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Posts tagged “Fish


IMG_7161 copy 2You can hardly dive in these waters and not see lots of clownfish. They are in symbiosis with the anemone. Each protects the other. The colorful fish are aggressive if you approach the anemone. It’s always worth a shot. Sometimes you don’t see the fish well, there’s to much backscatter, focus is off, and loads of other issues. As time goes by, there is no lack of clownfish images from which to choose. Some are better than others. I just keep waiting for a quintessential image. In my head, I hear my wife’s voice saying, “You have an image, why do you need another?” To which I say, “Because…”


IMG_7088 copy 2I saw a couple flatfish when I started diving and since then did not see a single one again till now. Of course the camouflage is designed to make it hard to see them. Looking closely toward the back you can see whisker-like extensions. We saw this guy right at the stairway where we enter the water. I had a hard time because the waves were pushing me around so a steady camera platform was hard to maintain. In every dive there is a moment when you see something special, extraordinary, that makes a signature moment. This was that moment on this dive. The fish is spooky looking to me, giving an almost prehistoric appearance. It didn’t stay around long… too much traffic.

Cleaning Service

IMG_7029 copy 2I took a month or so off from diving. Then I talked Farid into a trip. We actually had an unexpected simultaneous hole in the schedule at the hospital. So we took off to the Red Sea on a moment’s notice. How many people can just pick up and be diving in about 45 minutes? Cool! Farid led so we were at 150 feet when I looked at my dive computer. At this depth the colors are blunted, less saturated, less vibrant. This is a cleaning station. The little guy is cleaning. It’s a practical symbiosis. Where else can you get your back scratched (cleaned) especially if you have no hands to scratch yourself. Larger fish stop by and the little ones take care of business. Who figures these things out? But this is what I have read so it must be so, if it’s in print. I’ve actually seen little fish swim in and out of the mouth of moray eels. Brave aren’t they? 150 feet, this would be the limit of my dive depth for amateurs. It doesn’t feel different, just the colors are blunted.

Do Fish Kiss?

IMG_6501 aI was diving with the kids who were off to the left swimming slowly along the reef. I topped a small coral rise and there in front of me floating above the sand… The scene was there for a few seconds, enough for me to pull up the camera and fire one frame. There was no second shot. They parted and the kids never saw this till I downloaded this to the computer. I’ve haven’t been around that much, but I don’t think anyone else has this.

Swim With The Fishes

IMG_6879(I bet maybe you thought this was going to be about something else, eh?) A while back I related the story about how Omar, one of the dive instructors, had caught a puffer fish in his bear hands. The girl I was diving with did not let it go until we left the water. She held so tight, I thought she was going to go home with it.

We were on a fun dive again with Omar. We started by seeing a stone fish and a moray eel right next to one another. It was a great dive for seeing things. With J off photographing something, David would swim above just observing. Then Omar came along; he’d done it again… caught another puffer barehanded.IMG_6612

This time J and David were horrified. Their mother had raised them with strong morals and they were against harassing the wildlife. Omar came along and tried to place the puffer in David’s hands. Omar mistakenly thought David was afraid. And J took the puffer only because it would be the only way to let the poor fish be released from torment.IMG_6615

And when we were on dry land again, I had to explain to Omar that my kids don’t torment the wildlife. Good kids raised by a good mom.IMG_6617

Dive Lessons

IMG_1068David doesn’t mind if I mention his name. He got dive lessons and in three days he was open water qualified. He’s a good swimmer. And he is not one to panic underwater. My daughter was immediately protective of him because she worried that I was not quite reliable as an underwater coach. For some reason, they thought I would put him at risk for injury. I skied with them without limits; they survived. So? Ok, ok, I tend to be casual about general things and I only really sweat the details. It seems the kids know me too well.IMG_6128On the very first day of independent diving, I persuaded the kids to do a night dive. My daughter (no first names, please, so now it’s “J”) had done it before and didn’t care to do it. (She’s also afraid of the dark?) Somehow we were there at the dive resort right at sunset. I hadn’t intended to do a night dive. But jeezzz, we’re here… not my fault. It gets dark early here too. So she agreed and we went. Dave wanted to try; he was curious. It was chilly at dusk so the kids wanted to go early before dark until David mentioned that the big fish feed at dusk. It was plenty dark when we hit the water for what was agreed to be a 30 minute night dive.IMG_1101

