Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I Went Zip-Lining!

Back in September my brother, Chuck and sister-in-law, Jeanette came to visit us here on the Big Island. They had planned many adventures during their stay including snorkeling, parasailing and zip-lining.

I drove them up north to Kohala Ziplines and they paid to have me go along with them! It was awesome! This wasn't my first time zip-lining on the Big Island. A couple years ago I went with some visiting friends and we used another company. The experience was not nearly as good as it was with Kohala Ziplines.

Anyway, the last zipline of the day was a tandem set-up and one of our guides, Tammy, offered to video me from her line as I used the other line. She did an awesome job! See for yourself.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Election Day 2012

Here in Hawai'i, we have early voting so Betty and I voted the Saturday before Election Day. This freed me up to do a little diving on Tuesday. I had a couple of really nice dives but the second one was really special. I found a small Hawaiian Red Lionfish also known as a Hawaiian Turkeyfish (Pterois sphex).

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler
This is only the fourth time in twelve years I've seen one of these in Kona. Apparently, they used to be fairly common but they've been over-collected for the aquarium trade and are really rare now. The spines of these fish are very venomous inflicting a sting that is very painful. The last time I saw one was when I was still shooting film instead of digital so that's a long time!

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

Surprises like this are what makes diving so much fun. It's no always the big, glamorous stuff that makes for a special dive. Sometimes a small surprise like this is more than enough!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Something Completely Different

A couple of months ago, Betty & I were diving together when she pointed out a roundish mass of gunk to me. I didn't think much of it as it appeared to be some kind of encrustation like a sponge or something. However, it was very slowly moving which prompted me to get out the camera and take some photos.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

Anyway, I went home and downloaded the photos and looked at all the colorful and interesting stuff I had captured. Weeks later, while checking my book on marine invertebrates to identify something else, I saw a familiar image. It was the "mystery creature" which turned out to be an umbrella slug (Umbraculum umbraculum). Hoover's book, Hawai'i's Sea Creatures, says "this large, sponge-eating, side-gilled slug carries a calcareous disc too small to cover itself completely". The entry goes on to say that the species has a wide Indo-Pacific and tropical Atlantic distribution but is uncommon in Hawai'i. So, Betty came up with an unusual and remarkable find!

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pacific Trumpetfish

Last weekend I was able to get some pretty good close-ups of a co-operative Pacific trumpetfish (Aulostomus chinensis). Trumpet fish are found on coral reefs all over the world and are successful hunters on the reef. They have a rigid stick-like body and swim by fluttering their dorsal and anal fins. The mouth of a trumpetfish is a complex affair designed to quickly create a vacuum and suck in small prey fish. In doing so, the mouth flares like the bell of a trumpet and hence the name.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

On its chin, the trumpetfish sports a small barbel which may serve as a lure to unsuspecting fish. While the trumpetfish presents a large side profile, it is extremely thin and very hard for prey to see head-on

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

I like this last photo as the sun is backlighting the fish and glowing through the almost-transparent parts of the mouth. On the left upper corner, in the far background, another trumpetfish can be seen hanging vertically in the water, stalking its prey.

Monday, October 15, 2012

White Leaf Scorpionfish

Another interesting find this weekend was this large, pale leaf scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus) sitting out in the open in the shallows. These are often tucked into crevices during the daylight hours, so to find one out in the open was a nice surprise.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

These fish will sway back and forth in the surge, mimicking the movement of a fallen leaf in the water.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ornate Butterflies at cleaning station

First off, my apologies to anyone who might have been following this blog only to have me let it go for a couple months. Betty & I spent a good deal of the summer visiting with our kids & grandkids on the mainland. Once back, we got ready for company as my brother Chuck & his lovely bride Jeanette paid us a visit. Come early December, my Mom will be here to visit for a month. So it has been, and will continue to be, a little busy around here.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

Yesterday was a beautiful and sunny day at Honaunau. I've been trying out different settings on my SeaLife DC-1400 and think I may have hit upon a good combination. Early in the dive I saw this cleaner wrasse working on an ornate butterflyfish pair. This was early in the morning and with previous settings my background would be stark almost totally black. But this gave me a more natural and softer blue background which I like better.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler
I hope you enjoy these photos and I'll try to post more shortly. Aloha!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Manta's Shadow, Part V - The Batmobile!

