Friday, October 30, 2009

Whale Shark Sighting

This photo was sent to me by Keller Laros of the Manta Pacific Research Foundation. On Wednesday afternoon they had a nice encounter with this female whale shark. Whale sharks show up in Kona from time to time and seem to be sighted more frequently in the fall & winter. In the background, just ahead of the shark's dorsal fin, can be seen a manta ray. Mantas are the largest of the rays and whale sharks are the largest fish of all. What a great thing to get both of these filter-feeding giants in one photo! Thanks Keller!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Real" versus "Photoshopped"

Sometimes people ask me if my underwater photos are "real" or photoshopped. The truth is that I photoshop almost all my photos including snapshots of family, vacations, celebrations or whatever. A lot of times, the photoshopping consists of simple cropping and sharpening. But underwater photography presents unique challenges, not the least of which is backscatter. Backscatter occurs when light from the camera's strobe strikes suspended material in the water and is reflected back to the lens of the camera. The result is a snowy effect that varies depending on how poor the water quality is. Photoshop is very useful in correcting this problem. 

I took the above photo a couple of weeks ago on a day when the water was fairly stirred-up. It's a pretty good action shot of an octopus "jetting" from one coral head to another. This is a hard shot to get as it's impossible to anticipate when the octo is going to demonstrate this behavior. So, I have a decent shot of an animal doing something that is difficult to capture. But the photo is seriously compromised by all the white blobs of backscatter. Plus, there is quite a bit of "dead" space above the octopus.

Now here is the photoshopped version after tediously removing the backscatter as well as cropping, sharpening and adjusting contrast. I think it's a big improvement. Some people would argue the "integrity" of using a computer program to enhance a photo. But, back in the days of film, photographers would regularly employ darkroom techniques to manipulate their images for more pleasing outcomes. I see no difference except photoshop is easier and produces better results. Also, I don't use photoshop to add things that weren't there or to give a false or exaggerated impression of the marine life I see. I merely use it to "clean-up" a messy image. It's been said that photoshop can make a good photo better but it can't make a bad photo good. I agree. 

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Weekend Dive Report for 10/24/09

All photos Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

Conditions at Honaunau were very good on Saturday with very little surface action and visibility near-to-but-not-quite 100'. Still some particulate matter hanging in the water column but not as bad as in the past two weeks. Lots of people at the bay and parking was scarce even though I got there at 6:45 AM. Lots of fishermen using the boat ramp and leaving there trucks and trailers, too.

I love to dive early in the morning just to see the light of dawn filtering through the water. As the sun shines through the rippling surface layers, the shafts of light sweep back and forth like hundreds of inverted searchlights.

A nice little find on mt first dive was this little Chevron Tang. The colors are really bright and bold and it's really an attractive fish. Actually this fish is the juvenile form of the Black Surgeonfish which, as its name suggests, is devoid of the bright colors of its youth.

Another nice tang seen on the first dive of the day was this Gold-Rim Tang. These are real beauties, too. There is a small colony of them on the southern end of the bay near a big rock pinnacle.

This Tiger Cowrie is in the same location I found it in last week. I'm hoping it doesn't end up in someone's collection soon.

This may look like an eel but it is actually a Bluespotted Cornetfish. These are pretty common in Hawai'i and on my early morning dive they were gathered together in loose groups.  They have a long, thin filament extending from the tail fin and can reach a length of 4.5 feet.

On the second dive, I saw this little male Spotted Boxfish hiding in a crevice. Two weeks ago I posted a photo of a female of the species. As is true with a large number of reef fishes, the males have more vivid, brighter colors. Nobody knows for certain why this is but it may have a role in attracting mates.

This is an Arc-Eye Hawkfish. It gets its name from the odd little marking behind its eye. It is not a particularly good swimmer and spends a great deal of its time perched atop the coral (like a hawk!) waiting for a potential meal to swim too close to it. It can come in a wide variety of hues including dark green, bright red and, as seen here, light tan. It is extremely common and literally dozens can be seen on a single dive. 

The cool find of the day was this tiny Dwarf Moray. These are not considered rare but they are quite reclusive and very seldom seen so I was quite happy to find this little guy. He never poked his head out much farther than this and I would have never seen him if the Spotted Boxfish hadn't swam right in front of him!  Maximum length is said to be 12 inches although the entire body is rarely seen.

