The Vain Varicosa

Posted in Under the Sea on July 20th, 2010 by MadDog
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Dont’ try to figure out the title of the post yet. It’s so stupid that you will simply waste your time. I’ll get to it.

Busy, busy, busy. When I went out this morning I was wondering how I was going to cram in all the things that I “had to do” before clocking out. One of them was to take this picture of a sunrise, a very peculiar one:

Frustrated with the violet hue (which, by the way, I saw with my own eyes, but can’t explain), I spent far too much time trying to get rid of it and then decided to leave it, because that’s the way it was. It is not a very good idea to fool with Mother Nature, even when she seems to be fooling with you.

But, getting back to “things I have to get done today”, I really need an attitude adjustment. There are categories:

  • That which must be done to maintain life (eat, get a little exercise, don’t offend any mobsters, etc.)
  • That which one must do to keep one’s job or jobs (should be obvious to you unless you are about to be sacked)
  • That which you would like to do just to show that you’re pulling your load (help with the housework, wash the car, mow the lawn, etc.)
  • That which you need to do in order to maintain some level of personal satisfaction (this too, you probably already have figured out)

The problem is putting them all into some kind of balance. I still haven’t gotten a handle on that. I probably never will.

So, since this is something which I do to maintain some level of personal satisfaction, I’m going to blow off some of the more essential tasks and show you the source of the ridiculous title of this post. It is a nudibranch, specifically a Phyllidia varicosa,  of which you have seen many specimens before:

The title is a stupid pun combining the species name, varicosa,  and vain, which we all understand (“You’re so vain – da da da da da da da.”) with varicose veins and don’t ask me why that popped into my mind. So having established what kind of a day it’s going to be, let’s get on with the rest of it.

By the way, I am calling that P. varicosa  image a perfect specimen shot. If anybody wants to argue that, then put up your dukes and show that you did better. I’m laying the matter to rest until I get (or I am challenged with) a better one. That’s another brag down for the day. How many do I have left? I’ve lost count already.

Here’s a nice, symmetrical shot of  a Fan Coral and a Feather star:

No, I’m not going to say a lot about it. It’ speaks for itself. Let it talk for a few seconds. Pop it up and have a look. Hear anything?

Me neither.

A little gaggle of Shadowfin Soldierfish (Myripristis adusta)  were swimming through the notch leading to the catamaran. Having plenty of air and not much else to do, I took a picture of them:

Think of that shot as part of my continuing efforts to demonstrate that not everything under the sea is as exciting and beautiful as you see it on TV.

This is a bit better. These little devils are usually almost impossible to shoot well. The Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus)  is a shy, shy fish:

This is probably the best shot which I have ever gotten of the fat little puppy-like swimmers.

Then, a few metres away, I found another one ducking in and out of a hole:

Another good puffer shot. When you’re hot, you’re hot!

Looking back up at that list, I think that I have to get to work now.

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Ants in the Sugar

Posted in Humor, Under the Sea on June 19th, 2010 by MadDog
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Though I love living in a tropical paradise I’d be less than honest to say that it’s all fun and games. There are minor imperfections. Having had malaria seven times is an example. Horrible things called tropical ulcers and a flesh eating bacteria which attempted to remove my left are other trivial complaints. My recent bout with staph and bacillus bacterial gobbling up my olfactory organs, leaving me odorless (at least as far as I can tell) could have happened anywhere, but upper respiratory infections are very common here. You haven’t had a cold until you’ve had a “tropical cold”.

However, the trivial day to day irritations bug me the most. For instance, ants in the sugar:I slipped that pun in so cleverly that you may have missed it. It is also easy to miss the ants in the shot above, because they are the teensy variety. You can’t miss them when you take the lid off, though. They scurry around in a panic and try to hide by burrowing into the sugar. You can see  them better if you click to enlarge.

You may also note that our sugar is rather odd looking. It smells funny too – not funny ha-ha. No, it’s more like funny they forgot to take some of the goop out when they were making it. Some might call it raw sugar. We call it the best we can get.

Here I have enlarged that culprits for you:I honestly don’t know how they get in the sugar. We take it straight from the bag and put it into an air-tight plastic container. The lid goes “suck” when you pull it off. One must assume that there are ant eggs in the sugar. Why these are considered a suitable ingredient I don’t know either.

