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.
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!
But 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.Yes, people do strange things underwater.
Catching 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.
I’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.
It’s called technical diving. It’s what you do when you have been using a tank on your back for long and you want a different experience. Also it’s useful to swim in tight spots like a cave, which is the true purpose. For a few days I dove with a sidemount diver. And after all that time, I finally managed to get a good shot of Armand and his tank setup. We were headed into shore and I was trailing him. As I looked up the waves breaking above made the perfect frame and I got this image. At the time I realized how well matched we were. He had much more experience. But we were both photo enthusiasts and we could stay down more than an hour on a tank. He didn’t mind lingering over a subject to get more than one image. Yeah it was a lot of fun for those few days. I wouldn’t mind myself to dive alone and photograph at leisure. But it’s against the rules to dive without a buddy. So I don’t. And this makes everyone else, who knows how I feel about rules, happier.
I do admit to getting lost the other day. The water was murky. I estimate that visibility was 15 feet. It only took a few seconds of separation to make it hard to see my two buddies. We were at the midpoint turnaround time in the dive. I shot an image, looked up, and realized that my two buddies were not to be seen. No panic. I started back along the path we had come from. I figured it was time to turn around. I admit I was not panicked. I shot my images, watched my air, and arrived at the 3 minute decompression rope right as my buddies appeared from the murk. I promised not to get separated again. On the very next dive the inexperienced member of our group ran out of air and I was right there to share air and get him home to safety. Yes, yes… it’s important ‘never to leave your wingman.’ It also helps not to panic in the face of danger. This time my other buddy was lost in the murk and I waited till he surfaced and was safe.
I have begun to know where things are around the resort we have frequented. There is a fan coral at about 65 feet depth. Follow the reef north and you will encounter it. I have been there several times. It’s the only one around this area. Lighting is tricky as I have been disappointed with many images I shot. The key is the diffuse bounce lighting. It gives the coral a clean natural color and a pleasing glow. I’m not showing the failures all of which had some defect. But there are a lot of images that did not make the cut. I’m glad I got to come back.
Now that I recognize the anatomy, I can say that it’s a nudibranch. I would otherwise I would have called it a snail. It was slowly moving along the bottom all stretched out and vulnerable. It’s soft bodied and seemingly unprotected. I have to credit Farid on seeing it. He is the best finder. I’m always missing things. And to think he wears glasses but doesn’t wear them when we dive. I have to ask him next time, whether he is wearing prescription lens on his mask. I found out that they make them but I don’t actually know if he uses a pair. He sure does find some great things.
I 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!
I liked this image. As I shot it I knew it would be good. Sometimes (and I usually don’t) it’s good to look up. I’m usually getting an overexposed image. But here the silhouette is rather interesting.
There is a branch of diving called free diving. It means you use a mask and long stiff fins. You dive without a tank and go to some fairly deep depths. It’s sure different and not yet on my radar. Groups of free divers come to this resort and I am always fascinated watching them. Well, actually I see them walking around but have not seen them in the water until now. They always have a float and there is a rope with a weight hanging beneath so the divers can follow a line down. Otherwise I don’t know too much of the sport except what they describe on the ‘net. And no, it’s not that it costs nothing and is really free.
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.
This 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.
The 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.
There are thousands of different ones. We were down at about 90 feet. At this depth, color is almost monotone. It’s funny because my eye still sees color or at least I imagine color. When I get home and post process, it is amazing how much color is missing. Here’s where it is imperative to use flash. The problem is that my mind thinks faster than I can change settings. Flash requires changing back to daylight white balance setting. Well this critter doesn’t move quickly so I had a chance to get some shots. There is a strong tendency to overexpose. All too often the exposure is not quite right so I am thankful that digital gives me the opportunity to shoot more than one image.
I 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.
This 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.
You 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.
I 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.