ID Insanity.

One of my favorite aspects of diving is looking up the fish and critters I photographed during the dive to learn what they are. While I’m not great at retaining the knowledge, especially with places I only visit infrequently (or just once), I enjoy knowing what I saw. I also try to log the names as keywords in Lightroom so I can reference them later.

Of course there are always those critters that don’t quite match the options available in my book and you start to wonder. Could it be? Maybe it’s? Hmm, I wonder….

Luckily for me, we live in a digital age, where I can upload a photo into google image search, add a keyword and bring up all the similar images floating around the interweb… mystery critter no longer!

This was the case for one of my nudibranch from the 2013 Anilao trip. In my book there were a few possibilities, but none of the photos matched. My nudi had white bumps when all of the pictures had orange or yellow bumps. Another species had major variation with either orange or white bumps, but I dismissed it because it still was not quite what I had seen. Turns out I was wrong. That last species was the winner, thanks to a google image search which brought up several matching nudis, more than one of which was labelled Phyllidia ocellata. While you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, I feel pretty confident that its a good ID. I guess I should have put more faith in the first two words on that entry in my Reef Creature Guide…. “Highly Variable”.

Hello Phyllidia ocellata.

Phyllidia ocellata

Phyllidia ocellata

Anilao Nudibranch Heaven.

Anilao is known as the nudibranch capital of the world and for good reason. Not only are you apt to find a nudi on every dive, but its very likely that you can find a different nudi on every dive (or several different nudi’s). In 2013 I got my first chance to dive Anilao, in Batangas, Philippines, as a trip leader for Bluewater Photo. Nervous, as it was my first time leading a trip… let alone my first ever international diving trip, it all ended up going very well. We had a great group of guests, really enjoyed the resort (Crystal Blue), and my co-leader, Ron, was excellent.

I had heard tales of the variety of life found throughout the Anilao region and had perused through some fish and invertebrate ID books prior to the trip but was still floored by the incredible biodiversity found on every dive. This region varies from beautiful coral reefs to seemingly barren, sandy muck dives. The knowledgeable guides really make the trip, as they know where to find unique critters and help you discover all the treasures hiding throughout the dive.

I love the various colors, shapes and sizes of nudibranchs found throughout the world and getting to dive in Anilao was amazing. Here are just a sample of what I saw throughout my (too short) week diving with the hundreds of nudibranchs in Anilao. (I tried to ID them properly, but if I am incorrect, let me know in the comments!)

Ranging in size from extremely small to bigger than my fist, one of the most enjoyable parts of diving in Anilao was searching for as many different nudibranchs as I could find. It was easy to spot the Choromodoris annae as they stand out and can often be found out and about. The better camouflaged ones were often spotted by the incredibly talented guides, who know where to look and what to look for. More often then not, the guide would point at a nondescript section of reef and it would take me a few moments before I could discern the nudibranch from the surrounding environment. These of course were often the most unique sightings, and usually the ones most difficult to photograph well.

One of my favorites from Anilao is the Chromodoris willani, which I dubbed “Sparkle Butt” as its gills were speckled and looked like they sparkled. In addition to that, the Ceratosoma alleni was incredible primarily for its size and unique shape, though easy to miss despite being nearly 5 inches long as it camouflaged well with the surroundings.

There are so many more incredible nudibranch and other critters from the Philippines, way too many for one simple post, but I figured this would be a great place to start.

 

In the Nud(i).

Two weekends ago after our dive on the Midnight Hour, we headed over to a “secret” pinnacle spot that is a favorite of Sand Dollar Capt. George. I’d had a chance to dive this pinnacle before and it really is awesome. The visibility was still pretty good, but I wasn’t as worried about that, I was hunting nudibranchs. Unlike my day spent at Casino Point, this time I was not disappointed. The little slugs were everywhere, in all sizes, species and colors, swaying with the water as they clung to the rocks and plants on the pinnacle. I probably spent the full dive in about a 10′ square area on one side of the pinnacle, just moving from nudi to nudi as I looked for ones that were in good positions and places for photographing. I was able to play around with my strobes to try and create more creative lighting.

Of course I found a Spanish Shawl (Flabellina iodinea), a California Classic, and this baby was a big one. He was pretty much out in the open, allowing me to really frame him in a dynamic way, diagonally through the photo.

