Great Barracuda!

Posted in Under the Sea on May 28th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today begins a new pursuit for our J & E Enterprises Limited company. I’m going out to install the first VSAT dish which we have sold. I’m familiar with the technology, so the job should be simple and take only a couple of hours. On Monday, after the unit is switched on at the Orion terminal in Australia, our customer will enjoy Internet communications and VOIP (voice over Internet – think Skype) the likes of which have never before been seen in Papua New Guinea at the relatively low cost of these units. It really is an exciting event for us. It’s fun to be involved with what, in this country, is the cutting edge of technology. Never mind that it has been available in most of the rest of the world for at least a decade.

Here is your morning sunrise:

Provided I arise early enough, I should be able to show you a new one nearly every morning now that the dry season is arriving.

The subject of this post is the large, toothy critter in this sadly poor photograph:It is a Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda). It’s not called “great” because it’s particularly famous or gifted or nice, but simply because it is big. I reckon that this one was about a metre and a half long. I tried my best to sneak up on it while it was getting the fishy equivalent of a car wash here at a “cleaning station” where tiny cleaner wrasse swim around and pick off tasty parasites from the barracuda’s skin – even inside its mouth! However, the instant it sensed me as a possible threat (pretty unlikely, I’d say), it shot of so quickly that it was just a blur in my eyes. Its departure was accompanied by a sound like a whip snap and a general panicky scattering of all of the fish in the general area as they hurried to get out of its way. It was quite a spectacle.

The water at Barracuda Point was murky, so the photo is very poor, despite my being only about three metres distant from the fangy bullet. This is only the third or fourth Great Barracuda which I have seen here in over 2,000 dives.

I have selected the rest of my images today not for their excitement, but rather for their calm, restful beauty. Here is one of my favourite creatures, the Mushroom Coral (Fungia fugites or possibly F. scutaria):

This one is resting next to the large colony of beautiful green and white Sea Squirts, Lissoclinum patellum.

This is a very lovely Divericate Tree Coral (Gendronephthya roxasia) which is growing between the hulls of the old wrecked catamaran on the ocean side of the barrier reef at The Eel Garden near Pig Island:

The Tree Corals are some of the few things which I like to use flash to capture. The way that they light up seemingly from the inside out is quite amazing. This one has a wonderful blue and pink colour scheme which I have not seen before. As soon as I began to work with this image my mind drifted to the recent movie Avatar. That film is packed with creatures which any diver would immediately recognise.

Here is another colonial animal which is best seen with flash. It is some species of Semperina, I think:

In ambient light it is a dull brown. When the full spectrum of sunlight hits them, as a camera flash is designed to replicate, it light up bright red.

We may as well finish up with a couple of Disneyesque Nemo impersonators. The Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula) has certainly become the most universally recognised reef inhabitant on the planet:

That’s it for today. Tomorrow is Dive Day. I’ll be back to waste more of your valuable time.

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The Skunk and the Crystal Goblet

Posted in Under the Sea on April 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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Yesterday was a dirty water day. I had a boat load of people; I think there were ten. With seven divers in the water, I had to actually do my Divemaster thing, keeping an eye on everyone. This was not easy, as there was only about ten metres of visibility. We went to the south end of Leper Island  first. It was uninspiring. After our surface interval to dump the excess nitrogen, we did another dive at The Eel Garden  near Pig Island.  There was no point going any farther, since everything near Madang seemed to be equally nasty.

At The Eel Garden,  directly under Faded Glory,  we found the resident Skunk Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  lurking in a similarly rare and beautiful Merten’s Anemone (Stichodactyla mertensii).  Anemones can stay a long time on one place. Most of them, in their final stage, become sessile. This simply means that they don’t move around:This anemone has been in the same spot for several years. I think that its wandering days are over.

I love patterns, as regular readers will know. I use many of them as desktop backgrounds. This shot of coral polyps really pleases me:There is a delicious combination of randomness and order here. The arrangement of the polyp tentacles suggests dynamic action. This is an entirely correct visualisation. The coral was only about five metres down and there was a constant surge. This was keeping the tentacles in constant motion.

I have no idea of the species of this coral. I was struck by the outrageous colour:I note that very few underwater photographers treat coral seriously. Truthfully, I find coral as interesting and as rich with photographic opportunities as fish. However, most people want to see fish. I try to give a bit of both.

