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May 17, 2009

Rare marine life behavior and new species

Filed under: Philippines,Travels — stephane @ 12:12 am
Lizardfish attempting to eat a frogfish Lizardfish attempting to eat a frogfish Lizardfish attempting to eat a frogfish Lizardfish attempting to eat a frogfish

One of the nice thing about diving is that it gives you the privilege to see what most people do not see. The ocean covering 75% of our planet means that there are numerous species that are still unknown to science and behavior of marine life still brings its share of novelties. It is not something that should be of any surprise given how limited can be the time of observation underwater for a human, but still something that we tend to forget.

Doing underwater photography also clearly makes you discover yet another world which are the colors that one cannot see underwater. Typically, white appears bluish at the surface and past 5m red starts to look dark sometimes appearing entirely black. Usage of strobes underwater brings to our eyes a world full of intense colors.

A few weeks ago, I was diving in Anilao in the Philippines with a group of friends, all of us doing underwater photography as a hobby and we were able to observe an extremely rare behavior: a lizardfish attempting to eat a frogfish. While for the casual reader this may sound relatively boring, one has to know that frogfish are particular to underwater photographers as they are a subject of choice due to their particular feature: the first dorsal spine is modified as a fishing lure to attract prey.. and they have unique ‘facial’ characteristics. Moreover, observing predatory behavior underwater is also pretty rare in itself for the reason mentioned earlier.

The particularity about this event was the reaction of the frogfish which self-inflated in a defensive behavior and put the lizardfish with quite a mouthful. While this behavior was known by science, it has apparently never been observed widely nor even photographed. I stayed more than 30min around the lizardfish that did a couple of quick release/catch to try different angles without much success, the frogfish was still alive and ‘breathing’.

In a communication with Theodore W. Pietsch, professor and curator of fishes at the University of Washington (who recently published a paper following the discovery of a new specie of frogfish), he suggested to me that those pictures may well be the first to show this behavior and he was kind enough to quote the portion of his book Frogfishes of the world related to body inflation:

Numerous authors have commented on the ability of frogfishes to expand their stomachs enormously by swallowing large quantities of air or water, an adaptation usually attributed only to the pufferfishes (families Diodontidae and Tetraodontidae), a few filefishes (genus Brachaluteres, family Balistidae; see Clark and Gohar, 1953:46, fig. 12), and swell sharks (genus Cephaloscyllium, family Scyliorhinidae). The capacity to “expand their bellies like a balloon”; was first recognized by Marcgrave (1648:150) and later confirmed by Commerson (ca. 1770; MSS 889, 891), Cuvier (1817b:422), Swainson (1838:202), Valenciennes (1837:389), Gunther (1861:184), and a host of twentieth-century authors including Jordan and Sindo (1902:367), Gregory (1933:388), Gordon (1938:20), Schmitt (in Longley and Hildebrand, 1941:304, 305), Barbour (1942:31), Schmitt and Longley (in Schultz, 1957:52), Bohlke and Chaplin (1968:714, 718), Randall (1968:291), and Halstead (1978:354). In the most significant of these many reports, Gordon (1938:20) wrote that Histrio histrio sometimes “uses the quick gulping technique for self-defense. If it is attacked by a larger fish,. . . [it] throws open its jaws, swallows water as it is on the point of being devoured, and instantly pumps itself up to an unexpected size. Thus the swallower is forced to cough up the swallowee.” In summary, a survey of the literature strongly suggests that body inflation is an often-used defensive response in frogfishes, functioning to ward off potential predators or to defend a feeding or shelter site from intra- and interspecific competitors.

It is true that at least some species of frogfishes (Antennarius striatus, A. hispidus, A. ocellatus, A. radiosus, and Histrio histrio) inflate themselves with air when removed from the water, but initiating this response nearly always takes a considerable amount of poking and manipulation on the part of the experimenter. Furthermore, in all of our 14 years of experience in maintaining living antennariids in laboratory aquaria, often harassing the animals beyond what might be expected under natural circumstances, we have not witnessed a single case of body inflation due to swallowing water. Thus we conclude that reports of frogfishes that have inflated themselves with water-filled stomachs, if not false, describe something that occurs very infrequently in nature and is perhaps an ability confined to H. histrio. We also conclude that observations of inflation by swallowing large quantities of air have all resulted from human removal of frogfishes from their natural medium.

