Back Under the Sea

Posted in Under the Sea on September 21st, 2010 by MadDog
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On Saturday, after what seems like a year, but was only about six weeks, I went back into the water. It was a grey day and Astrolabe Bay  was calm. I went out on Sanguma  with Richard Jones.

Since Faded Glory  rolled over and sank in about two metres of water in front of my dock the day we left for Australia to get medical treatment for Eunie, I have no boat at present. It is at the marine repair shop waiting for me to pick it up. Trevor Hattersley has checked on it a couple of times and says that it’s running well. If the control cables don’t rust and freeze up, she should be good to go.

I tie the stern to a mooring point well out from the dock – usually. Over several weeks the mooring point had been moving closer to the dock. I did not know why. I do know that it was too close. I couldn’t get enough pull on the stern from the mooring, so at high tide the bow of the boat got hooked over the edge of the dock. When the tide went down . . . well you can guess what happened. Water came seeping, then roaring over the transom and the back end of the boat settled on the bottom and she rolled over on her side.

When it rains it pours.

Anyway, this afternoon Richard Jones brought Sanguma  over to my house and I put on my dive gear and went out and wrapped a big chain around the engine block that is the base of the mooring point. I then tied a new piece of rope around the chain and put a float on the end of it. Okay, now I can go over to the marine repair place and get Faded Glory  back home where she belongs.

Isn’t that exciting? One less thing.

At Planet Rock  the water was full of particulate matter. That makes for pretty poor picture taking unless you are up very close. The marine photographer’s mantra in murky water is “the closer the better”. Any time you see a Broadclub Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus)  is reason enough to take a shot at it:

This is certainly not the best shot of this critter that I have managed. In fact, it’s rather ho-hum. Nevertheless, I saw it and here it is for your viewing pleasure. I have heard that some restaurants serve cuttlefish. I wouldn’t eat one if I were starving (well, maybe). It’s not as if they are endangered, it’s just that they are my friends. One doesn’t eat one’s friends.

The Magnificent Anemones (Heteractis magnifica)  were splendid. The whole top of the rock is plastered with them in many riotous hues. On Saturday most of them were in their “jug” configuration. I confess I don’t know what this indicates. They are usually stretched out more or less flat for feeding. Possibly the day was dim enough that they reckoned it was night:

Who knows what an anemone thinks? I certainly don’t.

This one shows one of the many bright colours on the underside:

I have some more shots of other colours which I will post in a day or two. I’ve backed off to posting every other day, since I need to conserve my strength to mine the mountain of paperwork that has been generated by Eunie’s passing and still do my work at the office. Who knew I would be so busy? I didn’t expect it. Add that to the list of Things I Never Thought Of.

Th last shot here is my favourite. These are Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)  with a couple of Bigeye Trevally at the bottom of the image:

They led me on a merry chase to get the shot. When playing with such schools one needs to be careful not to ascend too quickly. That can lead to serious consequences. “The bends” or Decompression Illness is only one mistake away.

For those out there who are checking up on me I’ll say that I’m “doing as well as can be expected”. Actually, my friends are telling me that I”m doing considerably better. I’m having a hard time seeing it that way, but I’ll take that as encouragement. I will go to Divine Word University on Thursday morning to make arrangements for a memorial service in the chapel there. Rich Jones is going with me as an advisor and to hold my hand. I seem to need a lot of hand-holding these days.

Hey, that’s what friends are for.

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Massive Rainbow Heralds More Fishy Things

Posted in Under the Sea on February 15th, 2010 by MadDog
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Let’s start out this morning with something that we don’t see every day. If you’re a regular reader, you know that our house faces east and looks out across Madang Harbour. If condition are just right, as the sun is lowering in the west and it is raining over Madang Town on the peninsula, we might get a bit of a rainbow. A few afternoons ago we got a spectacular double rainbow. I was too slow to get the camera going, so I missed it. Wouldn’t you know, a few days later, we got another good one. Fortunately I was just getting out of the car and had my camera with me. I ran out to the back of Faded Glory and grabbed this five frame series which I stitched together in Photoshop to make a rainbow panorama:I’m a bit surprised that I got no red in the rainbow. It is usually pretty strong. Maybe someone out there can explain it.