Here’s an elegant example of coral beauty, a young fire coral:There will be no doubt concerning the common name of fire coral commencing with the first contact between it and your skin. It burns like billy blue blazes. Immediate treatment with vinegar, making one smell like a salad and suddenly reminding everyone on the boat that they are famished, is the best immediate treatment. This needs to be followed up by 1% hydrocortisone ointment, which we always have on the boat. It causes no permanent damage except possibly to the dignity of a grown man with tears running down his cheeks after scraping his inner arm across a patch of fire coral.

Here are a couple of Nemofish, as the Japanese now call them. It is probably the only species on the planet that has ben permanently renamed by Hollywood. It is, of course, the common Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula):If you watch them for a while, it’s easy to understand why they are called clowns. They bob about in the anemone as if they were bright orange and white striped toy balloons in a tornado.

As for the Crystal Goblet, you will need to exercise your imagination a little. If you can’t do that, then I will bet that you are not a regular visitor here. This is some kind of Sea Squirt, a fairly rare one in these waters:I say that it is rare not because I’ve researched it, but because, in over 2,000 dives here, this is the first one that I have seen. It is large for a Sea Squirt. The larger individual on the right, which I presume is a more fully developed version of the one on the left, is about 4cm in diameter. It is extremely transparent, as you can see.

We had a very good time at Jed’s house last night. The theme of the party was The Letter B.  It reminded me a little of Sesame Street:

It was a no-brainer for me to come as a Beach Bum. I didn’t even need to dress up. My normal casual attire needed only minor accessorisation. Karaoke was an integral part of the entertainment.

In the image above I’m performing my own crusty rendition of Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind.  It was intensely forgetable.

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Warship Panorama, Blondes and Other Stuff

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks, Under the Sea on April 7th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today is yet another day when there will be no plot to follow. I’m free associating. Come along for the ride. The big Australian Hydrographic Survey Ship HMAS Leeuwin sitting across the harbour from our house inspired me to Zoomify nearly the entire west side of the peninsula.

Here is the view from our front yard in a zoomable image:

On the far left is the main wharf and the warehouse. Moving to the right, you see HMAS Leeuwin.  If you zoom in as far as possible, you can read the name of the ship on the side of the bridge. At the far right is a the only three floor house in Madang. It belongs to a big-shot politician about whom I will say nothing else. I’m not a fool. In front of the house is a sunken boat. Again, no comment.

Geeks may be interested to know that the image above is about 20 MB and is comprised of nearly 1,000 files.

Eunie occasionally feeds me tidbits from the newspaper. I read neither The Post Courier  nor The National.  They’re simply too depressing. However this tasty morsel merits a bit of space here:

BLONDE-haired women may be traditionally labeled as fun-loving and less intelligent but a new study reveals they earn seven percent more on average than women with other hair colours. They also marry wealthier men, who earn six percent more than the husbands of other women, the University of Queensland study revealed. The study, which surveyed 13,000 women, found that the difference in pay remained the same even when factors such as height and education were removed. No other hair colour had the same effect. The research, reported in journal Economics Letters, does not explain just why blondes earned more and have wealthier husbands. But Dr David Johnston, who led the study, said: “Blonde women are often depicted as being more attractive than other women, but also less intelligent. But it seems the association between blondes and beauty dominates any perception that they have low intelligence.”

You see, this makes perfect sense to me. Having married a fun-loving blonde who is also, I’m quite certain, the Smartest Person On the Planet, none of the positive aspects of blondeness surprise me. My wife missed out on the big money, but that’s because she married for love. That she got a looser for her trouble is not her fault. I’ll never be a big earner, but I’m ever so sincere and also cute and cuddly – like a 59 kilogram puppy.

Well, I’m not out of space yet. I’ve done a lot of work this morning and I have a few minutes before my lunch hour. I don’t actually take a lunch hour. I just eat while I work. That leaves me more time for a beer when I get home. Then I have to go back to work again in our “other” office. I’m not complaining. It’s not like I’m stoking boilers on the Titanic.  Most of my work is enjoyable now that I have the network bludgeoned into submission. So, since I’ve got the time, here’s this morning’s sunrise which I have titled from the depths of my boundless imagination Sunrise with Canoe:Also, since we can’t have a post without a fish smell, I’ll show you a Mushroom or Solitary Coral (Fungia fungites):The green stuff is a kind of Sea Squirt. Tomorrow I’m going to show you the biggest blob of those that you are ever likely to see. I bet you an hardly wait. The anemone above and to the right is the fairly rare Merton’s Anemone.

