably P. ianthina:I have a very difficult time finding these. They are usually only about 1.5 to 2 cm long. Richard is a master at spotting them, being a total freak about nudibranchs. We spotted two in a row. This is the second one:I know that it’s very illogical, but I sometimes wonder how something like this can even be alive. It is so utterly alien to anything that we are used to seeing. If you think about it, they are no less bizarre than the deep-sea monstrosities that we sometimes see in the news. It’s often said that we know more about the surface of Mars and our Moon than we know about the abyssal habitats of the oceans. I don’t know if that is true, but I can take it in.

The next ones that I have to show you are among my favourite nudis, the Electric Swallowtails.

This Electric Swallowtail (Chelidonura electra)  is relatively common around here. You can see it elsewhere in Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  Just put swallowtail in the search box and you’ll see all of the posts which contain images.

Here is another individual of the same species. As you can see they are amazingly plastic. I’m reminded of Rubber Man from my comic book days. For example, have a look at this one moving from one bit of coral to another:I estimate that between the two shots above the critter increased its body length by a factor of four. I measure about 164cm (that’s 5’ 4” and a half for metric-challenged Americans) in my bare feet, not exactly a giant. If I could stretch out that far, I’d be 6.5 metres tall. I’d have to bend over to look in 1st floor windows (that’s second floor windows for Americans).

Perhaps I should explain, briefly. In America, the numbering of floors, in common parlance, begins with the floor that is more or less even with the ground, in other words, it is just above what would be the first basement floor. This, in America, is called the first floor. The floor above it is the second and so forth. In much of the rest of the world, the said floor even with the ground is called . . . well, it’s called the ground floor. Hard to argue with, eh? Then, of course, you have to call the next floor the first floor and so forth. Forget mezzanines and such which just add additional confusion. I’ll not get into which is correct or more logical. I’m just explaining the way it is.

Oh, my, I’ve drifted off point again. That’s happening more and more lately. Let’s get back to the nudibranchs.

Here is a final shot of Electric Swallowtails enjoying an intimate moment:I shal not describe their activity. This is a family-friendly site (mostly). Use your immagination.

This is an entirely different nudibranch which is soometimes referred to as the Black Electric Swallowtail, the Chelidonura inornata:As you can see, there are physical similarities, but the pigmentation is radically different.

We saw quite a few of these. In one small area, less than a quarter metre square, there were five enjoying an impromptu love-fest. Here are a couple of frolicking nudis for you:Richard spotted some eggs and attempted to point them out to me. I was busy snapping, so I missed them. I could see him gesturing and attempting to say, “Eggs” through his regulator, It came out something like, “Eblublublelbgshblubelbule”. I couldn’t translate, so I never did see the eggs. I didn’t know about them until I was back on Faded Glory.  I’d never have found the spot again on my own and Rich is limited to one dive because of his insurance limitations. So we said forget the eggs.

However, while snapping away, I peeped on further evidence of a sort of nudibranch Woodstock:Naked nudis doing the boogaloo right out in the open. Shocking!

I wonder what they were smoking.

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A Good Spotter Makes All the Difference

Posted in Under the Sea on February 9th, 2010 by MadDog
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Since my good dive buddy Richard Jones got bent a while back he has not been able to dive, until recently. He finally got an insurance company to cover him down to 18 metres. So, when we go diving, we stay shallow and enjoy the best that the reefs have to offer. This is good news all around. Rich is back in the water, we are more or less confined to the best part of the reef for photography and Rich has eyes like an eagle.

Rich and I have had some great diving adventures together and I’m so glad to have him back on Faded Glory.  He also has just purchased a Canon G11 and housing, so I’m expecting that a competition will soon begin. He is a nudibranch freak. Get ready for a steady diet of rare nudis. Yum, yum.

Here’s a shot of Rich on our first cooperative, “I spot, you shoot.” dive:

Notice him giving me the “come hither” signal.

