Sunday, March 31, 2013

20 Different Nudibranchs On One Dive in Maui

Unidentified Discodorid #9
   I talk to other scuba divers here on Maui and they've seen a couple different kinds of nudibranchs, maybe a dozen. Dive masters leading trips every day may have seen twenty or so over their years here. Heidi, Felipe, and I just found twenty nudibranch one dive! Who says you have to go to Indonesia or the Philippines to go muck diving for the strange and rare?

Aldisa pikoko
Some of the more common species of nudibranchs made appearances like the trembling, imperial, snow goddess and spanish dancer. We had a couple of new species spotted on this dive as well. It is easy to see from the pictures why we search out these sea slugs. There is just nothing else out there quite like them.

Catriona sp.1
And I feel like despite their best efforts at being brightly colored and wildly patterned they still are not seen by many divers due to their small size, lack of fast motion, and the brightly colored sponges and coral that also dot the reef.

Plocamopherus ceylonicus
Tambja morosa

Platydoris sp.#2
When we find nudibranchs that we have never seen before we often have to scour the online seaslugs of hawaii database. A few of my pictures have been featured on the site, however we have yet to find a new nudibranch. I feel its just a matter of time before we discover a new species if we keep up our searching.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

ID'ing a Manta Ray

  Out on the kayak noticing a bunch of stuff drifting in the water Heidi commented she was surprised we didn't see more whale sharks or manta rays. Well she got half of her wish when a little bit later she noticed the wing tip of this 7ft manta barely breaking the surface. I grabbed my camera and immediately jumped in to try and snag a few manta ID shots for my buddy Ben.

 It was tough getting a good shot through all the plankton bloom. Usually our water is so clear, especially when you get a ways off shore but not today. Maybe the coral had started blooming as we are near the full moon. This would make sense as I followed this manta up and down the coral fingers about 50ft down. Every once in a while the manta would come up near the surface or do a beautiful barrel roll showing off its underside. It took me about half an hour to snag these shots of the underside but hopefully they are good enough to use for ID shots. Researchers can track individual mantas over their entire life and range just by using the distinct black markings on their undersides.
 Heidi snagged some snippets of the manta with my new goPro video camera as well.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Nudibranchs, Frogfish, Colors, and Camouflage

  Nudibranchs are a macro photographer's dream animal. They move slowly and boast some of the most vibrant colors and patterns of any underwater wildlife. Yet with all of their brightness it is still quite easy to miss them thanks to all the other colors in the reef. Our eyes are trained to look for movement so we glance right past the hiding octopus, the camouflaged scorpionfish, and even the ostentatious nudibranch....but not on this dive.
Baby frogfish number one was tucked down into the rock, peering up at his reflection in the lens as I got in close for this shot on the left. Heidi found another wedged in amongst coral polyps. These juveniles will someday grow into volleyball size adults one day if they can avoid all the dangers on the reef.
Now this guy was a real tough find. Once again master spotter Heidi pointed him out to me. I initially saw the fin but only the fin. I was amazed when I focused on the entire area and realized it was all one big scorpionfish! I have seen different kinds of scorpionfish on our Hawaiian reefs before but none as beautifully camouflaged as this one. Check out the way his skin grows to mimic the surroundings.

No conversation about camouflage on the reef is complete without an appearance by the master himself...the octopus. Changing the texture of its skin, the color, and the pattern give this reef dweller the ability to ambush its prey and to evade its predators. This collector urchin puts in a valiant effort and gets an honorable mention in the camouflage story hiding under this tiny rock.  

Some of these pictures and more can be found for sale at my website.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Diving with Hunter, Michael, and Heidi

Dive 1: Ukumehame
Michael with a Titan's Trumpet Snail
 With the hope of finding manta rays and the thought that it may be the only time I get to dive with Michael we geared up and swam out from Ukumehame beach park despite some unruly looking water conditions and murky water. Sunset is supposed to be the time to see the mantas so add low light to the list and you've got yourself a very challenging dive. Zero visibility greeted us and stayed with us all the way out to the drop down spot, about half a mile offshore. The viz became 30' or so out here so we did get a chance to see some fun fish amongst the finger coral and a couple of moray eels as well. The mantas seemed shy this time and we didn't have a spotting until the last second, when a big beautiful manta silently swooped into my view. I furiously banged my tank banger and got Heidi and Hunter's attention so they could see it. Unfortunately Michael was already out of air so forced to stay at the surface. Always leave something for next time!

