Friday, June 15, 2012

Claveria Diving 3.1, Some Highlights

Me with my camera
I do not like to scuba dive without my camera. My dive buddy, Don, understands this completely, to the point that if I forget it he doesn't even question the need to go back and retrieve it. Last April it meant driving three miles back to the hotel, and this previous trip in May we were chugging along in the bangka boat half way to the mile distant dive site when I discovered it missing from my net bag. Oops. As soon as I exclaimed that I’d forgotten it he signaled the boat driver to head back to the lagoon for it. Now THAT is a friend.

So, with that said, after more than two years of using the thing I keep asking myself when I’m going to start getting good at it. I say that because every time I download the shots, especially when it comes to the video, I feel like kicking myself in the pants for continually repeating the same old mistakes, primarily my penchant for panning the camera too fast. Usually I’ll do it when in spite of myself I’ll try to keep up with the flight path of some quickly moving fish. Later, viewing the dismal results, I always mutter to myself that next time I’ll concentrate on NOT doing that, but the sight of a fish darting past my sightline just makes me lose my mind.

At 14 and a half minutes, the embedded clip below is just about as long as I’m allowed to post in YouTube. All together, I probably took more than two hours of video during the nine dives we made based out of The Claveria Lagoon.  In my previous post I attached a compilation video of the many minutes that we spent in and around “the cave,” which for me was certainly the highlight of the expedition. 

So, the cave notwithstanding, the clip I’ve inserted below I guess you could call the highlights of most everything else we saw. About the only thing I forgot to add to it is a very cool clip of a large tube anemone about five inches across and about the same high. I find those things extremely fascinating, the way they instantly snap out of sight in the blink of an eye. Whoosh!  I’ll include the very short video of it somewhere below. In fact, how about right here?
Anyway, the compilation video posted directly below begins with a gorgeously clear shot at the top of coral hill, bright blue water as a sweet backdrop of a teaming swarm of mixed colorful tropicals. But once again I let my camera follow where my eyes are pulled when a little bright blue wrasse darts downwards. Sorry about that.
I think THE primary reason I love to use my underwater camera is for what I’ve been doing even as I write this, using the captured images to try to identify what it is I’ve seen. I can barely tolerate not knowing the name of each life form I discover. I MUST know! The problem I have is that there are literally thousands of species down there, many of them resembling one another. Because of this I’ve spent countless hours on the internet combing through photos trying to correctly ID MY particular creature right down to the spot on its fin or strip behind its mouth.
Looks like a flower but its the egg ribbon of a nudibranch
called the Spanish Dancer

 1:06 minutes: In the video there is a large mat of some kind of coral, anemone or sponge. It is the bland brown color of an old fashioned rubber band, and indeed, it feels rubbery when I carefully pat it with my gloved hand. Just below this mass of rubbery living carpet I pan for a while to two large lionfish.

1:55 to 4:25: while casually filming nothing in particular I am pleasantly stunned when a three foot sea snake, scientifically called a  Laticauda laticaudata, suddenly comes into view. I am ascending when it appears only a couple feet to my front. My first instinct is to pull back, but I soon recover my pluck and move the camera within a few inches of it as it makes its way along the holes and cracks of the rock and coral wall.
the sea snake

Even though there are times when I’m nearly touching it with the camera the snake hardly acknowledges my presence, and continues to explore every hole and crack it can stick its head into, I assume looking for a meal. I’ve watched the clip of it many times now admiring how it moves so effortlessly through the water. Watching it swim it appears to be slightly negatively buoyant so that it tends to drop once it completely stops. To move through the water it uses the undulation of its body and flattened tail. I’m not sure how long it can hold its breath, but eventually it must go back to the surface to breathe. I followed this creature for quite some time and if not for Don waiting for me up the hill I probably would have spent a lot longer with it.

One more comment about this striking creature—watching as it checks every crevice and cranny along its path, I’m reminded of how much it behaves exactly like Don and I do in the water. We also are compelled to peer into every promising area along our way, and once we find something new or interesting we don’t leave until we’ve had our “fill.” We are like human sea snakes.
 Laticauda laticaudata