This week, fanboys ( and, presumably, fangurlz) everywhere are eagerly awaiting the cinematic nerdfest known as The Dark Night Rises and the internet is abuzz with Batman news and opinions. In a shameless gambit to snare even one unwary web surfer to My Humble Blog, I present to you a tale of the Batmobile from the critically acclaimed and culturally relevent 1966-1967 TV series, Batman.

In 1966, I was an adorable 9-year old who loved comic books and was thrilled that a live-action TV series featuring the super-cool Batman was a becoming a reality. Unfortunately, even for an optimistic child, this show was a harsh reality. I kept watching every week, believing in my little heart that, surely, this mess would get better. Such was not the case. This incarnation of Batman was a buffoon not a hero. But I kept watching and watching. Soon , I found two Truly Cool things about the show: Catwoman (Julie Newmar version, please. Sorry Eartha.) and the Batmobile. In that order.

Now one would think a vehicle called the Batmobile would be inspired by a bat. But one would be wrong. Mistaken and incorrect to be sure. From whence sprung the inspiration for this menacing design ? From the manta ray, of course, old chum! (The title of the post provided a significant Bat-Clue!).

The vehicle in question started life about a decade earlier as the Lincoln Futura Show Car. A rolling embodiment of gaudy post-war euphoria and impracticality, the Futura was a one-off vehicle that was shown off at auto shows to give folks a glimpse of the bright future ahead of them (Pintos, Pacers and Chevettes being impossible for the 1950's mind to grasp). According to oobject.com the Futura was "originally designed by William M. Schmidt and his design team at the Lincoln Styling Department. It's rakish lines are said to have been inspired by the mako shark and the manta ray. Turns out, Bill Schmidt was a SCUBA diver back when diving was one of the most macho of activities.

These vintage photos show the Futura in it's pre-batiffied state. Personally, I don't see a lot of manta ray in the design, but I'm going to milk this angle for all it's worth. Did I mention that The Dark Night Rises opens at theaters everywhere on July 20th and that you can  pre-order tickets on-line as soon as you finish reading this post?

Just to assure you that I didn't dredge up the only manta reference on the net, I'd like to cite wikia.com which says "The body of the Futura was fabricated by Ghia of Italy whose artisans hammered the car's panels over logs and tree stumps to create the sleek manta ray-like car.

According to these websites the Futura was built for a cost of $250,000. That was a butt-load of money in those days and still is.

Sadly, the Futura experienced perhaps the highest rate of depreciation in automotive history. Custom car designer George Barris reportedly bought it for one dollar and had it sitting around his garage when the call came from ABC saying they needed a Batmobile for their upcoming series. Mr. Barris was planning to build a completely original design but ABC stipulated the car had to be ready in three weeks. Suddenly the Futura began to look sufficiently battish. In record time Barris and company made the bat-modifications, gave the car a killer paint job and an automotive legend was born. 

A theatrical footnote: The pre-bat Lincoln Futura was featured in the cinematic masterpiece It Started With a Kiss starring Debbie Reynolds (aka Princess Leia's MOM!) and Glenn Ford (Lincoln/Ford hmmmm). Here Ms. Reynolds demonstrates the future Batmobile's ability to multi-task as furniture.

Personal footnote: Lady in Red looks extremely hot even by today's standards but is most likely dead by now.

So stay tuned for the next episode of The Manta's Shadow on this Bat-Channel!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Curious Ringtail

We all tend to make generalizations about animal behavior as we like things to be neat and tidy and predictable. This is useful as it conditions us to think about what we can expect when we interact with nature. This type of thinking has probably served to allow our species to prosper as it kept cavemen from trying to pet the wild bears back in the day.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler
However, animals can exhibit some individualism, as well. Wrasses tend to be fast-moving swimmers that have almost no interest in associating with divers. The ringtail wrasse (Oxycheilinus unifasciatus) is a toothy predator that often hovers motionless over the reef waiting for prey to approach. The presence of a human interloper usually sends the wrasse off in search of more peaceful hunting grounds. But recently, at Keauhou Bay, I was swimming along when I saw a ringtail in the distance abruptly change course and start swimming casually toward me. I was certain it would change course again before coming very close, but such was not the case.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

The fish studied me coldly and dispassionately for a few seconds, angling its body around as to get a good look. I got a clear impression of curiosity on the creature's part. This, of course, afforded me the opportunity to fire off several good shots of the wrasse. When it all was over, the fish swam serenely away as did I. I had my photos and the wrasse had whatever thoughts he might have to muse over.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Manta's Shadow, Part IV. The Klingon D7-class battle cruiser

Aloha to you all! The Manta's Shadow is a little feature I throw in every once in a while to examine the impact of the manta ray on science, art, culture and other areas not directly associated with SCUBA diving or marine biology.