And it was 60 minutes later when we emerged. The kids didn’t want to come up at 30 minutes! We had had a very wonderful experience. Every dive has one great moment. Ours came when J saw a hermit crab hauling its shell on a coral outcrop. We/she photographed the crab that I would never have seen except for J’s excellent vision.IMG_5805My memorable moment came earlier. I had briefed the kids on how to swim underwater and the safety involved in the dark. They both knew to stick close to me. It was more of an admonishment from J for me not to swim away from them. I led, they followed, and when I turned to be sure they were close behind they were there swimming arm and arm, flashlights swinging in all directions trying to avoid/scare off predators. They refused to get separated and so held one another close. Touching! My wife told me they weren’t getting along so well at Xmas. There’s nothing like a little terror to bring out true feelings.IMG_5824

Swarming School

IMG_4653I was diving with another experienced diver. It was a treat as he was graciously pointing out things underwater. He suddenly pointed toward the surface and I thought the third member of our group had made and emergency surface maneuver. No, there was what appeared to be a group of bubbles approaching. And as they came closer this was a shocker.IMG_4655 a It was a school of fish on a mission. They were headed somewhere and with a purpose. There were no predators in sight. The school had its mouth open. They looked prehistoric and dangerous except that they paid the divers (including me) no mind. I just started clicking away as fast as the camera would recycle. With those jaws open they were quite a sight.IMG_4656 aI am looking through my collected images and it appears that this is the same fish when it is not so ferocious looking. Same tail and it looks so docile….not.IMG_4241

Still Shaken… Death of an Octopus

IMG_4391There’s a recent article in the NY Times about a Brooklyn fish store called the Octopus Garden, which is very busy for Christmas and sells octopus for all manner of the Christmas eve celebration of the Seven Fishes. They also supply many restaurants in NY. And there was another article I saw where a fisherman/diver took a Pacific octopus in California and was scorned by other divers and has since been refused training as a rescue diver in retaliation.

It’s darned hard to see an octopus in the Red Sea. When you find one it’s an event! I have had limited opportunity to photograph any octopi. They are on the menu for dinner and it is found in the fish market. You can’t have it on a restaurant menu if it can’t be caught in sufficient quantity to serve for dinner.

My problem, like the Pacific diver above, is that the dive resort is like a zoo. We dive and look at the fish. We don’t kill them and eat them. Yes, they are caught somewhere and indeed seafood is a major part of the diet around here in Saudi Arabia. I just have trouble with someone going to an aquarium and eating the fish in the tank when everyone else is there to see the fish.IMG_4393 a

I had just arrived to dive and was laying out and organizing my stuff. There were some tourists snorkeling in the water. I paid no attention until a clamor arose and someone was wading into shore with an octopus attached to his arm. I initially thought he had brought it in to show his friends.IMG_4395

No!!! There was a Styrofoam box with a couple conch shells. He put the octopus into the box as his friends gathered around. In a moment and with a sickening feeling I realized what I was photographing. He was about to kill the creature! And he and a friend proceeded to strangle the octopus and gut it right there. The octopus had a brown pigmented color which soon drained away leaving a pale blue colorless cadaver and a lot of brown ink in the box. I am still shaken describing the scene.IMG_4399

I related this find to some of the other dive instructors who arrived after me. One said it was ok, they had caught it to eat it. And the second one chased the other men away and confiscated their gig to stop anymore fishing. There is one less octopus to find and photograph.

I suppose it’s ok. And he did catch the octopus bare handed. And he’s going to eat it ( I hope). And there was the article about Octopus Garden. I suppose if I want to get a picture of an octopus it would not be hard or unusual at Octopus Garden. It just wouldn’t quite be the same. And my timing… I had just arrived to dive and caught the whole gruesome event from start to finish. I had thought to stop the killing but I didn’t feel that I had the authority to act.



