Saturday, January 29, 2011

Jan Dive Trip to Mindoro "A writhing mass" Day 5`

Jan 19, 2011 Wednesday
Day 5

We had two pretty decent dives today. We still don’t have access to a boat so we are keeping pretty much right out in front of the hotel’s waterfront, but this place has such great diving so close to it that I have absolutely no complaints at all. On both dives we headed straight out to the buoy at 35 feet down about 60 yards out and then headed mostly east on a zigzagging exploratory course until our air forced us to make our way back to the pier.

I’ve now done at least 35 dives at about an hour each and I have to say that I’m feeling more and more comfortable and confident in what I’m doing down there. For instance, when I started I could not even get to ten feet in depth without having to pause while I struggled to clear my inner ear squeeze. Now, Don never has to wait for me to equalize my ear pressure at all; even when we go to depth I’m right with him and ready with a thumb up when he checks on my status.

Another mark of improvement is my breathing; today is the first time I’ve ever finished with two hundred pounds more air than him; in the past we would end our dives with me close to empty while he still had more than 700 lbs left. All this comes from being more relaxed in the water, and from practice. New divers with similar problems, take heart, if I can improve, anyone can.

So dive number one lasted 70 minutes with the deepest depth of nearly 70 feet reached; the second one was only 65 minutes and we kept it mostly between 35 and 50 feet. You always try to make your first dive the deepest one for nitrogen off-gassing reasons.

On the second dive poor Don found himself in a state of self-induced misery as he could never really see clearly through his mask. His girlfriend had asked him if he would like another coat of anti-fog fluid applied, but for some reason he told her not to worry about it. He spent the entire time swishing water in the faceplate but to no avail. As for me, I am quite satisfied to use two dots of baby shampoo rubbed vigorously into each side on the inside of the faceplate and I never have a problem—works good, lasts long time. Thank you Dave Baker!

I’m going to try something a little different this post; I will make a sort of running commentary of what I saw during my dives today. I will do this by reviewing the snapshots and film footage from my Canon G-11 camera as follows:

For the first time ever I was able to video a swimming lion fish. I think maybe the cold water is making them sluggish and less stealthy—no complaints from me.

I made one pretty long video (the abridged version is below) during the day’s first dive of teeming undersea life, including an Avatar-like (from the movie) orange flower looking anemone that disappears into its hole as the camera gets too near. They are actually called tube anemones for the obvious reason. The visibility at that depth, which was between 40 and 50 feet was outstanding, especially considering how occluded it was in shallower waters. How can anyone grow jaded at the sight of the colors and variety of fish species, their sheer number is stunning—surely it’s not possible to get tired of it, absolutely sublime!

I spotted two different types of colorful little slug like creatures called nudibranchs—on the first dive I found a blue, black and white longitudinally striped one with a yellow crest on one end, perhaps its head. Anyway, I guess the crest is at its head end, although I can’t be sure since I didn’t see it moving. There are also a couple of yellow spikes at the other end. All in all, its color scheme is quite striking. After a quick search in wikipedia I learned that this particular blue, white and yellow type is called a Chromodoris lochi.

The second apparent nudibranch I decided to film because it was moving around, albeit slowly. It is very snail-like in shape and movement, but it has two sets of “horns” comparable (sort of) to the retractable eyestalks on land snails. On second thought on this nudibranch the front appendages actually look more like antlers, especially when the photo is enlarged. These front antler-horns are bright red while the back middle ones are dark, the same as the top side of its body. Well, wait; these rear appendages don’t resemble the front ones much at all, as there are actually three of them. I really need to research the creature so I can properly call its body parts what they are. The top of this crawling creature is very dark, perhaps black, while its bottom side is white; actually, its appearance reminds me of how a killer whale is set up in color. Oh, and to top it all off there are small bright blue bits to it as well, on its “fore” and “aft.” It’s an absolutely amazing looking little creature—maybe God was feeling a bit punchy when he threw that one together? Anyway, check it out for yourself on the video I took of it:

I also videoed an interesting sea urchin with barber pole-like dark and light stripes on its quills as compared to the normal all blackish ones on the more numerous style of longer quilled urchins. In this same video is an anemone with very cool flower-like rubbery appendages. While taking this footage I suddenly noticed a spiny little bug eyed fish which I pestered and closely followed until it finally took off faster than I could swim.