Another fine day of diving. This Friday we're getting company. Our friends Kari and Rick are coming to visit along with their son, Jack. They will be here a week and we plan to do a lot of diving. However, I may be too busy to post during their stay, so try not to miss me too much!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More Octopus Photos

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler
I've been really busy recently and haven't had time to post much. I'm not too sure anybody's reading so I probably can't be missed too much! Anyway, we're getting ready for company at the end of the month, Betty's office expansion happens this weekend and there's been a little turmoil at work as everyone is getting a 5% wage reduction as a result of the ongoing economic crisis. Anyway, I still feel lucky to have a job, live in Hawai'i, and be married to my best friend.
Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler
Here for your viewing are some more octopus photos from last weekend's dive. These show the octopus in its white coloration. The experts think that octopus not only changes color for camoflage purposes, but also to convey emotional states or to express warnings. I've seen them blanch white like this and then send waves of purple stripes over their bodies. Its amazing to see.

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler
Enjoy the photos and hope to blog again soon. I know it won't be tomorrow because after work I take Jacques to soccer practice and then go to my wife's office to move furniture in preparation for the remodel.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Weekend Dive Report for 10/17/09

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

The day didn't start out looking too promising at Honaunau Bay as there were biggish swells hitting the north and south points of the bay. Upon entering the water I saw the visibility to be poor to fair with a lot of stirred-up particulate matter in the water column. This is always bad news for photographers as the suspended particles reflect our strobes back to the camera lens causing an effect that appears on the photo as bright "snow". As I surface swam out to the drop-off, a nice honu  glided gracefully under me around 20 feet below. Underwater, I visited with the Longfin Anthias "harem" for awhile and then I saw my first treasure of the day. A tiny "baby" Moorish Idol (pictured above) was swimming around at about 70' staying close to the reef. I had never seen one so small before. It's dorsal fin was so long as to look slightly comical and its mouth was very short and pinched appearing compared to an adult specimen. Even though it flitted about nervously, I managed to get several photos.

Down deep, the visibility was somewhat better and the first dive had an ethereal quality to it as early morning sunlight filtered down through the siltier water above. On the southern end of the bay I visited a cave and discovered this beautiful Tiger Cowrie near the entrance.

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

The Tiger Cowrie is the biggest cowrie found in Hawai'i. Like all cowries it has an incredibly glossy, smooth shell that is beautiful to behold. The sheen comes from two folds of tissue, called the mantle, that envelop the shell while the foot of the snail is extended. This tissue secretes oils which give the shell its glossy finish. The place where the two folds meet leaves a line on the shell as seen in the photo.

On the second dive, I headed north. As I cruised over an area of coral rubble I came across five tiny bright gold and white fish which had staked out a piece of the reef for their own.
 Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

These are Pyramid Butterflyfish which are by no means rare but we don't often see them inside the bay at Honaunau. Usually they prefer deep-water drop-offs. Betty and I had seen a small group in this same general area years ago before a winter storm had reduced this area of reef to rubble. These are sub-adults, having the features of adults but still pretty small. They get their common name from thr area of brilliant white on their sides which resembles a pyramid.

I entered a swim-through that I like to visit but, once inside, encountered ripping surge and had to hang on for dear life. While wedged there, I saw two more cowries tucked in a little niche, safe from the liquid gale. 
Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

The big, dark one on the foreground is a Humpback Cowrie and the smaller one in the background is a Reticulated Cowrie. The surrounding walls of the swim-through are covered with brightly colored encrusting sponge.

As I made my way back to my exit point, I had my best encounter of the day. A big octopus was slinking across the reef near the drop-off. As I approached, it disappeared into the reef but soon became curious and peeked out. Eventually, it came out all the way, allowing me to start photographing. What happened next was wonderous. It slithered and jetted slowly from one coral head to another, allowing me to follow closely. It would pause sometimes, holding a pose and allowing photos from different angles. We eventually made our way into shallow waters where we attracted a small group of snorkelers.  Finally, it found itself backed up against a stone wall and could lead me no further. That's when it did something amazing. It slithered confidently forward backing me up for around 10 feet or more

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

The octopus has been proven to be an intelligent creature and I think this one figured out very quickly that I would keep a certain distance from it. That would be quite correct as I was following it only to take its picture. In order to do so, I couldn't get too close or it wouldn't fit into the frame. While it knew nothing of photography, the octopus had figured out my proximity tolerance and felt safe approaching me anticipating that I would back away, which I did.

