Wrapping Up 2009

Posted in Under the Sea on December 31st, 2009 by MadDog
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After yesterday’s dark and whiny rambling through the back alleys of my nearly comatose mind, which prompted friends to call to see if I was planning to depart post-haste to greener pastures (or no pasture at all), I should maybe craft some slightly more upbeat prose. As a recovering (seemingly forever) bipolar, I need to be reminded once in a while that things are never so dark as I may wish to paint them on a down day. The flip side of that, as those who’ve experienced that hideous roller-coaster will instantly proclaim, is that things are never so bright either.

But, never mind. I’m over that. My craving for sympathy is satiated and I still have plenty of pineapple upside-down cake left. Today we will meet a couple of new characters and visit again with some old friends. A few days ago I took KP Perkins for her first dives after the completion of her Open Water Course. On our second dive, we went to The Eel Garden near Pig Island.  There, on the sandy bottom I got this pitiful shot of what we call a Leaf Fish. The “book” common name is Peacock Razorfish. This the juvenile phase of a species variation of Iniistius pavo:It’s a funny little thing. Against the creamy white bottom it looks very dark brown. I had to squeeze very hard on the lemon to get a bit of detail out of the body. Tha’s why it doesn’t look like a very good picture. We call it a Leaf Fish because, unless you are looking for it, you will be fooled by its colour, shape, the little topknot looking like a stem and its insane wobbly swimming motion into believing  that it is a leaf.

Here is another new something for you. It’s a coral, but I’m unable to determine the species name, since I can’t find it in my book. So, I’ll just call it Spiral Coral for now:What intrigues me about this coral is the striking resemblance between this overhead view and images of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction. Say what? Well, it’s a famous family of oscillating chemical reactions which can create amazing visible spiral patterns such as this:

I wouldn’t care to claim that I understand these reactions in anything other than a very general way. The details were not covered in CHEM-101 forty years ago. Nevertheless, the images were still im my mind and I could look them up with “spiral chemical reactions” using Google images. Ain’t the web great? Anybody can seem like an authority on anything. Wait, maybe that’s not  so great.

Well, here’s a spiky old friend from only a few days ago. It’s a Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas):I’m sure that it’s the same one that I showed you before. It lives there.

Here’s another old buddy, the gorgeous Tomato anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus):It this shot you can see the strong blue tint that is often seen in the white vertical bars. I’m not sure if this is really pigmentation – it doesn’t appear to be so. I think that it either some sort of reflection of the sky (it seems to be more common on a sunny day when most of the sky is blue) or it is a property of the surface of the skin similar to butterfly wings that produces colour by means of optical effects at the nanometric level. But, who knows? Maybe God just paints it that way. I’m no expert.

Here’s another bit of underwater eye candy that you’ve seen here before. They are Sea Squirts (Polycarpa aurata):I like to think of them as elf shoes. See, they have nice little elastic bands around the ankles so that they won’t fall off in the midst of mischief-making.

This is a shot that I really like. It’s our old friend, the Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata)  way out at the end of his front porch:They usually stay right next to their hidey-hole. It’s rare to see one that doesn’t have its tail down the burrow. This one has strayed a few centimetres away. You can see the trail of “dust” that it kicked up when it last came out only a few seconds ago.

I had one chance at the shot above before the little spotted pixy dived back into its burrow. The image turned out perfect. Though it’s not colourful, it is exactly as I saw it.

That is as close to diving as I can get you unless you’re ready to get wet.

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Hungry? Have a Delicious Sea Cucumber (Bêche-de-mer)

Posted in Under the Sea on December 22nd, 2009 by MadDog
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On Saturday, our regular dive day, we went to Barracuda Point,  on the eastern side of Pig Island.  The water at the surface was filled with particulate matter, but below about twenty metres, it was fairly clear. Just after we entered the water we saw this huge Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas).  This species is also known as the Prickly Redfish or the Pineapple Fish. Of course, it’s not a fish at all, neither is it a pineapple. However, its species name, ananas,  does mean pineapple. Well, okay, a pineapple is actually Ananas comosus.


Believe it or not, people eat them. I guess people eat just about anything, but I have a problem with this one. Of course, there are many different species. None of them look tasty to me:Prickly Red Fish, indeed!

How prickly? Have a look at this. If you scaled this up to human size, we’d all be covered with 10 cm wide spiky star-shaped red warts:It’s pretty in a very bizarre way – definitely one of the more unusual skins that I’ve seen.

Here is the front end:Or is it the back end? Some Bêche-de-mer have easily discernible front and rear ends. I didn’t take time to give this one an anatomical exam. You can usually tell by the trail of sandy poo left behind. There was none here. Maybe it was constipated.

