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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Tomato Soup and Other Esoterica

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on December 18th, 2009 by MadDog
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So, if you come to visit us in Madang for Christmas, what can you expect? Well, first you have to land your Fokker F-100 at the airport (hopefully) in Madang. Just because production ended for the F-100 in 1997 doesn’t mean that it’s not a good aeroplane. It’s just a little long in the tooth. I was recently allowed to land an F-100 at Madang. Here is a photo that I took through the windscreen as I guided us in on the final approach (never liked the sound of that, but that’s what they call it):Landing at Madang courtesy of Google EarthOkay, okay, I lie. I wasn’t flying the plane. In fact, there was no plane. It’s an image from Google Earth. Anyway, if you did land in Madang, this is exactly what it would look like. The big blob of land with the lake in the middle is Kranket Island.  At the top, to the left of the runway is an orange patch. This is the wood chipping mill. Our house is just to the right of it.

Sticking with aeroplanes for a bit, here is a shot of 50 calibre machine gun cartridges laying, after sixty-six years, in the salty water of Tab Anchorage  near Wongat Island  in The Green Dragon,  an American B-25 bomber shot down in 1943:Bomber bulletsWhen I first started diving The Green Dragon  many years ago, there were many more cartridges in the ammo boxes. Sadly some divers can’t resist taking a souvenir. Every time somebody takes “just one” it hastens the day when there will be none left to see.

Now I’ll show you (don’t ask me why) a Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria):Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria)Just because I can, that’s why. I find that “because I can” is often sufficient reason for doing something. Much of my life is delivered up to “just because I can” moments. Several of them have nearly killed me. Needless to say my aim is to not  die in bed with my boots off. My bucket list is getting shorter. I’ll cram as much of it in as I possibly can, I assure you. I’m a lemon squeezer and I like walking close to the edge.

Now this is a sweet shot. I could give you a handful of technical reasons why it is pleasing. It’s a geek thing, never mind:Coral (Diploastrea heliopora)It is what it is. And, it is Coral (Diploastrea heliopora).  But that, of course, is not what makes it interesting. My students out there:  State at least three compositional features that make it an “interesting” image. Turn you papers in before the bell.

A few days ago I briefly introduced you to a Tomato Anemonefish [female] (Amphiprion frenatus):Tomato Anemonefish [female] (Amphiprion frenatus)Let’s get up-close and personal. This little tomato is one of my favourites. Only the females are so pretty. They are very frisky. The slight shutter lag on the Canon G10 (maybe a third of a second) makes it very frustrating to shoot little scooters like this baby. You have to try to figure out where the fish is going to be a fraction of a second later and hope that you catch what you want. I took about twenty shots of this fish and got five that are reasonably good. Here are the rest of them in a little gallery:

Unbeknownst to you, I went to the bush yesterday. If I made it back, I’ll see you tomorrow. It’s DIVE DAY!! I’m going to fetch some more Christmas Tree Worms for you.

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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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