I’ve been catching up a (very little) bit with photo editing over the past week or so.
Here are a couple of photos I took back in 2010 of a boy Diodon holocanthus porcupine pufferfish (the one with the crazed look in his eye) pursuing a harried female (the one closer to the camera, trying desperately to get away from the deranged dude Diodon).
“Come hither, my pretty,” said the wide-eyed porcupinefish
The “courtship”, as it were, lasted several hours and actually involved many other males hyped-up with hanky-panky hormones, chasing the reluctant object of their mutual desire over vast swaths of the Lembeh Strait.
When all was said and done, the male depicted here was the last man standing, or fish swimming in this instance…clearly chuffed about the prospect of claiming his prize (Note: “chuffed” is British secret code for “to be exceptionally pleased with oneself” often while sporting a smug expression broadcasting said self-satisfaction.)
On this particular occasion, I wasn’t able to stay with the pair long enough to watch them spawn, but I did succeed in doing so once before.
The fish in that case (there was a female and two males) headed out to the middle of the strait, went down to 23m for a while, then shot up and spawned at about 12m.
All-in-all, porcupinefish courtship is quite the prickly affair (groan).
Nearly 160 images + four videos…and I’ve finally finished the presentation that I’ll be giving in Papua New Guinea. Whew.
Putting together/ editing a presentation like this is always a hassle, but the upside is having an opportunity to recall some of the amazing experiences I’ve had, and finding images that I haven’t thought about for a while, like these:
Pretty in pink…a female Pseudanthias hypselosoma basslet
Metallic shrimp goby (Amblyeleotris latifasciata) with mouth wide open
This is another photograph I found while trawling through my hard drives over the past couple of days:
Teeny-tiny cuttlefish having a snooze next to my camera
I was photographing something in Lembeh a couple of years ago (I can’t remember exactly what), when I looked over and noticed this cuttlefish nuzzled up to my other camera.
The cuttlefish (or “cuddlefish”, as one friend has decided these animals should be named) seemed perfectly content where it was, so I didn’t have the heart to move my gear. I left everything there for the rest of the dive, so my little friend could enjoy a nice afternoon nap.
Richard Smith is an eager young marine biologist and underwater photographer who lives in Brisbane, Down Under. He is writing his PhD thesis about pygmy seahorses, and from what I gather, he may actually even finish it.
I’ve only met him once, by chance in the Lembeh Strait last year, and I only had the opportunity to speak with him for half an hour or so.
He seemed pleasant enough, and he’s even planning a trip to dive in Japan with my friends in Izu.
It struck me as somewhat odd, however, that the dates he picked for his visit to Japan coincide with dates that I specifically told him I can’t possibly join him.
I mean…we share common interests, and we had a terrific talk in Lembeh, so why…I wondered…could he possibly be avoiding me?
After thinking long and hard about this conundrum, the proverbial light bulb went off in my head.
This short video clip of Richard explaining the mating rituals of pygmy seahorses to me when we met in Lembeh probably has something to do with it:
(In case it’s not obvious, the point of this post is that if you meet (or already know) Richard, you absolutely must ask him to do the pygmy seahorse mating dance. Even better if you video it and post to the www.)
Have you ever noticed delicate bubble-like things clinging to the bottom of reef and muck sites, usually swaying with the current and looking like not much of anything?
I must’ve swum past hundreds, if not thousands of these…all the time wondering what they were. I confess to having poked a few every now and then to see if anything interesting might happen, but nothing ever did…until Lembeh last month.
After so many years of seeing so many bubbles doing so much of nothing, I saw dozens of these bubbles with what appeared to be aeolid nudibranchs inside them.
In the photo above, you can see at least three nudibranchs inside the bubble, one in the foreground and two behind.
At first, I was just surprised to find something inside one of these bubbles. After looking around a bit and finding many more bubbles with sea slugs inside, I started wondering what the nudibranchs were doing.
We came up with all sorts of theories…ranging from “laying eggs” to “eating the bubbles” and everything in between.
One of the things that confused me at first was that some of the nudibranchs appeared to be laying eggs, as you can see in this photo:
I think the white stringy stuff above the nudibranch are eggs that the nudibranch laid (I have other photos that seem to show a trail of eggs coming out of the nudibranch).
It seems that the nudibranchs, in some instances at least, might be laying eggs of their own as well as eating those that make up the bubbles they’re feeding on. Cool, huh?