Whether you're a science-fiction fan or not, one has to acknowledge that the Star Trek franchise was one of the greater cultural influences of the later 20th century. Phrases like "beam me up Scotty", "He's dead, Jim", and "Live long and prosper" have worked their way into the popular lexicon. The starship Enterprise as well as the Vulcan, Mr. Spock, are iconic and immediately recognizable to people the world over. Even science-fact owes much to the TV/movie phenomenon. After all, today's cellphones are almost replicas of the communicators used in the 1960's series.

But the creators of Star Trek owe a certain debt of inspiration to the manta ray. When the original series was being developed long ago (in a galaxy not very far away), designer Matt Jefferies was searching for a special look for the starships of Kirk's antagonists, the Klingons.

To quote Wikipedia (article: Klingon starships, D7-class): The vessel was designed by Matt Jefferies to be distinctive and quickly recognized by viewers. As Jefferies wanted the D7-class to appear "threatening, even vicious", the design was modeled on a manta ray in both shape and color".

Now it can be argued that the ship doesn't look much like a manta ray at first blush except for the "wings". But, if you take away the forward section, you get more of a manta ray suggestion. Wings and a big, gaping mouth. Perhaps the original idea for the ship was what we see as the rear section. Later in the "creative process" somebody may have decided to stick a head and a neck on it. Otherwise,without those additions it would look a lot like a Romulan Bird-of-Prey. Pretty geeky of me, eh?

Obviously, mantas aren't "threatening, even vicious" but it's a common misconception and you can't fault TV sci-fi folk of the 60's for not knowing any better.

So now you know how the manta ray played a role in a major entertainment enterprise (HA!) and you are infinitely better off for having read this!

Continue to Boldly Go...

Olden, Golden Oddity

Aloha! I was going through some old photos yesterday and found this little oddity...
Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

This peculiar-looking fish is called a helmet gurnard (Dactyloptena orientalis) and is sometimes referred to as a flying gurnard as its pectoral fins are enlarged to wing-like proportions. It is incapable of flight but is capable of "walking" on the ocean floor with its pelvic fins. It's believed the large pectoral fins are extended to appear larger and more intimidating to any would-be predators. The most anterior rays of the pectoral fins are elongated to form "fingers" to scrape the bottom for food. The bones of the head are fused and armor-like.

While not considered rare, I've only seen two individuals. One was in a tide pool and this one at about 90 feet at Honaunau. Sorry for the poor photo quality. This image is a scan of a print made from a slide so it's kind of a third-generation clone!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mantas at Keauhou Bay

With the return of gentle summer surf conditions, we've returned to visit the mantas at Keauhou Bay. We got to dive with them the last three weekends. This is a great shore dive and I love seeing these big fish for only the price of an air fill! Enjoy the photos!

All Photos Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

Friday, June 1, 2012

Night Dive 4/27/12

Aloha, everybody!  As you can see, I am woefully behind on posts and am probably too busy with my family, gardening, job and diving to be anything resembling a competent and dedicated blogger. My apologies.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you some sights from a (not so) recent night dive I took down in Honaunau Bay. Lots of neat stuff comes out at night that daytime snorkelers and divers seldom get to see!
Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler
We'll start out with crustaceans, specifically lobsters. Above is a robust example of a tufted spiny lobster (Panulirus peniciliatus). I occasionally see these crammed way back in lava tubes during the day, but at night they come out to wander the reef. As soon as light hits them they retreat back into the reef. They are big and, like their Maine brethren, quite edible. As you can see they lack large claws and rely on their spiny carapaces for defense.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler
The strange looking creature above is a sculptured slipper lobster (Parribacus antarcticus). Slipper lobsters have antennae that are reduced to thin plates, giving them the additional moniker of shovel-nosed lobsters. Sculptured slipper lobsters are flat and wide. When stationary, their legs are covered by the carapace and the creature blends into the reef quite well. There is something about them that puts me in mind of a military tank.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler
Vibrant by comparison, the regal slipper lobster (Arctides regalis) is hard to overlook. Its blue-grey base color is contrasted by generous amounts of bright red and orange. This photo was recently published on the "Island Life" page of our local newspaper West Hawai'i Today".