I found one of my favorite (because of the awesome blue color), Porter’s Chromodorid (Mexichromis porterae) which are vivid blue with two yellow stripes. Upon closer inspection I realized it was two, cuddled up with each other. I couldn’t quite get in there to be able to see the second guys’ head, but it was neat to see the two together.

I even came across a Hermissenda (Hermissenda crassicornis) chilling on a small kelp leaf.. the position you never see them in! It was facing away from me which was disappointing, but I figured it offered a good chance to try and practice a little back lighting through the kelp to highlight the little nudi. I lucked out as I started shooting the little guy turned towards me offering a nicely posed photo. The back-lighting plan didn’t work as well, but I think having one strobe behind the kelp did add to they way the kelp looks.

Lastly I got a nice classic shot of a San Diego Dorid (Diaulula sandiegensis) as he crawled across the weedy landscape.

Centennial Celebrations!

Wow, this is officially my 100th post! I started chronicling my underwater adventures in February of last year, and while 100 posts over 19 months isn’t really that much in the grand scheme of things, considering the amount that I actually get to dive (for fun) its pretty impressive! I feel giddy just like when I hit my 100th dive last year… well that giddyness might have been the Champagne. A quick digression… its amazing how once you start teaching, and are able to spend more time in the water… let alone live in Southern California… how quickly your dive number climbs. I was originally certified in July of 2003. I hit my 100th dive in August of 2010 after several years of no diving and several years of much diving. Its now about 1 year later and I’m nearly at 200 dives! Crazy town.

Anyways, It’s taken me awhile to get around to writing something, the allure of the 100th post seemed so daunting. However, I decided I’d just write about the fact that it is my 100th. Sorta lame, but I like to recognize the milestones. In case you’re looking for more here is one of the pictures from my Santa Cruz dives two weeks ago. I FINALLY got a good shot of a nudi – a Spanish Shawl. The rhinophores are in focus, the lighting is great, and you can really see the detail in the photograph. (Have I mentioned how much I’m enjoying my Olympus EPL-1? It rocks).

Just in case you really want a good look, here’s a cropped version. Look close you can even see its beady little eye. (Or I always assumed those are it’s eyes… I’m not really sure).

So that’s all for now. Happy Centennial Post to me! I’m off this weekend to explore a new type of diving, Blue Water Diving. I’ll be posting all about it next week, hopefully I’ll have some good photographs to share with you all. If not maybe I’ll steal some from my friend Carolyn who’s done several of these dives and often has stellar images! Enjoy your weekend, get out and do something fun!

Just out for a stroll.

Right at the beginning of the third dive, I came across this little Spanish Shawl crawling across the sand. Despite getting knocked side to side by the strong surge, he was actually managing to move at quite a good pace. I settled down on the sand right in front of him, trying to make him fill the frame, while also trying get the rhinophores (the red ear like parts) nicely in focus. Well, I seemed to be just off on all my shots, with these two being the best of the bunch. My macro lens creates such a shallow depth of focus that its hard to get right where I want it to be, especially with the surge I was battling. Other than the focus issues, I was really happy with the exposure and composition of these guys. I didn’t amputate any part of the nudi, I got him looking right at me and and even was able to incorporate the useful diagonal composition on the second picture to help include the whole nudibranch. It will just take more time and practice and soon I’ll have my macro shooting locked down much better! ūüôā

Pea Soup.

Saturday morning, I excitedly drove down to Long Beach to board the Sundiver Express bound for the oil rigs, one of my favorite places to dive in Southern California. As I’ve mentioned previously (here) the rigs are unique because of their three dimensionality. There’s no bottom, and the entire structure is covered with life, so you can dive along, across, up, down and around each beam and support. I’ve been on two trips previously, both of which were fantastic with great visibility, and calm seas. As we motored out to the rigs, the day appeared to be just like before, the sun was shining and the sea was flat as a pancake. Unfortunately, once we’d plunged off the boat and into the water, we discovered that the ocean was not going to be as clear as the cloudless sky. There was a ton of crap floating along, mucking up the visibility and choking out all the light at depth. Unfortunate, but not the end of the world.

This was my first real chance to use my new strobe that I had recently purchased, so regardless of the viz, I was eager to test it out. Overall the strobe worked beautifully…it fired properly, and I found that by loosening my clamps a bit I could easily move and reposition the strobe as needed. The auto focus on the camera can still be finicky, especially in the low light we had at depth, and when using the close up lens I discovered that there is a pretty small window of focus available which can make it trickier to get the focus locked. However I feel that with time, I’ll get better at it. Despite having some focus trouble in the beginning I really do love the new close up lens, the shorter depth of field really helps your subject pop out in the picture, and the ability to get a more true macro is fantastic.