Even more intriguing…some of the nudibranchs I came across were really, really small…begging the question of whether they had perhaps recently hatched and subsequently consumed the eggs inside their host bubbles.
Going through the process of observing the nudibranchs, coming up with theories about what the opistobranchs were doing, and then confirming our theories online was an incredibly interesting and satisfying process.
But what’s bothering me now is why…after all these years of looking and seeing nothing…we suddenly saw so many of these nudibranchs-in-bubbles over the course of a few days.
At face value, it’s uninteresting…basically just a flounder on the sand. Yawn.
Upon closer inspection though, you’ll see that there are three very sneaky extraterrestrial entities controlling the fish. Seriously.
Cleverly disguised to blend in with the flounder’s colouration, the extra-planetary trio have big black eyes, shiny white teeth (buck teeth in one instance), and somewhat dopey expressions on their faces (though…who am I judge alien visages?).
Best I can surmise, the bug-eyed body snatchers have constructed see-through portals in the fish through which they survey the world and steer their host flounder. One has to assume that they’ve effected some manner of mind control over the poor piscine.
From a more scientific point of view, this could perhaps be the first documentation of how and why flounders are capable of such effective camouflage…it’s advanced alien technology (not chromatophores, as commonly believed).
I thought about capturing the fish to secure this invaluable technology for the benefit of all mankind, but having studied alien zap-ray weaponry in detail when I was a kid (Star Trek, Star Wars, Mars Attacks, et al.) and also having watched nearly every episode of The X-Files, I decided not to place myself in harm’s way, and fled the scene soon after taking these photos.
In retrospect, one has to wonder though, if you take the trouble to travel several million light years to get here, why on earth would you bother taking over a drab, one-sided fish? There’s just no accounting for alien taste.
(Heok Hui was the first to discover the aliens. I haven’t seen or heard from him since the trip though, so I have to assume that they’ve hunted him down and silenced him. Aliens are good at that.)
As you can tell from the video, it was a fantastic trip…great participants, the perfect venue, and lots of amazing marine life!
Diving through the night was an experiment of sorts…one that fortunately worked out really well. To cut to the chase, the night life in Lembeh was totally fascinating.
Some of the same animals we encountered in normal daylight hours were out and about at night as well, but for the most part, there were different critters and/ or activities.
Not a big surprise, but there were many more crustaceans and cephalopods around in the wee hours than in the day, and even critters we came across during normal hours seemed to be more active at night (like flounders, octopuses, frogfish, etc.)
We managed to see a bit of courtship and mating activity as well, though some of it (like the porcupine pufferfish mating I photographed) took place after everyone else left.
The biggest surprise for me was how easy and pleasant it was to dive on a night schedule.
I expected to be cold most of the time (I even brought along a wool cap, sweater and sweat pants which I never used), but actually, the water temperature and conditions were great through the night.
In addition, waking up mid- to late-morning and jumping into the water for a first dive at 17:30 or so proved to be a very civilised schedule. With much of the morning and afternoon free to chill out, sort through photos, charge batteries, check gear, etc., the night schedule was…well…easy.
Having so much time before the first dive also meant I never went in without charged batteries, lens cap still attached, CF card missing…or any of the other common flub-ups that happen when you’re in a rush or don’t have sufficient time to double-check gear before hitting the water.
I hesitate to speak for everyone on the trip, but I think we all felt this way, and several people asked to be kept informed if there’s another night trip, because they liked this one so much!
I am, in fact, running another night trip later this year in Ambon together with Eric Cheng and Wetpixel.
It’s basically the same idea…diving mostly at night…concentrating on the dive sites collectively referred to as the Twilight Zone. It’s been difficult to dive these prolific sites at night for many years now, but with the new Maluku Divers resort situated close by, we’ll have easy access to Ambon’s critter central.
I have no doubt that it’s going to be an awesome adventure. The underwater topography is similar to, but different from, that of Lembeh, and though there’s certainly an overlap in the resident critter life, Ambon’s marine community is unique…which means lots of new animals and behaviours to see and enjoy.
Finally…something of note… I did almost all the sorting, adjustments, editing and output for this video using Aperture 3.
I upgraded to Aperture 3 just before heading out to Lembeh (I’ve used Aperture since the first version), and one of my goals for the trip was to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of this latest update.
Through the process of cataloging thousands of image, video and audio files, and then editing them into the video clip above…I learned a lot(!) about Aperture 3…much of which I think will be useful to other photographers.