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler
Tucked securely in it's nook, this convex crab (Carpilius convexus) appears to be weighing it's options before heading out onto the reef. It's caution is justified as, even in the darkness, highly effective hunters are lurking like the undulated moray eel (Gymnothorax undulatus) pictured below.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

Photos Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

The two photos directly above are of different types of small scorpionfish that come out at night to feed. Diurnal scorpionfish are medium-sized and extravagantly camouflaged to blend with their surrounding. By comparison, their nocturnal cousins are small and brightly decorated. Uppermost photo is a dwarf scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis fowleri) and the bottom one is a lowfin scorpionfish (Scorpaenodes parvipinnis).

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler
We end this post as it began, with a crustacean. This Hiatt's hinge-beak shrimp (Cinetorhynchus hiatti) emerges at night with legions of its species to forage the reef. It has kinda crazy-looking eyes!

Well, that's it for this time! Hope to post again soon!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mystery Crab

I saw this tiny crab on a recent twilight dive at Honaunau and have been unable to identify it. It seems like the distinctive heart-shaped white area on the carapace would make ID simple, but I haven't seen anything like it in my reference books or on the web. Any help in making the identification would be greatly appreciated!

Photos Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

Friday, May 4, 2012

Night Dive 4/20/12

I haven't been on a night dive in several years, mostly because the logistics of donning/doffing gear as well as ingress/egress from the ocean in darkness just seemed like too much of a hassle. But, after a while, one likes to see new things and wonders if the old bones are still up to the challenge. On April 20th, I packed my gear after work and drove to the ol' swimming hole at Honaunau to explore the nocturnal reef.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

The first thing one notices upon descent is all the tiny little lights glowing on the coral everywhere you aim your torch. These lights are reflections off the eyes of countless shrimp that come out of the coral at night to feed and do whatever else shrimp do when they're not hiding. The most common shrimp I saw was the Marbled Shrimp (Saron marmoratus) the males of which have absurdly long claw-arms.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

While yellow seems to be the predominant reef color of the day, red most definitely rules the night. Many scarlet crustaceans come out as do crimson fish. I found this little red crab perched on a single lobe of coral. I cannot positively identify it as it is probably a juvenile and may have different morphological characteristics than the adult.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler
This Blackside Hawkfish (Paracirrhites forsteri) is usually brownish with black sides during the day but becomes reddish-pink at night. This one was quite asleep and allowed me to take several close-range photos without flinching. The small, blurry objects are zooplankton attracted by the dive torch.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

I mostly stayed in the area of a large sand patch that was simple to navigate as it is easy to lose your bearings in the darkness. While I mostly looked for photo ops in the surrounding coral, I couldn't pass up this bright Red Swimming Crab (Charybdis paucidentata) posing out in the open on the sand.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

This Manybar Goatfish (Parupeneus multifasciatus) is another diurnal fish that sleeps soundly under overhanging coral at night. It is a close relative of the Minibar Goatfish that can be frequently found in hotel rooms.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler
There would not be much of a meal in a Red Reef Lobster (Enoplometopus occidentalis). While being a lovely crustacean, it is about the size of a freshwater crawfish or crawdad with a length of about five inches being the max.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler
I saw several endemic Hawaiian Whitespotted Tobies (Canthigaster jactador) sleeping in this vertical orientation. This fish does not seem to change color at night.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler
By the time I happened upon this Lowfin Scorpionfish (Scorpaenodes parvipinnis) the zooplankton was getting thick! This fish is not sleeping as it is nocturnal. I have seen them sleeping in caves during daytime hours.

Photo Copyright 2012 by Barry Fackler

Even challenging dives are tough to end. You'd like to keep poking around and searching the reef for hours. As I made my way back to shore, I snapped this photo of a Rough-Spined Urchin (Chondrocidaris gigantea). These echinoderms are able to contort their many spines to allow them to wedge into the reef during the day. They come out to roam at night when predators are fewer.

Photo Copyright 2012
This is the photo I came out to get! This Bullethead Parrotfish (Chlorurus spilurus) is sleeping in a nearly invisible mucus cocoon which prevents predators from catching its scent. During the day they swim swiftly and erratically from one coral head to the other scraping off coral with their "beaks" (actually, fused teeth) to feed on the algae within. Their dramatic colors become even more lurid after dark.

Thank you all for joining me on this little adventure. I did another night dive on April 27th and will be posting on that "relatively soon".