Friday, May 30, 2014

First Look at the Lembeh Strait

 Diving from dawn to dusk, trading underwater stories from around the world, some of the best muck diving in the world, capped off with sunsets behind a huge volcano...this is how Heidi and I spent our week on Lembeh Island. This was our second time staying at NAD Lembeh Dive Resort. The guides here are pretty incredible at what they do. They are not dive masters, they are not there to check your air, or count off your safety stop, they are there to find critters.

  The black sand and rubble fields in the Lembeh Strait contain some of wildest marine creatures. If you are an avid scuba diver and things like wonderpus, hairy frogfish, and flamboyant cuttlefish are on your life list of creatures to see then head to the Lembeh Strait. Relatively mild currents, the abundance of spectacular wildlife, and the characteristic black sand of this area make the Lembeh Strait a favorite destination for underwater photographers. Heidi and I did 40 dives between the two of us over our week at Lembeh.
  Stay tuned for some crazy critters.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Bizarre and Wondrous Fish of Tulamben

Can you see the pipefish?
  As you have seen from the last posts, there is amazing biodiversity in Indonesia's waters. A lot of these unusual animals are very small so it takes a trained eye to find them. This post focuses on some of the more bizarre and colorful fish that are found in Indonesia, specifically ones that I came into contact with while diving off Tulamben with Phoebe, Erica, and Heidi. These fish came in all sizes from a blade-of-grass sized pipefish to an eighty pound bumphead parrotfish.

Robust Ghost Pipefish
But what connects all of the fish pictured here is the fact that they are either beautifully colored, or have extraordinary body shapes which fit them into the bizarre and wondrous category by yours truly.

Bumphead parrotfish among the wreckage of the US Liberty

Pics for Sale
  Anemone fish like those pictured to the left always make for some of my favorite photographic subjects. Not only are they beautifully colored but their anemone homes provide the perfect background. I was very surprised to come across these three pink anemonefish whose home anemone had closed up. However there was still room for the fish to dive back inside its protective stinging tentacles and disappear out of sight.
Juvenile Frogfish
  This tiny orange frogfish on the other hand stayed perfectly still, hoping its camouflage would hide it from predator and prey alike. Camouflage fish are another favorite of underwater photographers because of the interesting coloration and patterns coupled with the fact that they usually stay still and pose for the camera.

Juvenile Emperor Angelfish
   The juvenile emperor angelfish on the other hand does anything but stay still. This particular angelfish was so timid and flighty that it took me several tries to actually get him in the photo frame! Patience paid off though as he might boast the most amazing patterns and indigo blue color of any fish we saw.
   Wrasses like the one to the right often have beautiful coloration. They are one of the largest families of fish with over 600 species found throughout the worlds oceans.

Ornate Ghost Pipefish
On the hunt
  This post would not be complete without a look at the ornate ghost pipefish. This was a very rare treat and quickly became Erica's favorite find which is saying a lot. These beautiful fish look like a cross between a pipefish and a seahorse. It seemed unfazed by our presence as it continued to hunt in the sand along the slope.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Squid, Crabs, Shrimp and more from Tulamben, Bali

Tiny free swimming bobtail squid
  While searching for nudibranchs in the waters off Tulamben, we found a lot of other wondrous creatures to keep the camera firing. Our local dive guide Tisnu spotted a tiny swimming speck which turned out to be a baby bobtail squid. I fought for a few minutes trying to focus on and snap a picture. I will say it was a hundred times easier when the squid landed on a nearby hydroid.

Pipefish Camouflage
Crabs blended in with their surroundings and shrimp found interesting homes on the underside of sea stars and on a single piece of wire coral. While most of these methods of camouflage are for defense, the giant mantis shrimp needs no such thing.

Sea Star Shrimp
  The giant mantis shrimp looks like a medium size lobster when totally out of its hole. But usually prey won't get that chance to see that. This giant shrimp sits deep within its burrow, with only its two complex eyes poking up, stalking the possible prey nearby.