Well, enough of that.

Here’s an nice fan coral which I shot yesterday on The Henry Leith:

I managed to grab the wrong battery for my Canon G11 on Saturday morning, so I was out of juice half way through the dive.

Here’s Richard Jones poking around the stern of the wreck. Rich forgot to load a battery into his camera. Therefore, Rich was the chief dunce of the day:

It’s Sunday evening here. I’m pretty wasted from riding three hours on the Harley up the north coast road and back, dodging Harley-eating potholes all the way. I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow.

So, I’ll cut it short and get some down time. First let me show you the collapsed roof of the pilot house of The Henry Leith:

It’s too bad that it finally fell down. I was cool to get into the pilot house and look out at all of the fish swimming around.

Here’s one of the better shots that I’ve ever gotten of a Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus):

They are very shy, so it’s difficult to catch them out in the open.

This Divericate Tree Coral (Gendronephthya roxasia)  doesn’t move at all, so it’s no fuss to get a nice close-up:

Nice detail in that one. It’s worth a click to see the full-sized version.

I’ll have a Harley story tomorrow and some shots of the Tapira Surfing Club.

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Anita and Wouter Dive Madang

Posted in Under the Sea on January 12th, 2010 by MadDog
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Friends from Belgium, Anita and Wouter and Anita’s father, Jos are visiting this week with us here in Madang and I am enjoying half-days off from work to take them diving and sightseeing. Today I’ll show you some images from our dive on The Henry Leith,  which you have seen featured many times here on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.

Here is a nice shot of Anita and Wouter hovering over the wreck in unusually clear water, something that is a rarity in the area where the wreck has rested for decades:

As usual, the hulk was teeming with fascinating life. Here is a lovely young Spotfin Lionfish (Pterois antennata)  lurking in a corner in wait for an unsuspecting fish to pass by:You can use the search box for SPOTFIN and find other images of this beautiful fish.

This is a close-up image of the polyps of a sea fan:I have uploaded this image in a higher resolution that I normally use so that you can see the delicate structure of the individual colonial organisms. It’s worth clicking it to enlarge the image.

This is a Periclimenes  shrimp. I can’t determine the species. Many of them are so similar that it takes a very close examination to figure out which is which:


They are also difficult to photograph, as the tentacles of the anemone are constantly waving about and the shrimp itself is restless and does not like the camera lens hovering a few centimetres above it.

This is a very beautiful nudibranch that Wolter found hiding in a difficult to reach spot. I should be able to find this species in my invertabrates book, but it also eludes me:


I need to invest someday in a dedicated nudibranch book. As helpful as the web is for finding things, I still prefer a real paper book in which to find species photos and descriptions. Wading through the web to find a particular species is simply too time consuming for me to work it into my hectic life.

Along with the critters inhabiting the deck we found three juvenile Circular Spadefish [or Batfish] (Platax orbicularis) wandering around near the bottom at the stern:

It was dark there, so flash was necessary, but this youngster was remarkably cooperative, allowing me to approach within an arm’s reach. Fish rarely pose for the photographer, but this one showed some interest. The only problem was the extreme contrast between the white, highly reflective bars and the darker portions. Still, this is one of the best shots of this species that I’ve managed so far.

We have many more dives to report and a nice collection of images coming up later this week.

Stay tuned.

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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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Diving at the Country Club

Posted in Under the Sea on September 20th, 2009 by MadDog
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On Saturday, we were bored with the usual dive sites. I’ve done most of them at least a hundred times. A couple of years ago, we did a dive on the point just in front of the club house at the Madang Country Club. The sea there was reasonably smooth on Saturday, so we decided to have a go. You have to watch the sea state and the wind closely, since the only place to anchor is only about ten metres from the rocks.

We went straight down to about 40 metres at the south side of the point, intending to work our way around it and come back to the boat over the top. It was not as clear as I like, but the canyons there are fairly spectacular. I got this shot of a sea fan at about 35 metres in natural light. The Canon G10 is amazing:

Sea Fan

It was shot in the RAW mode (always, please, for underwater shots – it’s the ONLY way to go) and worked over with the Adobe Camera RAW filter to adjust for tint and colour temperature before loading it into Photoshop. At that point you can sometimes just apply the Auto Tone or Auto Colour controls and come up with a shot that needs only minor adjustments. It is only a matter of how picky you are how much more work you want to do.