The upper 50′ of the Eureka rig had been stripped last August when I last dove the oil rigs, but slowly life is starting to come back. One little critter than has come back and is thriving are the Hermissenda crassicornis, a beautiful and easily identifiable opalescent nudibranch with brown and orange cerata covering its back. Its got two oral tentacles that extend like probes off the front, and of course the two rhinophores that stick up like rabbit ears on the top of its head. Between the two rhinophores is a bright orange stripe that runs the length of its body bordered by an electric blue stripe on either side. These guys were everywhere, which made exploring the stripped section of the oil rig rather exciting. I also came across two other nudi’s; a San Diego Dorid (who had his head stuck into some coral making him impossible to photograph well, and a couple¬†Triopha maculate, though none of my shots came out in focus.

The second dive, while still fairly poor visibility, was really a trip. There were a group of sea lions lounging on the rig near where the boat dropped us off, and apparently our group was very exciting. Throughout the entire dive we had several sea lions diving down and around us before darting back up to the surface. It was fantastic and aggravating at the same time. They were great to see, and fun to watch, but trying to get a picture of one is darn near impossible because of the speed. Half the time they were gone before I even had a chance to move the camera, and more often my camera would not focus in time. I did manage (mostly luck I’m sure) to snap one shot in focus as a sea lion zoomed towards me.

His large, comical eyes are nicely in focus and he’s staring right at the camera. Add in a bit of a current wanting to pull us all off the rig structure and out into the sea made for a bit of a struggle when trying to keep the camera steady and pull of some macro shots.

Despite the poor viz, as always diving the oil rigs was a blast, and I thoroughly enjoyed practicing with my new set up. I’m really looking forward to more chances to hone my skills and start to really improve my photography skills now that I have the gear that will allow me to do so! Here’s to many more posts with better and better photography as the year progresses!

Rocking the Island Time

In desperate need to reach that golden 100th dive by July 31st I went out on the morning Island Time with a group of folks from Eco last Sunday. The waters were calm, we hit several great sites off Catalina, and overall had a blast. There was one small hiccup to my day. My wetsuit has a small tear so before leaving to go to New York I dropped it off at the shop to get fixed. Unfortunately its not back yet, so I had rented a wetsuit from the shop for the dives. I tried on one which had a built in hood, but was too small, so I grabbed the next available size up, put it on halfway which let me know it would fit well enough and headed out. What I didn’t realize was that while both suits are made by Bare, the second one I grabbed did not include a hood like the first. So I pulled it out of my bag at Catalina and went, “oh crap!” Luckily Kendra had a vest she let me borrow, which helped keep my core warm, and I managed to suck it up and deal with a cold head. Ironically it reminded me of my first ever California dives. A bit naive, I had no hood and no gloves for that first dive several years ago. It was also on the Island Time off Catalina, and occurred in July, not too far off from this dive.

Despite having to make do with out the hood I had two very nice dives. The first site we hit was called Bird Rock (for friends that join us for the Beer Fest…thats the nasty looking big rock covered in Sea Gull poop outside Two Harbors). It was overall rather shallow and had a great wall to explore. I found a nudibranch I had only seen once so far (Hermissenda). Other than the usual suspects (Garibaldi, Senorita Wrasse, Sheephead, Blacksmith, etc) I also saw a large Giant Kelpfish. Dive #2 was at a small cove between Howlands and another which I didn’t catch the name of. It was around the same depth, no more than about 50 ft deep, as the first dive, and not quite as clear. Lots of kelp and large boulders marked this site. I saw two new Nudi’s,¬† Macfarlands Chormodorid and the Mushroom Sidegill.

SS Winfield Scott

Sunday morning my buddy Neil and I drove up to Ventura for a two tank trip off Anacapa aboard the Raptor dive boat. The morning was chilly and grey with the sky spitting a few rain drops as we drove up the PCH. Luckily though, the seas were calm, and it was a smooth and quick ride over to the island. The Raptor is a great boat if you’re looking for a quick and easy Channel Islands trip. Its a smaller open boat, so everything’s going to get wet, but its fast and the service is fantastic. Between dives they offer a spread of sandwiches and fruit as well as always a hot dish, Sunday it was chili and it was delicious, especially while hanging out in the cold air after a cold dive.