Here’s a cute little Linckia multifora  Starfish:That one’s for you Julie. It seems that one of his legs has decided to have its own way. In reality, I suspect very strongly that this starfish regenerated from a single severed leg. That would explain the one huge leg while the others are small. They are only now approaching normal size after having sprouted from the cut end of the severed leg.

Maybe if I ate enough of these I could grow a new face.

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Actual Work! Oh, NO!

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on March 25th, 2010 by MadDog
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You’ll get less sense than usual from me today, which is no sense at all. Today some people at the office expected me to do some actual work. The nerve of them! I’m the guy who lives in squalor back in the IT Dungeon; the bearded dude who comes and goes in silence and nobody bothers unless the building is on fire. Some might even have to think about that one. Anyway, it was 15:00 today before I had time to think of some novel way to irritate you.

I’ll start with the same ol’ same ol’ morning sunrise:Yeah, yeah, ho-hum. Seen that scene before, man. I never get tired of looking out my front door and wondering what the day will bring. By the looks of the weather this morning, it doesn’t seem promising.

So, I hopped over to BoinbBoing to see if I could find a muse hanging about. Amid the dross of eclectica I found this delightful item for all the dads out there seeking Daughters’ Day presents:

If I’m mistaken and there’s no Daughters’ Day yet, just give it a while. Hallmark will invent it and then you’ll be obliged to spend five bucks for a twenty-five cent dard or pay the consequences in icy stares. Yes, someone has finally made Cat 5e network cables for your darling little girl. I’d say that these will work just fine until she hits about 45, unless she keeps small, yappy dogs. In that case, you’re set for life. Notice the jeweled connectors. You can get these from Cables Unlimited.

If you see these in your son’s room, you might have a little talk with him.

Being pressed for time, my mind had to wander at double-time quickstep, so I Googled “stupid stuff for girls” and found a veritable treasure chest:

Among hundreds of idiotic items at Stupid.Com I found – I can hardly bring myself to say it – Glow In The Dark Fingernail Polish. This is, presumably, for the young lady who tends to believe that she has ceased to exist when entering a dark room. She has merely to look at her hands, assuming that she can locate them, to reassure herself of her existence.

Personally, I find this unspeakably creepy, but then, I never had a daughter. Since I want to be fair about all this, I really should have a Stupid Stuff for Boys day soon.

Well, I could go on and on with this frivolity, but now it is time for the public service portion during which I will attempt to impart important information to you. You will, of course, find this information utterly useless. That is my speciality.

First, I’ll show you this rather uninteresting image of Some Kind of Coral:I can’t find it in any of my books and I’m far too lazy to wade through the web to give you an obscure Latin name about which you care not a whit. Now that I have a second look at it . . . does that dark shape near the top look like a mouth screaming? Whoa, let’s move on.

I said nothing serious or substantive would be forthcoming today, but I can’t find any place else to sneak in this imag of a Sea Squirt (Didemnum membranaceum)  colony with a Robust Feather Star (Himerometra robustipinna)  squatting right in the middle:I can’t really explain why I laughed hysterically when I saw this at about ten metres. It’s a diver thing.

You know, it’s a strange sensation to laugh with a big rubber regulator in your mouth. I can’t say that I’ve ever gotten used to that feeling anyway – sucking on that big pipe for air. It’s . . . undignified. It’s even weirder to cough and a completely wild sensation to sneeze. At first it’s very scary, when you feel a sneeze coming on and you can’t stop it and you wonder what’s going to happen. Then, KAPLOOOEEE, you let fly and a huge cloud of bubbles comes out and you think, “Gosh, that felt good!”

It’s even possible to vomit underwater, though I do not recommend the experience just for kicks. Yes, I have done it and yes, I didn’t like it at all. There are two methods used. One is to remove your regulator and get it over with as quickly as possible. This is not considered safe, because you may choke when you try to get air again and then it’s probably all over. The other way it to just blow chunks into the regulator, gasping between gushes and trying not to suck too much back in. You might still have to take your reg out and shake it around to get rid of the . . . stuff, so that it works properly. This also is considered dangerous.

I hope that I haven’t put you off your breakfast.

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From the Strange to the Beautiful

Posted in Under the Sea on March 22nd, 2010 by MadDog
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I have a couple of days left to irritate you with my babbling on about my solo dive off the beach at Wongat Island  last Saturday. I worked on a few more images yesterday evening. They run from the very strange to the very beautiful. Get ready for a trip.