Here on the bottom at 40 metres I found someone’s clothes. No bones, so I don’t think anybody was in them:

Clothing found at 40 metres

I’m always harping about using natural light for UW photos. You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again. I like for my images to look as close as possible to the way that I saw them. The gaudy colours of flash photography are pretty, but no diver is going to tell you that you will actually see those colours while diving.

Here is an excellent example. At 40 metres, under a ledge, no less, I found this lonely nudibranch. The Canon G10 handled the shot with aplomb. It was a very slow shutter speed, so I had to brace the camera firmly, but, with a little Photoshop magic, you are seeing the nudibranch exactly as I saw it:

Nudibranch shot with natural light under a ledge at 40 metres

Now have a look at the same shot taken when I turned on my flash:

Nudibranch shot with flash under a ledge at 40 metres

It is certainly prettier, in the sense that it has nice, bright colours, but it is not what I saw.

There seemed to be quite a few critters much deeper here than I normally see them. Here are some Anthea  at 40 metres, about twice as deep as you normally see this particular variety:

Anthea at 40 metres

Coming up to shallower water near the end of the dive, I found this Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima):

Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima)

The title Giant is a bit misleading in this case. This specimen was only about a half-metre long.

This goofy looking thing is a kind of sea squirt. There are an incredible variety of sea squirts around here, most of them with interesting shapes and colours. This one, however, takes the cake in the “God’s little joke” category:

Tunicate (Polycarpa aurata)

In case you care, it’s a Polycarpa aurata.

I’m never unaware of the great blessing of living in a place where, for a few bucks worth of fuel, I can go out with my mates every Saturday and dive in one of the most prolific and beautiful marine habitats on the planet.

What’s more, my mates always kick in for the fuel, and a little extra. What more can a guy ask?

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Barracuda Point Peculiarities

Posted in Under the Sea on September 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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We had a very nice dive on Barracuda Point on Saturday. It’s near Pig Island  only a few Minutes from Madang. This is the sight at the east end of the point at only about ten metres:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)

That is a nearly solid wall of Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)  mixed in with a few Big-eye Trevally and one lonely Red Emperor.  You can see some more barracuda images here and here.

Down deep at about forty metres I got this shot of a strange red coral that I’ve seen before, but can’t identify. I’m assuming that it’s a coral. It is extremely red – about the only red thing that you can see at that depth, since most red light has been scattered by the sea water – and hard as glass:

Strange red coral?

The extreme hardness of the thing is surprising, because it looks as if it is very soft, like flower petals. The first time I touched one (not supposed to do that anyway) I got a little green blood leaking out of my finger – blood looks green underwater if you are deep enough.

I found this favourite of our starfish (Choriaster granulatus)  much deeper than it would normally be. I don’t know what it was doing way down there. They are usually not found below about 25 metres:

Starfish (Choriaster granulatus)

Pascal Michon, our resident Frenchman, is forever finding stuff on the bottom. He once found a Hewlett-Packard calculator on the reef. This time it was an old mask that had been there for quite a while:

Pascal Michon

Barracuda Point is surrounded by beautiful Sea Fan clusters. This one a a species of Melithaea:

Sea Fan (Melithaea sp.)

This is a Barrel Sponge growing under a ledge. I’ve seen this several times before. They are always very pale instead of rich brown, the normal colour. At first I thought that it was just the lack of light that causes the paleness, but now I think that this may be a species that is not (according to my references) supposed to be in PNG waters. It should be around the Philippine Islands.  I think that it is Xestospongia testudinaria,  as if anybody cares:

Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria)

At the bottom of the image, you can see a small Cleaner Wrasse swimming past. It’s a little blurred because of the long exposure time.

Back up in the shallows again there was a mob of Big-eye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus)  there to greet us:

Big-eye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus)

You can see more Big-eyes here and here.

I’ll have a few more shots of the dive in a day or two. I’m still getting caught up from our drive up to the highlands. My hands are nearly back to normal now. After ten hours of gripping a wildly vibrating steering wheel, it takes me a couple of days to get over the numbness.

My brain feels a little numb too. Must have been the altitude.

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