Keeping with my rare Christmasy mood, Here is a bit of green to go with our red. It is a particularly lovely Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica):The outside of the ‘jug’ is the underside of the anemone. They usually lie in the feeding position, which is spread out like a carpet. If the surge gets to be a bit much or it is not a good feeding time, the skin contracts and pulls up, often leaving only a few tentacles sticking out of a hole. Surprisingly, any anemonefish residing in the anemone will be popping in and out of the hole, much as you see here. By the way, the fish here is the Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion).

Keeping in the spirit of “what you see is what I saw” here is an image of some Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)  coming up the side of the reef. Note all of the particulate matter floating in the water:It’s not all clear sailing.

Not forgetting my intent to bring you a Christmas Tree Worm every day until the 25th, here is your Spirobranchus giganteus  for today:Happy holidays!

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Bite Me Red Fish

Posted in Under the Sea on December 3rd, 2009 by MadDog
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Sometimes it’s more difficult to think of what to title a post than it is to write it. Yesterday’s The Big Blue Finger is a case in point. Today’s title is even more illustrative. I have a bunch of stuff to show you. It has no theme. What can I call it. I’m getting tired of trying to incorporate the word ‘miscellanea’ into a title. There’s only so many ways to do it. So, Bite Me Red Fish. As you shall see, the red fish doesn’t bite and the bite marks have nothing to do with the red fish.

Okay, okay, I’m obviously rambling now. Let us proceed to an image that I should have deleted, but it’s the only picture that I have of a Solor Boxfish (Ostracion solorensis):Solor Boxfish - Ostracion solorensisIt’s a shame it’s such a bad picture. It is very difficult to get close to them. This one was scurrying frantically to get out of sight when I saw it, so I just pointed the camera and snapped, not even knowing if I had focus or even if the fish was in the picture at all. When I got home and opened the image in Photoshop, I could see that I got a lot of smear from the very blurred image caught on the sensor while the shutter was open and one nice, sharp image of the fish when the flash went off, both on the same exposure. This is a problem that I can’t fix on the Canon G10, I think. There’s no way to make the shutter speed faster than 1/60 second when you have the flash turned on. So, you get a partially blurred image with a crisp flash capture over the top of it, so to speak.

Well, I’m sure that that explanation put a lot of people to sleep. How about some poo?Sea Cucumber FecesYou can now state proudly to your friends and neighbors that you know exactly what Sea Cucumber poo looks like. A surprising amount of it comes out of them. I guess it’s not so surprising when you consider that most of what they ingest is plain sand. You have to suck a lot of sand for a bit of nourishment.

I should call this one Death Takes Us All:Empty Bivalve ShellThis beautiful little bivalve has met its doom recently. There hasn’t even been time for much sediment to fill its empty shell. This shell is about 4cm long.

Now for the bite bit. Hard coral is . . . well, uh . . . hard!  You will know for certain the first time you bang your head on it. If you’re a photographer, it will happen sooner or later. However the marks you see here were not made by my pointy, pointy head:Parrotfish Bite Marks on CoralNo, those marks are the result of normal parrotfish feeding habits. This coral is not as hard as cement, but pretty nearly so. Therefore, you can imagine how hard the teeth of a parrotfish must be. In this case it was a rather large one. The bite marks here are about six or seven cm long. Thank heavens that parrotfish are not inclined to include humans on their menu.

So much for the bite. How about the red fish? Well, in that contest, the Scarlet Soldierfish (Myripristis pralinia)  has little competition:Scarlet Soldierfish - Myripristis praliniaI don’t know what is the origin of the common name, Soldierfish. They all have pretty much the same general form, including the big, big eyes for most of them.

It is interesting to me that, although I usually complain that using flash makes everything look redder than it does in nature, I have to say that it didn’t hurt the representation of this species. The overall shot is warmer that I would prefer, but the fish itself really is that red.

And, it doesn’t appear to be inclined to bite me.

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Reef Panorama? I’ll Have to Try Harder!

Posted in Under the Sea on November 29th, 2009 by MadDog
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On our dive on Saturday at Leper Island  near Madang, I tried to shoot some reef panoramas. I’ve been thinking about this for some time, just not while I was underwater. Funny how thoughts come to you when there’s absolutely nothing you can do about them. I’m driving down the road and I think, “Hey, I should try some underwater panoramas!” Do I remember this the next time I go diving? Of course not.  Does this happen to anybody else?

Here’s one that I finished:

Reef Panorama 1The colours do not make me happy at all. The Canon G10 shoots panoramas only in the JPG mode, which means that you lose all of the wonderful wholesome goodness of the Camera RAW filter. You simply cannot get the colours right:

Next time, I’m going to try shooting individual frames in the RAW mode, lock in the exposure on the first frame, and use manual focus. The only problem then is using the exact same settings for the colour adjustments on each frame before stitching them together. That may take some fiddling. Here’s a partially finished panorama:

Reef Panorama 2As you can see, I’m also going to have to frame the shots better. It’s surprisingly difficult to hold the camera at exactly the same angle when the surge on the top of the reef is pushing you around.