4:25 to 4:38. At this time, with the water slightly silty and with much lower light due to the deeper depth, we see the screen completely filled with fish. For me, the star of this group is a single large clown triggerfish, a species that we have not seen all that often in the Claveria area. You can’t miss this beauty in the multitude—its top half is dark while its bottom half is a series of white circles outlined in black.
clownfish trigger in the middle. See it?
4:40 to 5:10. The camera begins the shot straight up the side of about 50 feet of cliff at a cloud of flitting fish silhouetted against sunlit water and then pans down to the sea bottom where the rock face begins its soaring climb. The shot continues as I allow myself to descend; moving forward, the shot concludes with a close up of a gorgeous gorgonian, or sea fan, white with a slight tint of purple with in a marvelous veined configuration of trunk and branches. I love those things; each individual has its own claim to its own unique beauty. No two are alike.
a gorgonian or sea fan on side of cliff to access current flow
5:10 to 7:15. The next two plus minutes includes several clips of rock, water and fish, all absolutely dazzling in their juxtaposition of color and light.
clear blue water, fluttering fish, cliff face
7:16 to 8:12. I’m a fan of the nudibranchs, which is very fortunate for me since the waters of the Philippines are known for the large variety of these mollusks, also called sea slugs or sea snails. It seems that every dive trip I’ve ever made I’ve come across a type I've not yet seen. The two I’ve filmed in this piece are magnificent in their shape and color. (I also include photos below of others I saw during this trip.) The two in this video have horns marking their front while prominent tassels decorate their rear and dorsal areas, although not all nudibranchs have horns or tassels. In the YouTube feature the first nudibranch is colored primarily violet with a streak of white dividing it laterally around its middle; to complete its showy appearance its tassels and horns are a brilliant yellow. All in all, a beautiful contrast of colors.
The second nudibranch is bi-colored, appearing to be a pale white and highlighted with golden brown delicate patterns on its body while its tassels and horns are of the same golden brown. It’s not as showy as its violet and yellow cousin in the segment before it but just as wonderful to see. 
another nudibranch, wonderful to see
Another delicately colored nudibranch
And yet another
and another, their variety is unending
8:12 to 9:00. Bright orange (or not so bright) anemone colonies, many with brilliant vividness, always pull me to them to have a look. And besides, wherever one finds anemones there also will be the lively clownfish, which always make for a great photographic subject. There are some fish, like the clownfish and titan trigger that actively acknowledge the presence of human divers by warily turning and looking at them. I especially like that sense of being checked out by these happy looking little fellows. Oh, and the reason they hang out in the polyp anemone tendrils is for protection against predators that cannot take the poison produced by the anemone that negatively affects almost all other organisms EXCEPT for the clownfish.
Anemone and clownfish 
9:00 to 10:18. I couldn’t resist including this footage of a host of busy swimmers including Butterfly fish, Moorish Idols, a bright blue angelfish and a host of others. THIS is why I dive!

10:19 to 13:14. We found “The arch” last year; you can read about it in this post. Since discovering it I’ve always wanted to surface to get a better idea of where it is using the topside geology as a reference. So that’s what I do in this clip. It starts with Don near the sea floor; having already passed under the arch, he’s a good 30 feet below me and probably 40 feet to my front.  I purposely let him get well ahead of me for the shot.
"the arch"
Normally, from where I am at that spot at that relatively shallow depth, it wouldn't be as murky as it looks. At the moment I took this video however, there are two issues causing the gloominess. First, the water at the surface is rough and roiling which really riles up the silt. The other cause of the murkiness is that a storm is passing through, something that totally surprised me when I came up to find hard rain splashing the surface since the sky was mostly clear and sunny when we entered the water less than 30 minutes before. But way up there on the far northern coast of the Philippines that’s pretty much how the weather works—it can be bright and clear in the morning and by lunch time be dark and brooding.
storming at the surface
10:45  On my way up to the atmosphere, literally out of the blue, I find myself surrounded by a healthy school of jacks. They are a robust silvery blue fish that the locals love to eat. Usually I only see them on shore—dead, stiff and for sale. I have seen a few of them in the water, but only from afar and usually no more than six at a time. What a treat to come up right in the middle of a group of them.
Surprise! A school of jacks
At just over 13 minutes I blow air from my lungs and allow myself to sink slowly to the top of the arch. Just like that, the water goes from agitated to instantly calm. The sight of all those goldies and other small fish hanging out just below the roof of the arch is a beautiful thing.
"...the arch is a beautiful thing."
13:15 to 13:40. Now THIS thing is really something! I’ve seen plenty of sea clams, but they’ve always been a green mottled color like the two in the photos I include below. The one in the embedded video is bright blue with black highlights. The others I’ve come across (see photos below) are much more skittish and instantly snapped shut before I got within five feet. I fully expected this one to close up long before I got anywhere near it too, but no, it stayed open until I finally made it close itself by irritating it with the tip of my gloved fingers. What a beauty!
My first "blue clam" ever
Usually I've found them like this
... or like this
13:41 - end. Near the beginning of this particular dive we were suddenly inundated by hundreds of these splendid blue green fish that almost appear translucent the way they seem to reflect the color of the water around them. I’m not sure what they are, perhaps another type of jack. I’m pretty sure I've seen them before but never in these huge numbers all in one place. I find it remarkable how this very active shoal stays with us for almost 15 minutes. Don surmises that they may have been attracted to our air bubbles. Some fish associate the bubbles to a food source. Or, they might have just been curious about us.
...suddenly inundated by hundreds of these splendid blue fish
More on our May 2012 dive expedition in a couple days. Til then....!


Anonymous said...

Good shots of the nudibranchs. The purple one with white edges is a Hypselodoris Apolegma, the one below looks like a Chromodoris species, and the yellow and black is a Phyllidia Varicosa. The horns (Rhinophores) are how they smell and the feathery tails are actually their gills. Nudibranchs are hermaphrodites

PhilippinesPhil said...

Thanks for the identification!