Ugly Fish

IMG_4064I was diving with another instructor. I have by necessity overcome shyness in order to dive. I have been without a regular dive buddy. You can’t dive alone. So I have made friends with anyone who is headed into the water and can dive competently. On this particular dive the instructor swam along and then lifted up a rock. Beneath it was what I call one ugly fish. I think there is some schoolyard insult that involves mothers (yours) that might apply here. I was so surprised to see this fish come ‘out from under the rock.’ I took the opportunity to shoot some images and then proceeded to lift rocks for the next 30 minutes and never saw another fish underneath. How’d he know to do this particular rock, the instructor couldn’t say because his English was not good enough to tell me.IMG_4066 a


IMG_3907Anytime you see an octopus it’s special. They are able to camouflage and blend with the surroundings very well and they are reticent to show themselves. To my utter surprise Nasser (dive instructor) led us to this octopus on a night dive and started taking pictures. I followed suit until it tucked itself deep under the coral. He said that this octopus has been here for about three months. I hope he stays. But so far I can’t find this rock again. The reason we could see this guy so well is that the lights shining on him probably confused his camouflage choices. It really is uncanny how they can blend.IMG_3901

Hole In The Sand


It has finally turned cold around here. It was downright chilly the other day. The temperature only got to 80 degrees (awwww!). I actually put on a fleece to keep the wind off between dives. A few dives ago the master photographer had pointed out a hole in the sand where a crab lived. We stood by but it never showed itself. You poke the sand open and drop some shells down the hole. This will provoke the crab to push the shell out and to rebuild the cover for his hole. The next time down I had more of a chance to explore this hole. First you have to find it. With my vision underwater (it’s a joke!?) I had to look hard but the hole was still there and I poked it and dropped a shell down. Nothing! Nada! Bupkus!

IMG_4290But when I swam back a few minutes later I was rewarded. After editing it’s pretty obviously a crab. But it wasn’t nearly so obvious underwater. In fact this hole is right in front of the dive platform, which is swarming with divers (I mean lots, really lots) all day. And not a single one seems to notice. The crab certainly has stayed here for a long time.IMG_5093Yes, people do strange things underwater.

The Hard Way

IMG_3079Catching a fish is a bit of an art. My brother was an avid fisherman. We all have little secrets. John would get a new fishing rod each year and catch a fish to baptize the rod. In many ways his hobby was like my photography. I’m not buying a new camera every year. But I have not hesitated to get new equipment if I could justify the need. Ahh… that’s the stuff of another story. I actually purchased two point and shoots this summer when I lost my primary underwater camera. The first replacement just stopped working. Repair time would be unknown and uncertain. As it turns out it was about two weeks. But it was during a critical 10 day period during which I did about 20 dives and shot nearly 2000 images (after discards). I justified the emergency replacement as an essential expense to keep diving. Darn! That little point and shoot is really good in low light and it’s very light in the pocket. And now there’s a backup to the backup. Make sense?

Well on to my story today. It’s not a good image by any means. I was busy trying to white balance and missed getting a decent image. (Note to myself – get an image, then try to get something better, but at least get something on the memory card before you start getting cute.) We paused by some coral. Farid was looking underneath and poking his hand inside with his gloved finger. Have I told you not to touch anything on the reef? It just invites something to bite you back. Well, he poked and he raised the silt and generally clouded everything up. Wissam was looking over my left shoulder as I puzzled over what had Farid’s attention. Then he reached in and pulled out a rather large fish. He held it firmly and we watched as it changed from green to white in color. I didn’t know they do that. Here I was fumbling to get an image. He let the fish go and I was a loser. I hope Farid doesn’t ask me how the shot came out. This is the third time I’ve seen someone catch a fish barehanded. I’m so impressed.

As for me I have reasonable skill as a photographer. I am just the exact opposite as a fisherman. I can’t catch a fish if you put it on the hook and told me to start reeling. Which brings me to another curious thought. We constantly see people fishing from the pier as we enter to dive. I’ve been tempted to put a big fish on their hook. But it would mean catching one with your bare hand which I’m not prepared to do.