Dive 2: Five Graves

Hunter peering into an underwater cave

Five graves is always a great option for a shore dive along Maui's south shore. Turtles utilize the many caves, ledges, and caverns to rest out of sight of would be predators. You can also see nocturnal animals hiding in the caves during the daytime if you have an underwater flashlight.
Hunter and I grabbed some tanks and headed here late one afternoon, racing the setting sun. We both took lights which turned out to be not just useful in searching the caves but necessary as the afternoon dive quickly turned into a night dive after the sun set while we were still under.
Challenging conditions persisted with south winds, reduced visibility, and heavy surge in the shallows. We managed to find some fun critters but this picture of Hunter entering one of the caves summed up the experience for me. It was a great time for me to try out my wide angle lens for cave shots.

Dive 3: Black Rock, Ka'anapali

Finally the conditions are improving. Hunter and I met Michael up at Ka'anapali beach behind the Sheraton to do a Black Rock dive. Again we were racing the sun but this time we had plenty of time. So we went slow, looked for little stuff, and were rewarded with leaf scorpion fish, pipefish, moray eels, and even some turtle fly-bys. The best way to do Black Rock is to put in on the Sheraton side of the rocky cliff, swim out to the point, drop down, and head all the way to airport beach. Then you can send a runner back to the car to come pick everyone else up.
Juvenile Long Nose Butterfly Fish

Lizardfish close-up

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Humback Whale Breach Series

 I have been tackling the challenge of having humpback whales as a subject for my wildlife photography for the past three winters and it is finally paying off. Spending so much time with the whales has given me a greater understanding into how they spend their time here in Hawaiian waters. However some behaviors, like this breach, are still as unpredictable as the first time I saw it.
  If you are a wildlife photographer looking for a chance to try to capture whales in action there is no better place than Maui during the winter. The waters are dense with whales and they are very close to shore. In fact if you go out farther than 600' deep you stop seeing humpbacks. Those two characteristics plus the fact that these humpbacks are some of the most acrobatic and playful whales in the world make Maui a one of a kind whale experience.
 Scroll down quickly for the full effect of this 75,000lbs animal breaching out of the water.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hiking Iao Valley: Beyond the Signs

Many people drive just outside of Wailuku, Maui to see the famous Iao Needle. It is part of a ridge line that has survived the test of time while the rest of the ridge eroded away under the incredible amount of rainfall in the West Maui Mountains. Evidence of this water can even be seen on beautiful, clear, sunny days like this one in streams that constantly flow down to the valley floor.

My good friend Hunter and I decided to explore the trails leading away from the beaten path at Iao. I've heard of people trying to make it all the way through to Lahaina, only to be turned back by a steep precipice or an unclimbable waterfall. However following the streams in either direction take you to some hidden area not often visited. Suddenly you have a lush Hawaiian valley all to yourself to enjoy the sounds of nature all around you.

Iao has a storied past as the site of one of the bloodiest battles during King Kamehameha's conquest of the islands. Maui's warriors backed into the valley ala '300' style only to lose in the end to Kamehameha's superior firepower. It is said that lookouts were stationed at the very top of the needle. How they got there and how they got back down are still a mystery to me.

   If you are looking for an easy hike or a hard hike this could be your place. Either way I suggest taking the time to see the true beauty of Iao Valley.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Turtle Town: Beyond the Turtles

Saddleback Butterfly Fish
Hundreds of snorkelers kick over the coral reef at Five Graves, a.k.a. Turtle Town every day here in Maui. It is an amazing place to see turtles and lots of other popular reef fish. But almost none of these people will get a chance to see what is hiding down in the reef, camouflaging in, and lurking in the cracks and crevices. That was our mission as we donned scuba gear and headed in with my macro lens. And as always, Turtle Town did not disappoint.
Longfin Anthias
    Rare and timid Saddleback Butterflyfish perused the reef in tandem. They are one of the rarer butterflyfish species seen here in Maui and I had never been able to snap a good picture before as they are notoriously skittish. Moray eels stared out from cracks in the reef, baring their teeth and looking quite menacing. I have the utmost respect for their hunting abilities after watching a fish disappear before my eyes into a striking moray eel's mouth. Even so, I sometimes do get a bit close with my camera acting as a shield. Every once in a while an eel pokes its head out a little farther to check out the eel looking back at it in the reflection of the lens.

Baby Frogfish
Eye of the Octo
 A big day octopus hid away from all the eels but not my camera on this dive. I was quite impressed when I looked down to change to my camera settings, looked up and couldn't find the octopus again. Vanished into thin air.
  But the big find of the dive were two baby frogfish and a longfin anthias. Check out the pictures to see just how cute these fish can be.