The first thing that we saw when we got off of the boat in pretty miserable conditions, with dirty fresh water from the Gol Gol River  over us was this lumbering Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas):Pretty is not a word that I would use to describe these alien critters.

I think that this must be some kind of algae, although the colour looks highly improbable:It really is as purple as it looks. It waves around in the current like silky hair. I thought that there was a slim possibility that it was a clutch of nudibranch eggs, but nothing that I can find matches it. After Googling for a few minutes, I gave up. Anybody have a better idea? I also tried “purple marine algae”, but no luck.

We see giant Barrel Sponges all the time. However, we seldom see small ones. It’s the old, “Where are the baby pigeons?” question. Here is a shot of a very young Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria):It is only about the size of your fist. The big ones can be the size and weight of a Volkswagen. There is a Squirrelfish or Soldierfish of some kind peeking at me from below the ledge. I can’t see enough of the body to identify it.

This poor crab was somebody’s dinner. All that’s left of him is one claw:It’s amazing that we see so little evidence of the nightly carnage on the reef.

I snapped this quick shot as a school of Narrow-Stripe Fusiliers (Pterocaesio tessellata)  with one Blue and Yellow Fusilier (Caesio teres)  flashed past me. It’s a credit to the G11, not to me, that the image came out looking as good as it does:Not a wall hanger, but you can identify the fish.

Finally, here is a nasty-tempered Moray Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus):This grumpy customer kept sticking his toothy face right out at me. If he looked as if he were going to bite, I’d just bump his nose with my camera, not hard, just enough to make his teensy-weensy brain reboot. He’d pull back in his hole and sulk for a few seconds and then peek out again. No harm – no foul.

I know that I’m going to get bit some day. Ah, well, a few more scars. It just adds to the legend (in my head).

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All the Colours of the Sea

Posted in Under the Sea on February 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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This last Saturday was a banner day for photography. My new Canon G11, which you are undoubtedly getting tired of hearing about, was perking along nicely, grabbing shots with much increased dynamic and no noise whatsoever at ISO 80. The ten megapixels that it offers are more than sufficient for the magazine-size shots that I need to do my work. Don’t sniff at ten megapixels. If another camera offers more, but the resulting image is poorer in quality, what good do those extra megapixels do?

Yesterday’s post contained images from this Saturday’s dive also, as will tomorrow’s and the day after. In total, out of about one-hundred exposures, I got thirty-six which I deemed good quality. I’ve never had a two dive day that was more productive. Part of the reason for that was that my old buddy, Richard Jones, was “spotting” for me. He has amazing eyes and can find the smallest critters. Sometimes these are the most interesting. Tomorrow I’ll feature some nudibranchs which Richard found. Your mind will be blown.

But, that’s for tomorrow. Today, we’re doing colours. The dive at Planet Rock  was dark. There was a layer of muddy fresh water from the Gol Gol River  floating over the surface down nearly to the top of the sea mount at about 15 metres. I had to take many shots with flash. Though it is my preference to forgo flash when possible, sometimes it is unavoidable – there’s simply not enough light. In the first two shots, the effects of the flash are not noticeable. It simply acted as a fill light. In the others, the effect is dramatic, though the colours are, to me, artificially bright. They are, however, very pretty.

Green has been my favourite colour since I don’t know when. When I was a small child, it was red. I don’t know when I changed to green. I don’t even know if guys are supposed to have a favourite colour. I don’t talk about it much over the pool table with my mates, though I’m always soothed and mellowed by the green playing field. Maybe that’s why I’m such a lousy shot. Anyway, have a look at this lovely green Coral (Acropora tenuis):Click it to magnify and see the lovely details of the polyps waving in the current. Each little ledge on each tower is an individual animal. It is truly a thing of beauty.

Here’s another Acropora  species with a dramatically different colour:I’m always faintly startled when I run across one of these outlandishly purple corals. They seem somehow out of place. I wonder if a nearby toy store exploded and scattered misshapen shards of bright plastic on the sea bottom.