I have some more shots from our dives on Saturday at Pig Island where we hunted the Eel Garden and Barracuda Point. The Eel Garden is a favourite place to stalk the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):It’s not fair to use terms like “ugly” for such a creature. They probably look fine to each other. In fact, this is probably the Steve McQueen of scorpionfishes.

If I’m making less sense than usual today, I’m blaming it on my horrible cold. I feel as if my head is stuffed full of cotton and I can’t concentrate on anything. I should be at home in bed, but I’ve finally coerced the TELIKOM technicians to do a bit error rate test on my line to my house so that I may get back an Internet connection. Unfortunately, they have no vehicles on the road. The manager mentioned something about registration, so my guess is that someone either forgot to register them or the cheque bounced. Either is equally likely – or both.

Anyway, the Barracuda Point dive was equally productive. Here is a lovely mob of Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello) cruising past me:Something is terribly wrong with these barracuda. They are supposed to be ferocious predators. Many attacks on humans are reported. Our barracuda, however , seem to be uncannily tame. I regularly swim up to them an stick my camera withing inches of them. The don’t seem to mind at all. If I get too close, they simply make a bump in the line to accommodate me. If I get closer still, they break the line and join up elsewhere. It’s a breathtaking experience.

A week wouldn’t be complete without some nudis. We’ve been finding many of them recently after a long period during which we hardly saw any at all. This Phyllidiella pustulosa is one of our most common varieties:I realise that I’m showing you a lot of them. I hope you’re not getting bored. We’re all nudibranch geeks here. My speciality is not in identifying them, but rather taking the most perfect images that I possibly can. I want to eventually come up with an identification guide for all of the species in the area. As there are hundreds, I’m afraid that I’m in a race with the Grim Reaper to complete the project.

Another that I’ve been trying to get The Definitive Image of is the Notodoris minor:Put “notodoris” in the search box to see how I’m doing. I’m not sure these shots are better than the last batch.

I certainly have more anatomical detail in these images, but I’m not as happy with the molding of the body surfaces:Since I’m still having to catch up on my posts and I have an impending battle with TELIKOM today, I’ll sign off and wish you a good day.

Please don’t get too close to your screen. I wouldn’t want you to catch this cold.

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Mystery Insect

Posted in Mixed Nuts on January 29th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today’s post will be all over the place, because that’s where my head is. I’m the worlds worst mental multi-tasker. Physically, I’m okay. I can simultaneously pat my head, rub my tummy, hop on one foot, roll my eyes, chew gum and twirl a hula-hoop while singing the national anthem of Papua New Guinea (most of it, anyway). But, I can’t think about more than one thing at a time. This makes my workday feel like a picnic in one of the lower levels of Dante’s Inferno.

So, since I’m even more scatterbrained than normal, it would be asking too much to expect any kind of theme today. I’ll start with the Mystery Insect. Up at Blueblood, Pascal Michon found this weird thing:

Though it looks very much like a mosquito, it’s not. Pascal tells me that it is a fly of some kind because of the shape of the mouth parts (ugh!). I had to take about twenty exposures to get one while it was sticking its tongue, or whatever you call it, out. All the while it was sitting on my hand, presumably deciding whether or not I was edible. Pascal put it in a jar and sent it off somewhere for an ID check. More later on that.

Switching subjects completely, here is a nice shot of a gang of Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)  down deep in Magic Passage:It’s worth clicking this one to enlarge it.

The polyps of this Gonipora  genus coral (I can’t identify the species.) remind me of waving wheat:The metaphor works better if you can see the water currents making it sway back and forth.

The new Canon G11 came into play this morning at about 06:15 to catch the sunrise. This is the fantasy version:

I couldn’t resist playing with the colours.

This is what it really looked like:That’s a four frame panorama more or less exactly as it came from the camera. So far, so good.