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

By now I was low on air and it was prudent to surface (a long way from my exit point, I must add). My octopus encounter had lasted around a half hour and I took 113 photos many of which didn't turn out well. However, I did get many good ones and the whole affair was very special to me and, maybe, to the octopus as well. It was an exceptional day of diving, even though the ocean conditions were just so-so.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Golden Oldie

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

This is a photo I took of a pretty big Dragon Moray years ago. This encounter happened long before I started using underwater digital cameras. It was captured on slide film with an old Sea & Sea MX-10 camera. For my birthday this year, my wife got me a spiffy slide scanner and this is an early experiment with it. Now I can share some really old memories with you from time to time.  How's it look to you?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Partridge Tun

Today's post is a brief look at a mollusc with a beautiful shell and a somewhat startling appearance. The Partridge Tun is a nocturnal animal that appears far too big to fit into its shell. The flesh extending out of the shell is a muscular foot which the snail glides upon at a surprisingly fast clip (for a snail).
The shell itself is medium-sized and extremely delicate. An empty shell can be easily crushed in one's hand and is so thin that even a weak light source shines through it.
A mature adult Partridge Tun is around 6 to 7 inches long. The common name comes from the pattern on the shell which is reminiscent of a partridge's plumage.
                                                                     All photos Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Moorish Idols

The Moorish Idol is the iconic tropical reef fish and is immediately recognizable from its many appearances on numerous products relating to the ocean. It appears on beach towels, swimsuits, aquarium supplies, clothing, toys and a multitude of articles occurring in popular culture. Its name possibly stems from the belief that the Moors of Africa considered them a symbol of happiness.

 It is a beautiful fish with bold yellow, black and white bars as well as a bright orange "saddle" over its long nose. It is a graceful swimmer, trailing its long dorsal streamer as it glides over the reef in search of sponges and tunicates to feed on. Moorish Idols are widely distributed throughout the Indo-Pacific. They are found on reefs all around Hawai'i and occur singly, in pairs and, rarely, in small schools.
All photos Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

The Hawaiian word for this fish is kihikihi which can mean "corners", "angular" or zig-zag". According to the literature, Moorish Idols have been around for a long time. Fossil remains of a close relative of this fish dated as being 50 million years old have been found in Italy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Belated Weekend Dive Report for 10/10/09

This weekend we had the Ford Ironman Triathalon going on in Kona, so it was good to be diving far away from the crowd down south in Honaunau. I don't find the Triathalon to be a particularly thrilling event to witness and I've managed to avoid it every year so far. Water conditions at Honaunau were calm on the surface throughout the morning hours. Visibility was so-so with a lot of "marine snow" particulate matter hanging in the water column.

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

The goofy face above belongs to a Burrfish that has been holed up in a small cave for a couple of months now. This is a kind of fish often referred to as "blowfish". It can gulp large amounts of water when threatened, distending its body into a globe shape and erecting its spines. This effectively deters sharks and other predators from making a meal of the Burrfish.

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

This was a nice close-up I was able to get of a Crown-of-Thorns sea star. Without the flash these appear dull brown but the strobe brings out the blood-red coloration.

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

The spiny creature above is a Collector Urchin. These are very common in Hawai'i and are unique because they pick up pieces of algae, shell and other bottom litter to cover themselves with. This particular one is interesting because it has covered itself with the bluish-purple skeletal remains of its brethren. A little ghoulish marine behavior for this Halloween season.

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

This is a female Spotted Boxfish I found in a crevice. It has a rigid, armored body from which the fins and mouth protrude. It appears awkward, seemingly wiggling its fins frantically to swim. In fact, it is surprisingly fast and very agile. The males of this species are vivid blue with gold trim.

After my dives I was joined by my wife, Betty, and my grandson, Jacques, for a little playtime in the tidepools. We saw a couple of different eels, baby Raccoon Butterflyfish, a small Moorish Idol, and some shrimp. Here, my family is joined by Aquaman.

I didn't get to blog yesterday because our family made the long trip to the "big city" of Hilo to do some shopping. Specifically, we went to buy Hallmark Christmas ornaments. One of our purchases was this Finding Nemo ornament featuring Mr. Ray who is clearly based on the form of a Spotted Eagle Ray like the one in my prior post. Pretty cool!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Spotted Eagle Ray

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

Last weekend, I posted on my recent dive in Keauhou Bay where I saw a Spotted Eagle Ray. Today I thought I'd post some more Eagle Ray photos I took a few months ago, also in Keauhou Bay. This ray was particularly at ease around me and allowed me to take dozens of photos. Above, she is ready to chow down on a sea urchin.

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

In both the photos above you can appreciate the "duck-bill" appearance of the animal's head. It is not particularly beautiful, but very well adapted for rooting around in the sand for crustaceans and molluscs. Several times at Honaunau, Betty and I have seen Eagle Rays actually digging holes in the coral reef with their bills, shattering the coral in the process. On a couple occasions there was thick, viscous purple ink in the water from the ray's victim, a sea hare.