I can sit back and close my eyes and imagine plunging through an alien atmosphere in a space capsule. When I land and walk around in my space suit (stay with me here) I’m stunned by the strange and wonderful creatures which abide in this hostile world. I see things like this:Every time that I dive I am acutely aware that I am entering another world. The image above is of a couple of higher invertebrates, namely Sea Squirts. This species is Phallusia julinea.  Never mind the racy name (see φαλλός ). They are strange by any standard.

I had a lot of trouble getting this shot of a Blackbarred Razorfish (Iniistius tetrazona):They are very skittish and stay just far enough away that you can’t get a good shot. I had to get this one from about three or four metres away, which is much more distant than my normal shots of small subjects. My average camera to subject distance for little critters is 3 – 30 cm. This fish is in the family of Wrasses. This is a teenager in what is called the Initial Phase. This is the middle phase of development. The Juvenile Phase comes first and the Terminal Phase represents the adults. Very often the first two stages appear remarkably different from the adults.

This freakishly beautiful monstrosity is a juvenile Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):They are ridiculously easy to photograph, since all they do is hang in the water waiting an unsuspecting fish to mistake them for a bit of rubbish and move a bit too close to the toothy end. Then, with a clicking noise and a movement too quick for the human eye to see, the fish disappears into the mouth of the Lionfish, which is the common local name for these wonderful, poison-spined fish.

Here is a group of Periclimenes  shrimp enjoying themselves at the local disco located in a coral. The name of the joint is Heliofungia actiniformis.  You can pop in there for drink and shake your booty any day except Sunday from 8 PM until the early hours of the morning:Lady shrimp are admitted with no cover charge and receive a gratuitous cocktail of their choice to enhance their mood.

I accidentally got my camera stuck in the JPG mode for about half of the shots that I got on the dive. I usually shoot RAW:That statement has nothing to do with my attire. It’s a technical thing that you either know about or don’t. I’m not going to bore you with the explanation. The problem with not  going RAW is that you lose a lot of control over the colours, especially when shooting underwater. The shot above may look nice to you, but I can see a lot of problems with the hues. Never mind. The Chromis  are pretty anyway. I couldn’t figure out which species they are.

Speaking of pretty, I’ll show you pretty.

I found a nice little crab shell on the bottom and brought it up on Faded Glory.  We never take anything living from the reef, but an empty shell (with no resident hermit crab) or a crab shell is fair game. Our friend Ush started fooling around with it and I grabbed my camera. One doesn’t want to miss opportunities for the Kodak Moments:

So, I say once again. Beauty is where you find it.

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Night Ships

Posted in Under the Sea on March 9th, 2010 by MadDog
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Mmmm . . . stepped out of the front door last night to let Sheba out for a little swim – she likes to skinny dip in the dark – and the lights on the ships across the harbour simply stunned me. Had to trot back inside to get my G11.

I set everything to manual and cranked the ISO up to 800 and got this telephoto shot by bracing the camera against a coconut tree:

What an amazing gadget it is. If I were the Oprah Winfrey of photographers, I’d just give them away to everybody and say, “Go forth and photograph!” We would be so busy having fun that there would be no time for wars. Of course, the world economy would grind to a halt. Hey, wait! That happened already. Never mind.

I backed off the telephoto a little and got this nice little panorama:I’m not feeling too wordy today. I think I may have blown a fuse or something yesterday. Maybe it’s the Aliens influencing me to cool it.

Going back to the images from my dive with Monty Armstrong on The Lady Anne  I found one that I’d forgotten to massage. It’s a kind of Sea Squirt that grows profusely in the rich (read full of sewerage) waters of the inner harbour:Its formal name is Rhopalaea circulata.  I’m actually quite happy with the image, considering that the water was filthy. It marks the first time that I’ve posted an image of a species that is clearly better than anything that I could find on the web (not that a better one doesn’t exist somewhere). Yeah, I’m feeling a bit smug about that. Hey, I work hard at this. Even geeks should get to win once in a while.

This little Freckled Hawkfish (Paracirrhites fosteri)  also makes me smile:It gave me every opportunity to capture a good image. If there is any fault for imperfection, it’s the photographer’s. I wish every fish posed so nicely.

Well, I’m running out of words. Some days I feel like I could write all day. Sometimes I do, for magazine articles. Other days, it just doesn’t flow. However, I can’t leave without showing you one more shot of the amazing Broadclub Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus)  that inspired my bizarre “Aliens” post of yesterday.I had a dream this morning about these critters. Very amusing.

Ursula Andress was in it too.

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Underwater Guest Shooter – KP Perkins

Posted in Under the Sea on February 11th, 2010 by MadDog
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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?

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