Finally, I’m happy to announce that Bozo the Clown made a guest appearance recently in Madang and I was proud to take him diving. Here he is all google-eyed and frazzled, looking as if he’s enjoying a giant licorice all-day sucker. Someone should tell him that you’re supposed to lick it, not stick the whole thing in your mouth:

Okay, okay, it’s actually me.

Is it any wonder that I’m the laughingstock of Madang? Hey, everybody is entitled to a job.

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Merry Christmas Tree Worm

Posted in Under the Sea on December 23rd, 2009 by MadDog
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Let me begin today’s mashup of disorganised visual and verbal clutter by wishing myself a happy birthday. This has, indeed, been an interesting year. Having lived through my 66th year, I now embark on my 67th. In the past year, as a result of a New Year’s Resolution,  I have banished foul language from my daily speech (almost  completely), made an unexpected trip to North America without busting the bank and begun to reverse the devastating financial situation at Casa MadDog.

So many blessings . . .  And now, it’s almost Christmas, a time of year that inevitably depresses me. So many reasons . . . No snow or cold weather (which would probably kill me anyway) Don’t get to see my son and his family, my beautiful, smart granddaughters. Never mind. I’m not going to whine on my birthday. Eunie will bake me a pineapple upside-down cake tomorrow, a family tradition. I’ll eat the whole thing. It will take me about two or three weeks, according to how rapidly my spare tire inflates.

And now for your daily Christmas Tree. Here is a cute little mob of them:

If you move your hand over these they will disappear down their hidy-holes in an instant. No, I’m not guaranteeing that it will happen on your computer screen. Hey, I could do that with a mouse-over. I wish I had time to try it. First I’d have to have the exact same shot with the worms retracted. Never mind. I didn’t think of that while I was under the water.

Here is the star Christmas Tree Worm (Spirobranchus giganteus)  for today:I like the little magenta stars on top.

Here is another “what I actually saw” shot. The murky water at Barracuda Point  last Saturday lends a spooky effect to this shot of Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)  with Carol Dover in the background checking out some Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello):It’s not pretty, but it’s what I saw.

Here is something that has puzzled me for some time. We often see these Solitary Corals, sometimes called Mushroom Corals, with damaged edges and colourful stains. This one is a deep form, that is it grows in deeper water, of Fungia fungites:If anybody out there knows anything about this, please enlighten me.

The contortionist of starfish is Choriaster granulatus  or, as we sometimes call it, the Dirty Starfish. I’ll let you wonder why:Another common name for this one is the Granulated Starfish. I don’t know how they manage to squeeze themselves into such awkward positions. This one looks as if it is trapped under a coral ledge.

Sticking with water, but on the surface now, here is yet another water drop image:

My fascination with water drops is boundless.

I wonder what that means?

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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.

Bêche-de-mer


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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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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Stingray Magic

Posted in Under the Sea on September 6th, 2009 by MadDog
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On Saturday morning we motored in Faded Glory  up to Wongat Island  to dive The Henry Leith.  It is a favored spot for stingray watching. The most common type of stingray in the local waters is the Blue-Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii).

The trick is to sneak up on them from behind, holding your breath as much as possible and catch them before they get nervous and take off. Often, you will see only their eyes protruding from the sand in which they have buried themselves. It is easy to glide right over one without noticing, which is probably the worst thing that you can do. This one is just taking off after letting me get close enough to get a good shot of him:

Blue-Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii) taking off

Now the stingray glides to a spot a few metres away where it feels more safe. This one is headed right into a school of Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello),  but they are no threat to the stingray (or me):

Blue-Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii) fleeing

When the stingray has gotten far enough away, it settles down onto the sand again:

Blue-Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii) landing

It’s fun to chase them around the wreck. Since the water is only about 20 metres here, you can spend about an hour doing it, unless it gets boring. In that case you have the entire wreck to explore while you finish your dive.

This image is not particularly good, but you can see the Pickhandle Barracuda from directly overhead in the shadow of The Henry Leith:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)

There are plenty of potentially dangerous critters in the waters in which we dive, including some rather comical ones. However, we are careful and know what is safe and what is not. It is part of the magic of diving that there is risk. When the risks are considered and dealt with correctly, the risks themselves add to the enjoyment.

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