This shows why we have a pretentious name for the Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica).  You can see a scattering of  Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  chilling out and having a few beers:What a lovely playground they have.  There are few sights in the sea which are as calming and wondrous as this symphony of colour displaying a commensal relationship between vastly different organisms. Neither can flourish without the other.

Starfish fans will enjoy this lazy looking Linckia laevigata.This is the same species which often appears as a bright blue variation.

This Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)  contains the brightest red pigment of any creature that I have seen in the sea:This is a very young colony. They tend to become less colourful as they grow. Young ones, such as this, can often be seen as tiny crimson torches thirty metres away on a day with good visibility.

I’m a great fan of Feather Stars. This is a particularly nice image of some species of Lamprometra.  They are difficult for me to tell apart. I’ve been watching old episodes of Fawlty Towers  during the fifteen minutes that I can stop working each day. I can’t get out of my mind what Manuel (he’s from Barcelona, you see) says when he misunderstands a command from Basil Fawlty: “Eet ees deefeecult.”You can clearly see the “feet” of the feather star in this shot. If you gently tickle a foot with your fingertip, the creature will wildly thrash its arms around, waving madly. It’s a most comical sight. I’m going to have to shoot a video clip of it some day.

Here is a close up shot of another individual of a Lamprometra  species Feather Star:I didn’t think that the shot would turn out to be much. Now I’m simply blown away by it. Beware. If you stare at it long enough you may feel yourself getting slightly high, that is if you recognise “high”. Click on it to make it bigger and have a look. It’s mesmerising. This is a living thing. How can that be?

I don’t recommend it as a desktop background.

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Posted in At Sea, Dangerous on November 2nd, 2008 by MadDog
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Please excuse the hideous pun in the title.

However, it does hint that one of the skills for standing on a log in the ocean may require more fancy footwork than most of us can muster.

In this YouTube clip, Richard Jones tries, tries again, and again . . . until, amazingly, he succeeds. The first belly-flop is probably the funniest bit:

My camera was in its underwater housing, so there’s little sound. Everything looks a bit rosy too, because I forgot to turn off the underwater white balance thingie.

I have played this comical but dangerous game on several occasions. As surely as we encounter a large log at sea, somebody wants to mount it. I assure you that it is profoundly more difficult than is implied by either of these clips. I’m getting a little long in the tooth for such shenanigans, but the next time I find a big one and the sea is glassy, I may have a go. I must remember, however, that old bones heal slowly.

Overall, it’s probably more dangerous and not nearly as much fun as jumping out of an airplane.

In the next clip, the local guy is Skeeter. He runs the dive shop at Madang Resort Hotel. The expat fellow at the end of the log is Gavin Grant. He was a dive instructor in Madang at the time.

We were on our way on Aquaventure to do some diving at Kar Kar Island. Gavin stopped the boat when he saw the log and decided to impress the ladies. He plunged bravely into the briney deep and put forth many game attempts to mount the wobbly knob. It went on for so long that were starting to yawn. I stopped shooting with my ancient video camera because I was afraid I’d run the battery down.

Just as Gavin was beginning to looked sincerely distressed, Skeeter sliced into the water like a porpoise and squirted out magically on top of the log:

Gavin was severely chagrined. We razzed him unmercifully. He blamed the waves.

Gavin is long gone from Madang – I know not where. Skeeter still runs the dive shop. He doesn’t look as young as he did, but I’d be willing to bet he can still stand on a log in a cyclone.

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What Colour IS IT?

Posted in Under the Sea on March 23rd, 2008 by MadDog
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I love the colours that I see underwater. It is a different world. But it is not all bright garishness down there.

Like all underwater photographers, I strive to capture colours that mesmerise the viewer while conveying an approximation of what I saw with my eyes. While I want to be accurate, I also need to do what is necessary to convey a pleasing image. This means a little cheating at times.

But how does one create a truly accurate photograph of what one was actually seeing? The interactions of lens and sensor physics, depth, water quality, and computer post-processing create so many variables to deal with that it becomes a highly subjective exercise.


