The small blue fish, a wrasse, represents a symbiotic relationship in the sea. They are the local car wash. Fish have no fingers to clean themselves. So the wrasse hang about. Some call their locations ‘cleaning stations.’ Bigger fish come along and the little guys do their task. I’ve seen them within the jaws of moray eels. Hmmm a tasty morsel, just swallow. But larger fish even seek out the wrasse. And there seems to be an unwritten agreement about not eating your cleaning service help. Do fish have ears? None that stick out. Because it is hard to clean behind your ears in the sea?
I was swimming along the reef with Farid. He wears glasses and has custom lenses in his dive mask. Maybe I should get some too. He always spots the good stuff first. He caught my attention and off I went in pursuit. I don’t know quite what is under the ray. A remora? We are deep. The floor here is about 120 feet. My gauge says we were as deep as 123 feet on this dive. So the colors are muted and the image is grainy. Fine. I was there, got an image, and we saw it.
What are the odds of seeing the same fish on different dives? I can’t tell one fish from another of the same species. Hair color, eyes, facial features, weight might be helpful to tell human from human. But I could not tell the difference between fish and that’s okay until I reviewed my images. Since it’s relevant to my surgical specialty I guess it would have to be this particular fish. There’s a bite and it looks as though there’s no brain in there. What do I know about fish brains? But an incomplete craniectomy will grab my attention every time. I actually got a shot of him on two different dives on different days. And I have no answer to the complaint why do you shoot the same fish over and over. It seems that I do sometimes. This fish and I have met at least twice. And I got a head shot both times.
When the kids visited in December I chased a fish like this for quite a way. I never did catch up and get a nice shot. It’s more tail than fish. The proportions are wrong. It didn’t swim faster. It swam just fast enough to avoid me. If I hang around long enough I’ll get a better shot and a better background. This is my current best shot of this fish. It is a rather majestic tail.
Another fortuitous find but it took two tries. On the first dive I had no idea what my buddy was shooting with his big ass macro lens. Did I mention there was some serious glass involved, as in expensive gear? I actually blindly got it with my camera the first time around. On the second dive we were at the end of the dive and O2 was dwindling fast enough that I was glancing at my gauge and deciding what my backup plan would be when the air ran out. But we passed the same coral formation and I got another chance. This is a little fish head no more than ½ inch probably less. Most fish will retreat into their hole. But this guy kept perfectly still and never budged even while another companion stuck his big housing against the very coral next to him. Brave! I moved in next and he was still there! So I got my shots and have leftovers to pick and choose the best. The slight blurring is because I enlarged it for the purposes of the blog post image. Well, now I’ve seen it. There is something to be said for changing dive partners. Everyone sees something differently.
I was without a dive buddy. I can’t/don’t dive alone. Rules! So I fortunately hooked up with three photographers. At least everyone had a camera. The guy with the ‘big rig’ had excellent air management. We were down together for 91 minutes. That’s long. He wasn’t too communicative. Usually it’s courtesy to point out interesting things. He has a major big ‘mother’ macro lens attachment with some expensive glass. After he paused I followed and just stuck the camera up and took an image. Yeah, definitely just blind luck. Some days my mask has not cleared well and all the images look blurred and not white balanced. Some days are better. And sometimes it’s blind luck. No, kids, glasses won’t help. Actually these fish are out and about right now, perhaps because of mating season. I’ve got a better shot somewhere. After all this time in the water I can say I’m beginning to understand symbiotic relationships underwater. This fish and this coral like to stick together, most of the time. The human eye is trained (survival) to detect motion. What my eye can see, often cannot be captured by a camera. This enlarged detail shows a small fish resting before it darts away from my camera.
Without any guilt I freely admit I am not a fisherman. This is in contrast to my brother John who was an avid fisherman. He’d buy one new rod every season and catch a fish to initiate it. But…Farid and I were on a dive. I had made him a gift of a dive stick. The instructors use them to point.
Last week I almost grabbed one but chickened out at the last second. Today I was bold. Those spikes are sharp! So I grabbed the tail. It worked and the puffer puffed. It’s not air, in case you wonder. It is water that fills up from somewhere inside to discourage other fish from making a meal. As soon as it’s puffed it is no longer aerodynamic and it can’t swim away with any speed. So I tried to position it with Farid in the picture but he couldn’t get with the program.
We did release it after I got my shots. And please don’t tell the family I was out annoying the wildlife, please, please.
Moray eels stay in a coral crevice and only poke their heads up. They can be quite large, or rather long. The head has a different color. It took me a while to understand the anatomy. Needless to say you don’t see many morays swimming out in open water. Every dive has its aha moment. Sometimes it’s a stonefish or rarely a squid or even a turtle. So far on this particular dive there hadn’t been much excitement. Oh well… We were done and at the decompression stop. I was floating and waiting for the time to pass. Per usual routine I don’t turn off my camera until I’m out of the water. And today! Yeah, I got this moray. He popped out of the coral and took off. My dive buddy and I were both very surprised. I happened to have the camera at the ready. Great luck!