IMG_4814 aI’m still diving. The water is still in the 80’s. For those of you in the snow and sleet of winter…my regrets. This image was taken during a night dive. The shrimp is about the size of your thumbnail. It’s small! And it’s shy! The tip I got was from master photographer who said they were there to begin with. You look under the coral and look for something reflecting back your flashlight beam. Once you see two glowing eyes, shove your camera in there and shoot. The shrimp are not hanging around to get their picture taken. They move. And you can’t see to shoot because you have your hand under a coral to get the camera close enough for a decent magnified exposure. You are really just in a ‘shoot and pray’ mode. The photographers with the big rig – macro domes, wide-angle lenses, and articulated armed flashes – probably have a better percentage of success. But as always the trick is to find these guys first. I have several images and someday I’ll get a better one. If you look closely you can see the eyes and six legs plus two long antennae. The creature is not even enough to make a mouthful.

Don’t Touch Nothin’

IMG_3998I paraphrase Shorty’s (Short Round – Indiana Jones, Temple of Doom) words with emphasis. The stinging did feel like life and death for a moment.

This picture looks worse than it felt. I will admit that it scared the “.…” out of me. I’ve told you the rule about not touching anything under the sea. Everything is setup to do some nasty thing if you are careless. The image here is the aftermath of inadvertently touching a sea urchin. Honest! I didn’t mean to do it. After all the first lesson applies. Don’t touch nothin’!!IMG_4900

My first lesson was with fire coral. Here’s a neat image. A baby “giant” clam is unexpectedly nestled here. IMG_3654 copyI inadvertently brushed up against a fire coral once while I was doing the decompression stop. In my mind fire coral was red in color. Nope! As soon as I touched this my wrist started to blister. I mean right there underwater I could see blisters like a second degree burn. By the time I was out of the water minutes later the blisters were gone. Hmmm! But then I had the worst itching rash there for several weeks. If I look I can still see the scar. So yes!!! I know not to touch stuff.

This leads to the circumstances of my mistake. We were on a night dive. (I love night dives. There’s different things you see at night and I like that.) IMG_0166The dive master stabbed a porcupine puffer fish with his big long flashlight. He trapped it and it blew up. Wow! I was impressed and wanted to get that ‘special’ image. There are only so many things you can do (two hands!).IMG_3952 copy I had my light in the left hand and my camera in the right. I dropped my light and put my hand down to steady myself for the shot. Immediately I felt the sting of my mistake. I hadn’t looked. And right through my glove I got the sting of a red sea urchin around twelve or so stinging spines. They are barbed and have venom. To make matters worse, no glove on the right hand, it’s dark, and I can’t really see well without glasses underwater. The marks up my thumb came as I tried to extract the stingers and remove my glove.

Luckily it was a red sea urchin that I encountered. Armand, another diver, told me that the gray ones are even more vicious and that he suffered for weeks when he touched one of them.IMG_4915

So here’s what I learned online. Use vinegar and hot water. Shave off the spines with a razor. Don’t use a pin to dig around and remove the stingers.

And what I can tell you: Throw away your glove. I did. The secondary stings you get from trying to separate yourself and get the stingers out of your hand will make matters worse. Initially underwater it appeared that I was bleeding under the skin – little blue hematomas had formed around each stinger where I had been stung. That’s not true. The stings have a dye which tattoos you. Funny. The tattoos began to disappear within hours and were gone by the morning. The stingers biodegrade quickly. You can’t remove them easily. In fact because of the barbs it’s pretty difficult to get at them. Infection seems to be some risk but keeping the area clean works mostly. You get swelling but it wasn’t too bad. At least the pain was tolerable. It was my dominant left hand so there was a moment of concern about being hampered to do surgery.