Gunther (1861:184) went further than most by suggesting that body inflation provides a mechanism for dispersal: frogfishes are “enabled, by filling the spacious stomach with air, to sustain themselves on the surface of the water. . . . They are therefore found in the open sea as well as near the coasts, and being bad swimmers, are driven with the currents into which they happen to fall.” Jordan and Sindo (1902:367), in apparent reference to Gunther (1861), added that they are “therefore widely dispersed by the currents of the sea.” Although some antennariids, particularly Histrio histrio, may drift on the surface in an inflated state for short distances, it seems very unlikely that geographic distributions have been altered substantially in this way.

Unspecified FrogfishIn addition, as confirmed by Rachel Arnold from the University of Washington, this frogfish is also a specie is yet to be described. As it is, it seems to be at this time relatively common to a particular area where we have been diving in Anilao as I have had pictures of about a dozen different one of various patterns and colors such as the grey one on the left. More will be available on Flickr in the next couple of days as I continue to go through all the shots taken during this period.

June 7, 2008

Philippines Underwater Pictures available on Flickr

Filed under: Philippines,Travels — stephane @ 12:55 am
Red  Painted Frogfish

I’m still reviewing over and over the pictures I took during my dive trip to the Philippines, over 75 of them are now online on Flickr where you can see the slideshow. I suspect I’m at about 60% of the reviewing work and I should probably manage to get 120 worthy shots online by the end of the month. I’m so far extremely pleased (and pleasantly surprised) by all the feedback I received from friends and colleagues about it and this is heart-warming and encouraging.

I got a few questions whether I thought about selling pictures and such, and no this is not something that exactly crossed my mind, but …now with so many questions.. i’m thinking: ‘why not’. Mainly as experiment, as it is in those days much easier than before.. and I’m pretty intrigued by it. If people want to buy a print well I would be extremely happy about it and this is further encouragement. I would first need to be my first customer however and would need to spend some money doing some prints to evaluate the quality that I can expect out of it.

That said, don’t hesitate to comment on pictures, it will give me an idea of the one that you like best !

There will be more amazing underwater critters published this month, so if you want to see them, the best way is probably to subscribe to the photostream rss feed.

May 26, 2008

Back from the Philippines

Filed under: Philippines,Travels — stephane @ 4:35 am
Pufferfish and soft corals on Ducomi Pier

I’m finally back from the Philippines and what a great trip that was. Being in the KLM aircraft was already a cultural shock with such a crappy crew.

Nonetheless, exception of this intense Dutch cultural shock the stay in the Philippines was awesome and certainly beats Sulawesi in term of reef richness especially as we have only been scratching the surface of it. Special thanks to our Pinoy friends: Doy Tan, Adrien Uichico (who also happen to manage the resort Dive Solana and has some absolutely amazing shots) and lovely Cris for her contagious smile.

When arriving in Manila, courtesy of Doy and Cris I had the opportunity to taste some locale delicacies such as pork cheeks, tuna stomach, raw squids and fish, chicken liver and other things I forgot but left me the next day with still a very distinctive taste in the mouth (I have to say I’ll pass on the raw squid next time or dip that in a proper sauce). Certainly worth doing again next time I’m going to Manila.

A couple of other interesting experience in a bar in Makati and a night in Dumaguete. It’s also very disconcerting to have that many girls giggling and telling you you’re guapo everywhere you go and not exactly shy. Good for the ego I guess. Will consider relocating to the Philippines later.

Our first week in Dauin was altered by the rest of a typhoon which in essence meant bad weather, choppy sea, bad visibility but the house-reef has enough critters to keep you busy for hundred of dives. The next week was much better with sun and good visibility (wide angle shots on the Ducomi Pier were taken with 20+m viz).

About the full KLM experience: No greetings when boarding the plane, appalling service where the hostesses would have happily throw you the drinks in your face, they throw more items on the floor than I have ever seen: water, bread, cans, juice, coffee, … and how shocking to see grumpy 6′ hostesses walking like farmers when you’ve been in the Philippines.