Giant Mantis Shrimp

Crinoid Shrimp
Jeweled Anemone Shrimp
  Tisnu continued to have a great eye both at night and during the day for some truly amazing macro critters. Our biggest crab find came when Tisnu found a small boxer crab, aka pom pom crab, in about 10ft of water in a rubble field. These beautiful crabs may have the wildest defensive strategy discovered yet.

Let the search begin
   Boxer crabs are well known for their mutualistic relationship with sea anemones, which they hold in their claws for defense. The anemones have stinging cells similar to jelly fish. It is not vital to the crab's survival to carry around these anemones as some have been found surviving without. However all of the boxer crabs that I have seen have had them.

Boxer, or Pom Pom crab

There is something special about this boxer crab, a bunch of eggs attached on the underside. Lots of little boxer crabs to find on future dives!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Nudibranchs of Tulamben

Mexichromis multituberculata
Hypselodoris emma
  Exploring the black sandy slopes around Tulamben, Bali will reveal a world of wild and colorful creatures, but the treasure for us nudibranch enthusiast are some of the richest grounds for sea slug species anywhere in the world. These pictures represent only a sampling of the nudibranchs we saw over our 8 dives in Tulamben.
Glossodoris cincta
Cuthona sp.1
 These beautiful sea slugs ranged in size from a foot long spanish dancer to a microscopic  nudibranch that I didn't even know it was a nudibranch until I blew up the picture afterwards.

Red Line Flabellina
  The wild patterns and colors can blow your mind if you haven't been exposed to nudibranchs before. Many can be found on brightly colored sponges, soft coral, or hydroids. While the shipwreck is the main draw for scuba divers here in Tulamben it is animals like nudibranchs that will keep divers entertained for weeks and coming back for more. I know I am already looking forward to the next time I get the opportunity to go on a nudibranch hunt here.

Risbecia tryoni

Risbecia tryoni with a commensal Imperial Shrimp

Glossodoris astromarginata

Hypselodoris bullockii

Jorunna funebris
Hypselodoris whitei

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sunrise Bumphead Parrotfish Dive, Tulamben, Bali

Bumphead Parrotfish
Sunrise at Tulamben Beach
There is no time to sleep-in here in Tulamben. Doing a late night dive searching for nocturnal creatures isn't an excuse to miss the very special dive that happens at 5:30am every morning. Sometime late at night, a resident school of bumphead parrotfish make their way back to the wreck of the U.S. Liberty to sleep into the morning. Different fish have different sleeping or resting methods. Bumphead parrotfish rest by floating motionless just off the sandy bottom with all of their buddies. Unlike small fish who have to hide at night so they aren't eaten, the bumphead parrotfish's massive size is defense enough. Floating together in a large group can make them look even more intimidating.

Part of the school
  If you are one of the first groups of the day in the water here at Tulumben, you have a good chance of hanging out with these big fish. Their clown like grins and beautiful blue green colors make them a favorite of scuba divers and photographers alike.
  Phoebe, Erica, and I met up with our dive guides Tisnu and Eka at 5:30am, before sunrise. We were determined to be the first ones in the water. Soon after descending, the outlines of these huge fish emerged out of the darkness. We floated as part of the school as the sun rose above us. Small movements suggested the parrotfish slowly waking up as more and more divers showed up around us. After some time we left the school to descend further and explore the wreck.

Bumphead Parrotfish in the wreck
  We had a few more encounters with bumphead parrotfish throughout our dive but attention quickly turned towards the soft coral covering this massive wreck and all of the macro critters calling it home. Every part of the old WWI wreck is covered with living organisms. It is amazing to think that the wreckage has only been under water since 1963.

  It is hard to envision the form of the ship as it must have been before time and waves had taken their toll on it. The sights of an old anchor, a hatch wheel, and a massive hold still give the impression of a once working ship.

Phoebe and Erica inside the wreck
Scuba Diving inside the US Liberty