Here’s another partially finished panorama. I do really like the concept. I always strive to show you the scene as I saw it. This will be a very nice technique, if I can work out the colour problem. Note in this one that you can just make out the hull of Faded Glory in the upper left hand corner:Reef Panorama 3Well, enough of that until I can make them look better.

Here’s something that you don’t see every day, a Sea Cucumber wearing a clown suit. It’s a Thelenota rubralineata:
Sea Cucumber - Thelenota rubralineataThey are sometimes called Sea Slugs. Their top speed is about a metre an hour, so the concept of sluggishness fits their nature. In shallower water the lines appear bright red.

I’ll finish up today with one of the best shots that I’ve gotten of the Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus):Reticulated Dascyllus - Dascyllus reticulatus

Compare this on with one that I showed a few days ago. I have some other images of the Reticulated Dascyllus here and here (a video clip from my YouTube site).

I think that I’m getting the hang of it. No more ‘too shiny’ fish! Look at the red fish under the coral. When I took the shot I didn’t even see it.

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Hold Your Nose – We’re Going Under!

Posted in Under the Sea on September 26th, 2009 by MadDog
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We’re going diving, but first I have to get this out of my brain:  How smart can Google be?

I Googled this (without the quotes) “how many people are killed by falling coconuts each year?” Out of the ten hits at the top, nearly all claimed that 150 are killed in an average year by falling coconuts. This is, you understand, of no little importance to me. I spend a lot of time out in my garden, which is lined with 25 metre coconut trees. I’m quite certain that a konk on the head with a coconut from that height would spoil my entire day.

Interestingly there was one hit from THE ISLOMANIAC ™ (islomaniac: īl-o-mā’nē-āk’ [noun] One with a passion or craze for islands) which claims that the number is purely mythological. And, as you’d expect, there was a rebutting comment exposing an obscure journal article as evidence supporting the quantity.

So, never mind that Google pointed me to pertinent information on the first hit, I’m nevertheless no more informed than I was before.

Still unsatisfied that Google is trusworthy to point me to useful information, I tried the classic: “how many angels can dance on the point of a pin?” Again, Google pointed me to some interesting pages, but failed to answer the fundamental question for me. It seems that nobody knows for certain where the question originated (though it is a very obvious  query and of huge significance), but Wikipedia has an interesting, if brief, history of it.

The most informative hit was number nine from the Journal of Improbable Research.  It’s titled Quantum Gravity Treatment of the Angel Density Problem  and, though it still fails to quantify the exact number of angels, it does set some handy upper and lower bounds. I was especially amused to be brought to the realisiation that, if angels are small enough, and are not massless, an angel sock-hop of sufficient popularity could produce a black hole!

Okay, enough philosphy. Let’s get wet.

Here’s how the fan coral looked without the flash:

Sea fan - natural light

Here’s how it looks with the flash:

Sea Fan - flash exposureFakey, fakey, fakey. Okay, that is the end of my nearly daily protestations of using artificial light for UW photographs. You must  be getting bored with that.

This is an interesting coral that we see on nearly every dive. It’s Lobophyllia hemprichii.  We call it, “That bright red stuff.” It is, indeed, red. You can see it glowing from a great distance:

Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)

Here is a thick branch of Staghorn Coral with an encrusting sponge (Echinochalina sp.)  eating it from the bottom up:

Encrusting sponge (Echinochalina sp. ?) growing on Staghorn Coral

You wouldn’t think sponges could be that viscious.

This critter is a Leopard Sea Cucumber, a kind of bech-de-mere (Bohadschia argus).  You can see some little bits of seaweed and coral sticking to it. They sometimes cover themselves completely with camouflage material. They are rather beautiful, if squishy, creatures with an astounding defensive weapon. The stickiest, nastiest substance on the planet.

Sea Cucumber ( Bohadschia argus)

I don’t have an image of my own to show you, so I’m filching (with attribution) this from OceanwideImages.com. The image is by Gary Bell:

Leopard Sea Cucumber by Gary Bell / OceanwideImages.com

If you poke (a no, no) or otherwise bother the Leopard Sea Cucumber, it will emit these seemingly innocuous white filaments. You could not be more wrong if you think that they are no bother. Pity any critter who gets stuck on these. They don’t sting, but they are nearly impossible to get off. You have to let the dry (and STINK) until they flake off.