Give me a bit of time to recover, and over the next week or so, I’ll jot down some thoughts about what’s good and what’s not with Aperture 3.
Note: Apparently, the little frogfish that gets run over by the urchin on a rampage is an as-yet unidentified species.<strong>Correction: Just received updated information that the unfortunate frogfish is a Histrio histrio, aka sargassum frogfish, which is unusual, since it’s sitting on the bottom with no sargassum seaweed around. Apparently, there is an article being written now about this, based on observations from the Virgin Islands.
Staring at camera equipment firing on autopilot is about as stimulating as watching air tanks get filled, but I made the best of the circumstances by lying perfectly still and eavesdropping on the marine life around me.
About a third of the way through my planned waiting time, a lizardfish (one that was right next to me, but I didn’t see because it was so well camouflaged) leapt into the water column and snatched a butterflyfish in a fraction of a blink-of-an-eye, then darted down to the sand.
I almost didn’t take a second camera with me on that dive, but a little voice inside my head made me change my mind at the last second (which goes to show…hearing voices isn’t always a bad thing).
It took a few minutes for the lizardfish to consume its meal, so I had a bit of time to fumble around in an agitated state and still manage to get some photos.
I’m accustomed to seeing lots of Banggai cardinalfish in Lembeh, so it was kind of a surprise to receive a comment indicating that the aquarium community generally believes that these fish are on the verge of extinction.
Perhaps they are in other locations, but in Lembeh, they’ve been flourishing for years…even though they’ve been artificially transplanted there and may be displacing other fish.
Here’s a time-lapse sequence of one community of these fish, which should help convey how many there are, as well as how active they are in Lembeh:
As an aside, I tried every which way possible to upload this video to online video sharing services like my Vimeo account, but there was no way I could get the video to look good.
My original .mov file looked fine on my computer, but there is so much movement/ action in the sequence that the re-encoding process for Vimeo made the video look horrible. I tried encoding at really high bitrates (up to 70Mbit/s), but it didn’t make any difference.
So I gave up (after much head-banging and shouting of expletives) and encoded this .flv file and uploaded to my own server. The file is about 65MB, encoded at 20Mbit/s, so it might take a while to load if you’re on a slow connection.
There are many types of anemonefish, all of which live in association with host anemones. Some of the cuter, more charismatic species are often referred to as clownfish…like the false clown anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris) portrayed in the movie Finding Nemo.
All anemonefish, irrespective of whether they’re deemed movie-worthy or not, lay large clutches of eggs near their host anemones. The fish care for their offspring with remarkable devotion and energy by clearing away garbage, circulating water over the eggs, and fending off potential aggressors…until the young fry hatch and swim away.
There are many excellent photographs of anemonefish taking care of their eggs, but somehow, a single image doesn’t quite convey the vigour with which these fish attend to their next generation.
During my recent trip to the Lembeh Strait, I spent some quality time with one particular group of saddleback anemonefish (Amphiprion polymnus) at a dive site called Retak Larry.
The fish were in a nice, shallow location with minimal visual clutter. I took several hundred consecutive images of them tending their eggs, and assembled the photos into a couple of time-lapse sequences.
In this first sequence above, the eggs are to the right side of the frame. The bright orange colouration of the eggs indicates that they were laid not too long before I took these images. As the eggs mature, they gradually become transparent, with the nutrients represented by the orange colour morphing into eyes, gills, other vital organs and such.
Watch the video clip, and you’ll get a better idea of how dedicated these fish are. There are two large, mature fish that take care of the eggs, as well as a number of smaller individuals swimming around the anemone.
The second sequence below shows a different angle of the same group of anemonefish, with the bright orange eggs in the foreground.
I’m on my way to the airport soon. It’s difficult to overstate how productive and enjoyable my trip to the Lembeh Strait has been, thanks to the great companionship of the many people who joined me here, the generous hospitality of Kasawari-Lembeh Resort and Lembeh Hills Resort, and of course, the fantastic critters of Lembeh.
Despite the fact that I posted photos at least once a day during my stay, there are still a lot of images and stories I haven’t been able to share.
But before I head out, here’s one more image…of a Gymnodoris impudica nudibranch with only a single rhinophore in the middle of its head…an underwater unicorn.
It’s been around for the entire duration of my stay, so if you’re visiting Lembeh and dive Jahir, keep an eye out around for this single-minded sea slug.