Wetsuits come in different thicknesses. 1mm is for tropical water. Why wear one? It keeps things in the water off your skin. I didn’t wear one for about two years. Then last summer I dove about ten days in a row. I did between three and four dives a day. After that I had a lot of skin irritation. It’s called a ‘rash.’ Whatever. It itches and was making me uncomfortable. I gave in and started wearing the wetsuit Eric gave me. It was a 3mm suit. It’s probably a bit too warm. And when I dove the 60 degree California waters even a 7mm suit was not enough to keep me warm. But there’s another consideration. A 1mm wetsuit is pretty thin. You make the call. I’d say it was hard to decide whether to mention transparency as an issue or to keep quiet. Under the circumstances the same thing happened when I chanced upon some worn bike shorts in some past blog post. I got no editorial stake here. I just remember it’s not possible to answer the question, “Honey, do I look fat in this dress?”
I once said I shot a moose and someone asked what gun I used. Really!!?? Octopi are shy. They stay hidden and blend with the environment. The human eye is trained to see movement. It’s a protective mechanism to keep alive. Something well camouflaged is easily missed. I’d have missed the octopus otherwise. We, not me, saw it swimming in the open over the coral reef. Off I went swimming as fast I was able. Since the octopus was interested in hiding it soon dropped into the coral. It did not shoot ink as once happened to me. That time it worked as I was startled and the octopus slipped away in a cloud of dark ink. This time I watched the octopus and was shooting away with my camera. The poor thing was unable to decide what camouflage to adapt. I can tell you that the change takes only a few seconds. Yes, they really do change over fast. The natural color is brown. Back in December I watched in horror as someone barehanded executed a captured one. This guy changed back and forth for a while and then found a nice deep hole in the coral. In the image below you can appreciate how well the camouflage can look. The change can occur in the blink of an eye. At one point my gloved hand brushed a tentacle. It was like touching Velcro. I was a bit timid and didn’t touch it again. My camera was working. White balance was good. Focus was sharp. It was great! …about as much fun as you can have with a wet suit on.
I dove at a place I haven’t visited in a while. This blue fish is hard to photograph. I’m usually in a backlight position so the deep blue black fish has no detail. Though they are very common on the reef they are also very camera shy. I might see a school of them or a few. No matter the exposure is usually poor and the fish swim away so the best I get is tail view. It seems there are often exceptions to all rules. I had this guy challenge me. He knew I was there. I was shooting and he wasn’t going to budge and give up his position. I didn’t see any reason for him to guard this piece of reef. But he would circle and circle. So I got the exposure corrected and then I got the head on shot. Head on is the hardest. Nobody swims toward a larger object blowing bubbles and I can imagine how intimidating I must look to these fish.
Do fish blink? Do they have eyelids? Ever think about it? I’ve considered the question in passing. But I never really did look into this issue. I think I have stumbled on an answer. This fish likes to rest on a coral outcrop. I used to get a profile and consider myself lucky. But familiarity has led me to be more bold. So I drift up and try to get a head on view. Not content to shoot a single image – focus, exposure, and a myriad of other variable – I shoot several to try to be sure I have a serviceable image.
Some controversy exists as: fish don’t have eyelids; fish roll their eyes (no eyelids); and why blink when you are immersed in a saline solution. And then there’s the matter of my old dog Nellie. She would blink whenever my flash popped to get a portrait of her. It was uncanny. She always blinked. Soooo….? When I have so many images of fish – thousands and thousands – why oh why are there none that have “blinkies?”
Roll your eyes or blink, it don’t matter, this is the sequence I got head on in an instant. No, no Photoshop. No fish were injured in the making of this series.
So far in my dive experience I’ve come across only one squid for which I have an image. After that I had a wonderful view of three squid swimming in formation below me. I was having early learning difficulty with buoyancy control and couldn’t control my depth to get a shot. Little did I know that it would be rare to see a squid.
Diving season has started. It’s mid May but my posts are backlogged. I actually had about a month off after California – too busy and kind of tired. I was solo. None of the usual dive buddies were available so I hooked up with an instructor. He was instructing so we stayed near the training platform and I goofed around with the camera. Then the student ran out of air, so he went up. And I cruised the reef with the divemaster for about thirty minutes. Right as we were returning, he pointed. I saw one, then two, then about six squid just making their way in open water. They were not camouflaged. And they were swimming away from my bubbles faster than I could catch them. I managed a couple shots and this time my camera didn’t fail.
Did i mention that seeing one squid is rare? So how about six or so I? I kid you not, there were about six swimming about. Indeed, I was very fortunate to get four in a close bunch in one image. Don’t be fooled. They swim much faster than me even with fins on my feet.
As for calimari, I firmly believe that squid should swim about in the ocean and let me take their picture. I don’t need/want to eat them.
You 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…”
I 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.
I 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.
I 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.
Omar, from my last story, showed J and I a very picturesque passage through the coral back in March 2013. You have to swim in from a certain direction to appreciate it. J remembered this and took David through it. I followed. As J emerged on the other side she suddenly swam upwards. David paused too. I swam into his fins.
I have been diving for over a year… and one, only one time did I see a turtle.
It looked like it was sunning itself. It turned its head slowly from side to side. And then it began a leisurely swim first in toward J and then under David’s fins. I followed and got more shots. We had a fabulous ‘turtle experience.’
(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.
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.
David 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.On 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.
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.My 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.
I 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. 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.I 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.
There’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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
Anytime 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.