Winding down now, I have one more shot for you. This is a perfectly ordinary coral (Goniopora djiboutiensis)  on the left. That’s not the interesting item in the image:

Coral (Goniopora djiboutiensis) on the left with a crayfish hiding on the right under the ledge

What is amusing it the lobster hiding under the ledge on the right. Sometimes it is easy to fixate on a particular specemine and miss something 30 cm away. I could have had a good chance for an image of a critter not yet in my collection, if I’d only noticed it.

Maybe next time.

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About the Hat

Posted in Humor, Under the Sea on February 17th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’ve shown you several examples of the differences between juvenile forms and adult forms. I can hear you yawning already.

But, look at these beauties:

Silver Sweetlips sub-adult Diagramma pictum

They are Silver Sweetlips (Diagramma pictum).  I think that they are one of the prettier fish that it is easy to get a camera on. In fact, they are so tame that one wonders how they survive. It’s quite easy to sneak up behind and grab a tail. Oh, I should mention – these are sub-adults (the technical term for teenagers).

Now, have a look at this big homely thing:

Silver Sweetlips adult (Diagramma pictum)

That’s what a Silver Sweetlips looks like when it’s all grown up. Not a pretty fish.

Okay, enough of that. I’ve also bored you senseless about the differences between images taken by available light and those captured by flash. Let me warn you that there is more of that to come. In fact, another dose is coming your way right now.

Here is a nudibranch (Phyllidia coelestis)  captured on my Canon G9 with the flash turned on:

Nudibranch (Phyllidia coelestis) taken with flash

Here is the same nudibranch flashless (ambient or available light):

Nudibranch (Phyllidia coelestis) by available light

In this particular case, the differences are more subtle. However, even in this less dramatic example, it’s my opinion that the colours in the available light shot are much more as I saw them on the dive.

If nudibranchs light your fire, I’ve written about them before here, here, here, and here.

Okay, enough of the technical stuff.

Here’s something that might amuse you. The big critter (half a metre long) on the left is a Sea Cucumber, sometimes called bêche-de-mer.  In this case, it’s a Thelenota anax:

Sea Cucumber (Thelenota anax) with pooWhat’s interesting is the pile of stuff near the bottom. Hmmmmm . . . what could it be? Did I hear someone say, “Poo”? The answer is yes, it is a pile of Sea Cucumber poo. I bet you will go for at least the rest of the day without seeing another pile of Sea Cucumber poo.

Oh, yes – about the hat. To save me a lot of breath explaining to my neighbors – no, I am not the CÏA Station Chief. Of course, that is exactly what I would say if I were, so you’ll never know:

What a laugh! - Or IS IT? - You'll never know.

A friend who is an automobile racing official gave the hat to me. In fact, he is a Senior Official. One should treasure gifts from friends, but the phrase “SENIOR OFFICIAL” seemed a bit stuffy to me, so I removed some of the embroidered letters. My craving to play the fool is insatiable.

Originally, I removed the letters so that it read “SENIOR OF CIAL” – somewhat cryptic, but amusing. My friend, Amana Watson, asked me why not remove the final “L”. I was stunned at my ability to overlook the obvious. Thanks, Amanda.

If you’re still suspicious, ask yourself: “What kind of secrets would I ferret out in Madang that would be of interest to the CIA?”

What a laugh!

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Christmas Trees – Already?

Posted in Under the Sea on November 25th, 2008 by MadDog
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Since we’re approaching the season to be jolly like a runaway freight train, why don’t I show you some Christmas trees that you might want to put up in your lounge.

Well, maybe not. You’d have to flood your house with sea water.

Christmas Tree Worms are fun to photograph because they’re small, they don’t bite, and they can’t run away. They can disappear, however, back into their burrows faster than the eye can record.

They come in just about any crazy colour that you can imagine. Here’s a couple of deep sky blue ones:

Blue Christmas Trees?

These could pass for alien candy (where did that come from?):

Alien Candy

And these are examples of the extremely rare Tangerine Dream variety:

The Tangerine Dream variety of Christmas Tree Worm

Now for a mystery. What would you say this is:

Sea Cucumber Eggs?

You’ll see the size from the next shot. My guess is that it’s an egg deposit. I believe that it was deposited by a large sea cucumber (or bêche-de-mer).

Here you can see that it is quite durable. I was able to carefully pick it up and put it back on the sand without breaking it. I’d imagine that there are hundreds or thousands of tiny eggs glued into this sandy mass like flexible concrete:

Or flexible concrete?

If you have another idea, leave a comment.

If you decide to turn your house into an aquarium for Christmas, please send me some photos. I promise I’ll post them here.

If you’re a Yank, you’ll be looking forward to your turkey. I am – though I’m not much of a Yank anymore. I get mine on Friday evening when we invite Americans in Madang to partake of Eunie’s Thanksgiving feast.

Mmmmmmmmm, good!

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