Don’t try this at home: I didn’t have the stuff to remove the splinters (spines) at home. I hate splinters. So I was determined to take care of this despite the internet warnings. Besides, I’m a surgeon (arrogant bastard thinking). I emailed my assistant to prepare the operating (Zeiss) microscope and micro forceps. I spent an hour in the pool in the morning to exercise (and soak) my hand. Then with my operating nurse and my assistant (I needed an extra hand), we spent about 45 minutes digging around and extracting the embedded spines. They were soft and really fell apart. We had to dig (a bit painfully) to remove the foreign debris. I got most of the stuff out. We worked under high magnification (Zeiss operating microscope est price $250K) and with the finest forceps (ophthalmology – not fine enough) and finally cleaned up about twenty to thirty sites where there was embedded sea urchin. Yeah!! Priceless!! It’s now 36 hours later and two nights have passed. There are some spots you can see where we dug around yesterday but the swelling has subsided. There’s very little pain and I promise not to do this again. (Note to myself: Don’t touch anything! Never!)

IMG_3959 copyOops! Back to my story… so the divemaster has trapped the porcupine puffer and it blew up. There I am screaming (figuratively) from pain. He actually saw me struggling but didn’t know I was stung. I, I’m juggling camera, flashlight (I want to see what the Hell had stung me), trying to look at my hand, and trying to get an image of the blown up puffer before they look let it go. You can all have a laugh, I was literally as they say trying to decide whether to “shit or get off the pot.” And the flash on a point and shoot is not geared for fast recycling. So I’m mashing my finger on the shutter release and watching the flash indicator blink as the flash slowly slowly recycles all the while thinking that I’m about to die from sea urchin venom. And no!! I did not think about surfacing and tending to this wound. My reasoning was that the cool water was keeping the swelling in check. The pain would come later. My dive buddy held onto the puffer for a good long while. It ain’t easy catching one. So he didn’t want to part. And more cruelly he spun the sucker like a basketball. No harm. It did swim away and I understand why it shies away from human contact.IMG_3928 copy

This leads me to remind you that I had previously posted about a small puffer we caught on a night dive. This time the story has a lot more color.IMG_4860

It is a laugh now. But while it’s happening, you think some pretty grim thoughts. Of course the big thing is not to panic. And the second is not to do something stupid, which I did as I tried to remove the stingers underwater and stuck myself higher up on my thumb. And the smartest thing was to throw away the glove, which would have caused more pain if I had tried to remove the stingers and use it again.

Unexpected Fish

IMG_3831I was shooting with flash during a daylight dive. The afternoon sun was setting. I followed the big guy under a piece of coral. it was my fairly typical tail end shot. He turned just enough that I got his eye. The other fish was just there on the image when I processed it. I never saw it when I shot the original. And furthermore, I never saw the little colorful nudibranch tucked under the right fin of the big guy. Serendipity!

Pufferfish Capture

I periodically get email from some of my silent readers. You know who you are. Carol, in particular asked me to change subjects gently cajoling that she was waterlogged. I apologize and will switch from sea to land in a few days. One of patients recently came with dive photos that I had taken. He’d looked me up on the ‘net. It’s got me worried about making any political misstatements and getting into trouble. (By the way all you folks who read me are welcome, really, to comment and let me know you’re there. The feedback helps.)

For example: We have recently taken on a group of Chinese nurses. They speak English but it is as a second language. I insulted one unintentionally in the OR. The light was dim so I asked for a candle. (It was a joke. Get it?) You’re doing serious surgery here. And to ask for a candle was just to break up the tension. There’s usually a pause and … then a nervous laugh. (Am I really serious?) The Chinese nurse thought that I had said ‘condom.’ Honest, I did not mispronounce ‘candle.’ The Filipino nurses all laughed and later corrected the Chinese nurse (I am Chinese American, by the way.) but the insult had been made. Really, it’s hard to defend against candle. Maybe she’s never seen a candle? So you must forgive me if I refrain from commenting about the Middle East too much these days. There’s a lot of political turmoil. Being misunderstood seems to have been a habit with me. And if the wrong people (paranoia?) read me, I could be deported. Yeah, they do that too. (They disallow beheading these days… it seems they can’t find qualified swordsman.)

One more example and this happened in Maine: My patients often need to be shaved before surgery. We do it at the last second to try to limit infection. One day I finished the shave and made a sound like I was blowing away the hair. (It’s a joke!) I did this through my scrub mask. I later had to defend a complaint from the circulating nurse that I had removed my mask in the OR and had broken sterile rules. The nurse ( a male) had his back to me when I made the sound. I know it and he did too. But still I managed to misfire. Some days you believe you are working with idiots.

