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!