One thing that I’ve discovered is that the flash on the camera is my enemy. The photo above of a Moorish Idol (Zanclus comutus) was taken using only natural light. The flash was turned off. Without getting all technical, let’s just say that available light photography underwater stretches every corner of the photographic envelope. It’s not easy.

Chasing the fish, keeping it centred in the viewfinder, keeping it in focus, remembering that during all that you can’t shake the camera because you don’t have the flash to ‘freeze’ it for you . . . It all uses up a lot of air.

It’s worth it, however, because I can honestly say that the colours that you see in the photo are exactly (as near as I can remember) what I saw. It’s a new photographic adventure for me.

Here are a couple of other similar photos that I took yesterday at Planet Rock. This is an overhead shot of Richard Jones.

Richard Jones

Here’s one of Rich along with Lorraine Collins as they photograph a magnificent anemone. Note that only the brightly coloured anemone stands out. (Click any photo for a larger one.) Another thing that I like is that all the shadows are in their natural positions. Things don’t look as if they are being illuminated artificially by a source not located overhead.

Rich and Lorraine

The colours are not vibrant, but they are accurate. These were taken on a hazy day at about 25 metres. The water above was milky and greenish from the discharge of the Golgol River. Nearer the surface colours would appear brighter, but never as vivid as is seen when using an electronic flash.

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Hawkfishes – Little Jewels of the Sea

Posted in Under the Sea on March 15th, 2008 by MadDog
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It’s Saturday morning, so I’m off for a dive. I don’t have much time for composition, so I’ll just show you some pictures. (with apologies to those who have seen them a hundred times already)

I like the Hawkfishes. Unlike some other families, there’s not an ugly one in the bunch. (Click on a picture to see a bigger version.)

This is the Arc-Eye Hawkfish (Paracirrhites arcatus). The common name comes from the arc-shaped marking over the eyes.

Arc Eye Hawkfish

Here’s a Freckled Hawkfish (Paracirrhites fosteri). They start out as youngsters with just a few freckles and get more and more as they age (hmmm . . . that seems to be the way my old body is turning out)

Freckled Hawkfish

Ah yes, the rare (except on the Henry Leith) Longnose Hawkfish (Oxycirrhites typus). Anybody want to venture a guess where it got it’s name. I’d be tempted to call it the Jimmy Durante Hawkfish, but nobody under 60 would get the connection. Richard Jones took this picture with my camera.

Longnosed Hawkfish

Here’s the Pixy Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys oxycephalus). The name just makes me giggle.  Imagine a pixy hawk – let alone a pixy hawk fish. What a mish-mash of words.

Pixy Hawkfish

And, as so often happens when you think you know what you are looking at, along comes a fish you thought you knew, but it’s a completely different color. This is the Red Variation of the Pixy Hawkfish.

Pixy Hawkfish (red variation)

Okay, that’s enough for today. I hear thunder in the distance, so the dive may be off . . . nevermind.

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Bizarre Pétanque Finish

Posted in Sports on March 12th, 2008 by MadDog
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It’s a strange game; Pétanque. We play it after lunch at the beach. It makes me feel so … so … continental. We’ve had, on occasion, six nationalities between the two teams. When the social lubrication has reached its optimal level, out come the boules. We usually play rusty boules versus shiny. But, first comes the lunch. Here’s Mike and Pascal and Rich preparing the victuals.  Mike appears to be supervising. Rich needs a good feed.

Lunch at the beach

As a Yank, I’m allowed no closer than three meters to the barbie. On special occasions I’m allowed to help build the fire.

Hmmm, yes, we were talking about Pétanque. See, we don’t really do it properly. Actually we play Bush Pétanque (nothing to do with George). It’s much more interesting. I threw the jack right up against the back of the beach house and it got caught between some ancient roots. Anyway, after everyone had expended their boules, here’s how they ended up.

Petanque boules huddled together

Isn’t that fascinating? Aren’t you just so happy that you checked my blog today? Otherwise you would never have seen such an amazing sight. Now get back to work before your boss catches you.

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