IMG_3169This incident actually occurred before my night dive experience. The instructor was a bit of a crazy guy. He suddenly lurched and shot his hand into the coral. Out he came with a puffer. I got some shots. I was too excited to white balance and expose properly. But you get the idea. And that’s not my wrist bracelet. The girl we were with wouldn’t let go and she took the terrified puffer all the way back to shore before she released him. As I said, I believe they are puffed on water, hence the squishy feeling when you hold them. I didn’t want to do it, but they sort of thrust it into my hand.

Cleaning Station

IMG_3748 aThe wrasse is a small fish that thrives on cleaning other fish. It is a beneficial service so the wrasse doesn’t seem become a meal for other fish. I have seen them work on many different fish. It’s just hard to capture an image. They are so small. But I have seen it done, so I wait for an opportunity. I got a bunch of shots of this cleaning session. And I got the moray with it’s teeth out. Yes, this was a shot worth imagining. I’m glad to have caught it.

Anemone Mouth

IMG_3800 aI make the assumption that this is a mouth. It could be the nether end of the alimentary canal. Or I could be wrong in assigning a name to the structure. Anyway, it’s what Farid and I concluded. For all the times we see anemones this structure is usually well hidden. I had always considered anemone a coral but it is indeed an animal. And like many things under the sea it stings.

White Stonefish

IMG_4142This guy took up residence right by the stairs everyone uses to get into the water. He lay there among the rocks for about three days in plain sight. To look from the surface above he looked like a white piece of pollution someone had discarded. Scores of divers passed him without realizing he was right there, twelve inches below. And I would have missed him too if my dive buddy had not been eagle eyed. Though he was white his coloration did blend rather well with the surrounding rocks.


IMG_3852 aYou swim along and look for movement under the coral. The light is bad but the point and shoot cameras often surprise me. I assume, but I cannot be sure, this is an octopus. It looks like tentacles to me. As soon as I got this image, it moved away under the coral. I was just lucky that I spotted the motion. I’ll say it again. These critters are very shy and hard to spot. Every time you see one, you feel it’s special.

Christmas Tree Something

IMG_3857 aI apologize for not having the name before I posted the picture. It retracts into the coral when threatened. And it is bright and colorful. But it’s darned hard to find and photograph. And it certainly looks like a tasty morsel. I imagine that the color is a warning. So far, I have learned that you don’t touch anything. Most things have a bite or a sting. And need I mention that they don’t call it ‘fire coral’ because of the color. With all the detail you can see, this is a pretty nice shot. Most of the other times I have images with far less detail… far less. What nature designs is sometimes pretty amazing.

Bright Red Crab

IMG_4893It looks like it’s all cooked up and ready to eat. Or, maybe it’s part of why they call it the Red Sea? I can understand why I don’t see anything like this during the day. It would be too tempting to pass up. You realize that the color red fades as you dive deeper. But that doesn’t mean that the animals don’t have red color.

Brain Surgery Fish

IMG_3881You see a lot of interesting things and sometimes I don’t. I missed this one until I was post processing. Whoa! There’s a chunk missing from the frontal lobe. He doesn’t seem to be any worse for the striking appearance. I found this image but definitely didn’t take it because of the defect. To make it even more crazy, a few days later, I got the same fish. The defect is hard to duplicate. And with all the fish in the ocean who would ever have expected to run into the same fish again. I have a habit of shooting whatever will pose for me. So I did and here he is again and again. Fascinating.


IMG_3877I don’t have the book yet. It may or may not be thus named. It is colorful and skittish. I found one on the reef and was able to follow it. It’s the best I could do. From a rear angle, I like it when I can get a view of the cornea and see the fisheye bulge. Yeah it’s cool. Anyway the spotted pattern makes me think this is as a perforated fish. And the green top?…it’s as though some buff was customizing his sports car and tricked out the finish to make it standout. To be sure this little guy swims about the reef like everyone wants to eat him.


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