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

Aside from the bill, an eagle ray is a beautiful and graceful creature. In this view, several of the venomous barbs are visible at the base of the tail. Although it is a shy and inoffensive fish, it must be accorded a fair amount of respect. A mature specimen can be six feet across and weigh up to 500 pounds. The Hawaiian name is hihimanu which means "magnificent" or "elegant"

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stars of the Sea

Green Linckia
Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

No reef or beach scene is complete without the prerequisite sea star, or starfish as it is more commonly called. Although abundant elsewhere, Hawai'i does not have a large variety of sea stars. Sea stars are simple, but fascinating. Like other echinoderms (which include sea urchins and sea cucumbers), they have a five-part body plan consisting of a central disc and radiating rays. Usually a sea star has five rays but some species can have up to fifty. If a ray is lost, it can be regenerated. They have a "water vascular system" which pumps water through a series of canals to numerous tube feet on the underside. The vascular system regulates water pressure, thus controlling the tube feet which are used for locomotion.  Water enters the vascular system through a filter on the upper side of the sea star. The central disc has a mouth on the bottom and an anus on the dorsal surface.

Spotted Linckia
Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

Cushion stars have extremely short rays and resemble puffy pillows on the sea floor. They come in a variety of vivid colors including red, yellow and even purple.

Cushion Stars
Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

The knobby sea star, below, was unknown to us until just recently. We found this one in deep water, around 100', in Honaunau Bay.

Knobby Sea Star
Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

By far the most common sea star on the Kona coast is the infamous Crown-of-Thorns. It preys upon coral polyps leaving behind white patches of denuded coral. Unlike a typical sea star, it has 12 to 19 rays and is covered with venomous spines which can cause considerable pain in humans.  They can get quite large, spanning up to 18 inches.

Crown-of Thorns
Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Weekend Dive Report for 10/03/09

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

This weekend was PERFECT for scuba diving with gentle surf out of the north and west at only 2 to 3 feet. The weather was sunny all day long both Saturday and Sunday. With such good conditions, I decided to make the drive down to Keauhou Bay to see some manta rays. Visibility was only around 50' but the bay has a lot of sandy bottom so crystal clear conditions are not the norm here. Surface swam out to the area where the most active cleaning stations are but found no mantas, I decided to submerge and start looking around for smaller stuff. Within a few minutes, I came upon a divided flatworm making its way slowly across the coral rubble.
Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

I continued westward toward the mouth of the bay, staying along the reef drop-off and maintaining a watch for big mantas. I thought I saw one out in the distance. As I watched, the winged shape drew closer, revealing the form of a spotted eagle ray. These are smaller cousins of mantas but have several characteristics that set them apart. Eagle rays have shovel-shaped snouts that they use to dig for shellfish which make up the bulk of their diet. Unlike mantas, eagle rays can have several venomous spines at the base of their tails. The one I encountered had only one spine. I suspect it may have used up its other spines fending off whatever creature ate its tail. Usually an eagle ray sports a long whip-like tail. They have brownish dorsal surfaces with white irregular markings. Often they are shy but this one circled around lazily, seemingly unperturbed by my presence,

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

At about the point where I was ready to turn around and head back to shore, I found a male palenose parrotfish grazing contentedly. Usually these fish are darting swiftly over the reef and are very difficult for me to photograph. This one afforded me time to take several photos before he was on his way. There are many species of parrotfish, but they all have a characteristic "beak" formed by fusion of their teeth. This adaptation allows them to scape algae off of corals. The undigestible mineral portion of the coral is excreted and becomes the lovely sand of our tropical beaches. When scuba diving or snorkeling their scraping can be easily heard.

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

Near the end of the dive I was waiting for a very uncooperative octopus to emerge from hos lair when I looked up to see a huge manta slowly cruise by. I had time to take only one photo as this ray continued on a straight and level path and faded out of view. The photo is at the top of this post.

On the second dive I was able to find a cooperative manta almost immediately. I settled in to start taking some spectacular photos only to be foiled by malfunctioning strobes that wouldn't fire together. This has been an ongoing problem ever since I bought this camera system. One strobe or the other will fire, but rarely will they fire together. I plan to devote at least one posting to SeaLife camera's inadequate strobes. Their cameras are fine, possibly great, but the strobes are heartbreakers. Anyway the manta was a real gem and made repeated close passes as she glided from one cleaning station to another.


All photos copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

I spent the better part of the dive just appreciating this big creature. After surfacing, I stowed my gear in my Jeep, walked to a nearby resort where I slid through the pool and used the bathroom to change clothes. Then I drove a 1/2 mile to a shopping center where I met up with my family to take in a movie. Kona is a great place to live!

(Sorry for the changing print size. It's way past my bedtime!)