And take a close look at a photo I took of the sea urchin that I later learned is called the double spined urchin or banded sea urchin, Echinothrix calamaris. Or don't take a close look, I'll enlarge it for you. See the eye of the porkupine fish? It's kind of creepy. I never noticed it until I happened to enlarge the photo later. Also, see the sphere in the center of the banded sea urchin? According to Wikipedia, THAT is it's anus. NO way! Is this stuff interesting or what!

I always feel compelled to look down into the maw of the big barrel corals (or maybe they are a type of sponge?). Usually there is nothing but a few broken pieces of coral or other bits of unidentifiable flotsam lying in the bottom. But this time I looked into one and discovered something pretty cool—three juvenile lion fish—fish which during this trip appear to be everywhere on every dive. Before this dive trip it seemed I hardly ever saw any.

It occurred to me today while seeing all these now ubiquitous lion fish that from afar they resemble feather stars, which I don’t believe are much desired as food by many predators. So, maybe that’s how lion fish developed those incredible decorative featherlike spines, as a form of camouflage protection. Check out the two photos here, one of a zebra-striped lionfish and then of the black and white feather star--notice the similarity?
The pics I snapped of these three particular “barrel-dwellers” (see the pic of them above) without the flash they appear blandly dark and light in color, but in one or two that I snapped with the strobe you can see they are quite colorful, with variations of brown and tan stripes and speckles. No matter how many lionfish I see, even now that I see them almost every dive, I am fascinated by them.

Speaking of being fascinated by certain creatures, hermit crabs have interested me since I saw my first one when I was no more than 5 or 6. This time I found one at depth, over 30 feet down, which I thought unusual; and unlike the ones I played with yesterday in the shallows near the jetty, this one wasn’t very cooperative, although he was a bit larger. I do enjoy those interlopers, for some reason they really appeal to me. Maybe because it never fails to freak me out when unexpectedly a crab with its mass of legs, pincers and whiskers comes out of what I supposed to be an unoccupied shell.

Interestingly, we found an ancient mysterious chain that is frozen in the strangest most unlikely shape, as if it was wrapped around something that is no longer there, perhaps a barrel; or maybe it was massed up over the logs of a long gone sunken ship that rotted away. The links are from a substantial chain, probably an anchor chain, and are so covered with underwater overgrowth that I almost didn’t notice it. I’ll bet that chain has been down there for decades, maybe longer—if it could only talk!

I peered into a small basket cave, which is what I call little caverns inside old rotted out coral formations. This one was inside an ancient giant coral lump about six feet high, about half as big as a VW Beetle. Craning my head while lying flat on the seabottom to peer into the murky hole at its base I could hardly see anything but darkly roiling movement. It looked extremely promising so I broke out my dive light to investigate.

There, way in the back, was a writhing mass of whiskered striped fish (I assume they are a type of catfish, but I need to look these things up and find out) Each one about 6 to 7 inches long, there must have been a couple hundred of them. The small nearly invisible entrance was guarded on one side by the sharp spines of several sea urchins, and I paid dearly for the privilege of taking these photos, my right forearm sustaining several spine punctures. I didn’t mind at all; seeing that squirming mass of fish life was worth every painful perforation!

Ah success, I found this fish on Wikipedia. It's called the striped eel catfish (Plotosus lineatus). According to the site: "this type of catfish, as juveniles, often form dense aggregations; in P. lineatus juveniles form dense ball-shaped schools of about 100 fish, while adults are solitary or occur in smaller groups of around 20 and are known to hide under ledges during the day."

So, I must have discovered a nest of young ones. The info site on P. lineatus goes on to state that the barbs of these fish are extremely dangerous, even fatal; another reason NOT to touch anything and to wear gloves in case you do. I just wish that I would have thought to take a video of this intriguing fish behavior; it would have looked really cool.


Ed said...

I haven't been commenting but I enjoy the videos and pictures from your diving expeditions. I even like the soundtrack of your bubbles being expelled. I feel like I am inside some aquarium.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Glad youre enjoying them... I've been reading w/o commenting as well. Been staying away from anything political; the state of "things" back there is just more than i can stomach. American society is so coarse rude and selfish and getting worse. Been in a self isolationist mode. Can't go wrong by staying close to nature though...

Ed said...

Amen to that.