When arriving in Schiphol the train to Leiden was not working and was replaced by a bus service… little did they forget that people actually coming from an international airport do have baggages and it could help to have bus where there is room for baggages. Witnessing the NS staff chatting while retired people try to put their baggage in a bus and insulting them in return when people complain it’s a crappy service is beyond believes.

Quick summary of the underwater shoot-out with the D80

Filed under: Philippines,Travels — stephane @ 4:17 am
Pink Anemonefish

This was the first trip underwater with a DSLR rig. Needless to say it is quite a change compared to the Olympus 5050, not only by the fact I need to carry an extra 10kg of gear containing housing, dome, ports, lenses, strobes, arms, chargers, batteries and whatever spare parts which happens to always be the one you don’t actually need.

The case (Kata OC-84) with the underwater gear was about 12-15kg while my backpack was having the laptop, the lenses (Sigma 105, Nikon 12-24, Nikon 10.5, Nikon 18-135), the D80 and the Hartenberger torch.

On the list of notable points during this trip:

  • I forgot my Inon adapters in a bag at home and realized this in Puerto Galera. Thanks to Doy and Adrien, they sent me one pair from Manila and it arrived the next day.
  • Forgot to change the auto ISO settings and only looked at the pictures after the 2nd day. It was constantly picking up ISO 1600 when shooting (low-light focus), so needless to say that most pictures are all very grainy and not quite usable with a few exceptions. I switched later to put ISO 200 as a maximum in order to get some extra stops and save strobe batteries.
  • Getting used to the DSLR viewfinder underwater despite the magnifier takes a bit of time compared to the P&S live view on the LCD. It takes a bit of trial and error to do perfect composition, in extreme macro shot sometimes you shoot what you think is perfectly composed and you’re actually off and have 1/3 full of negative space
  • The Fantasea focus light does not quite have a sufficiently large beam and sometimes on tiny dark subjects I was fighting to position the beam properly. A larger beam and also a more flexible arm would be welcome.
  • The Sigma 105 macro with an Anthias wet diopter was great. The Sigma is however a bit slow to focus and sometimes a bit hunting in low light and focus on black or very dark object is next to impossible without larger focus light (see above). The 105 was giving extra range when shooting shy medium-size objects (think small cuttlefish) and the diopter was cutting the focal distance when doing close-up macro.
  • I missed the Nikon 60mm macro. I borrowed it from Bob from time to time and it is sharp and _very_ fast to focus. Per Bob’s recommendation only buy the old lens version and not the VR one as even with the VR disabled the focus is slow. The 60mm allows very close focus and is nice for full frame fish (I cannot fit a giant frogfish into the 105 for instance)
  • Wide angle was much more difficult than anticipated and had my share of surprise between bad focus, dirty dome on the corners, dome shade badly positioned (nice curves on the corner with the 10.5mm). Only did 5 dives with wide angle. 3 dives with the 12/24 on Apo Island (deleted everything) and 2 dives with the 10.5mm on Ducomi Pier (a few keepers)
  • The 10.5mm port is now stuck into the dome and need to find a key to remove it. I broke a low-profile pad on the housing while trying to unscrew it.
  • The Nikon D80 is hyper-sensitive for sunburst and not quite useless but is far away from the Fuji S5 rendition.
  • It takes time to get used to the dive being a ‘one-lens’ type of dive. With the P&S you’re used to switch between a macro lens, a wide angle or nothing with the subjects you encounter, here you mostly have to move on or be creative in a different way. Not much you can do when you’re actually next to a large green turtle and you have the 105mm on.

I’m contemplating going back to the Philippines end of this summer (low-season) for more practice :)

April 27, 2008

Arrived in Manila… and the joy of flying Business

Filed under: Philippines,Travels — stephane @ 5:06 am

Made it without any problem to Manila..Schiphol was incredibly packed but arriving nearly 2h30 before allowed to make it without too much trouble thanks to Flying Blue Elite member. That cut the queue by at least 300m. After boarding, I had a pleasant surprise as an hostess proposed me to move to business class. I suspect it was due to overbooking so they just gave me a business class seat and gave my seat to someone else.
– “Excuse me, are you Mr Bailliez”
– “Yes indeed”
– “Do you mind changing your seat and take a seat in Business Class instead ?”
– “Absolutely not !”

I’m not going to decline a 170-degree recline seat for a 12-hour flight ! :-)

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