The site we pulled up to was called Winfield Scott, named so because of the sidewheel steamer, SS Winfield Scott which crashed in that spot on December 1, 1853 after trying to navigate a heavy fog. It was headed from San Francisco to Panama on its usual route carrying passengers and a large cargo of approximately  $2 million in gold when it ran aground on Middle Anacapa.

Capt. Joe mentioned that this site held several interesting features, one being the remains of the wreck of the Winfield Scott, mostly the paddle wheel. Other features were a few swim throughs close to the islands and large thick kelp beds. The whole site was really shallow with anything worth seeing being no deeper than 40 feet. Neil and I joined up with Betsy, another diver in need of a buddy and we decided to head towards the island through the kelp and to the swim throughs. This was easier said than done. The kelp was thick and as we wove our way through it we quickly got off course. Finally finding a small opening in the kelp, and being at about all of 15 feet down I popped up top, signaled the boat I was okay and quickly looked around for my bearings. I noted that we were probably only 10 feet from the main swim through, but it meant navigating more kelp and we were sick of it. I realigned myself with the boat, dropped back down and we high tailed it out of there. Once back at the boat we ran into a group of students finning along mucking up the sand as they learned to control their buoyancy, so we headed in the opposite direction. I found a nudibranch I hadn’t seen yet, Hermissenda, which was exciting and we happened upon a large Sheep Crab. Other than that there was not much in that direction so we turned around and went back towards the direction of the wreck.

Nearing the end of the dive we saw a long pipe nestled on the bottom and searched around hoping to be near the wreck. I started thinking, maybe its more degraded that the captain let on until suddenly we went through a bit of kelp and Neil turned around and signaled me. Turning back he spread his arms wide as if to say, Ta Da! and there in front of us was the large side wheel structure. Around it were more bits and pieces of the remains, all fully covered with growth. Our time was short as we were nearing the end of our air, so we headed back to the boat. Luckily the captain said that the decision had been made to stay at that site for dive #2, so after a surface interval full of chili and cornbread and we were back in the water. Our plan was to keep the dive shorter, we were still chilly after our first dive of about 54 minutes, and fully explore the wreck area again. We gained a diver, Brian, after his buddy decided not to do the second dive, so the four of us headed towards the wreck. I ended up as navigator again, and I kept an eye out for the pipe that signaled us that we were in the area. Finding that we started into the kelp to find the large wheel structure. I came across a few more nudibranchs, several Spanish Shawl and another new one, Triopha maculata! Our dive ended up being a little over 40 minutes as I was engrossed in exploring the wreckage and the surround rocks hoping for more new Nudi sightings! We made it back to the boat easily, and quickly enough that I didn’t think we were there until Neil abruptly grabbed my fin and poined out that we had just swam past the anchor line!

Below is my little video around the wreck, enjoy!

Dive Logs:

Dive #1

Dive #2

Old Marineland

Last Tuesday myself and a couple friends woke at the crack of dawn and ventured down to PV to take advantage of the calm waters before the windy storm blew in. This time we were getting wet at Old Marineland, a site on the south side of the peninsula, where the new Terranea resort was recently built. This site got its name because it used to be home to Marineland of the Pacific, one of the first and largest Oceanariums that operated from 1954 to 1987 (http://www.marinelandofthepacific.org/). After years of nothing a new resort has recently been built, but the beach and diving remains open to the public. Whats great about this site now, especially compared to other shore sites around PV, is that the path to get down to the diving is paved and packed dirt. No crazy hike, just a long walk. The entry itself isn’t bad, so long as you go when the water is calm. Any actual swell at this site and you’d be getting crushed into the rocks. Its a rocky beach entry which drops off really quickly so a wave would literally pound you down. Luckily our water was nice and calm!

We had a nice smooth entry then kicked out towards a large kelp and reef to the east of the entry. I’ve been told that this is the “boring” side of the Marineland dive site, but the cool stuff is a good 20-30 minute surface swim west and we just didn’t have that kind of time!

Down we went into what looked to be pretty crappy visibility. Luckily though, as we descended deeper the water cleared some. I wouldn’t call it good, but it was fair enough and not bad for shore diving. We came up to the kelp… one of the things I always love about approaching kelp, especially in not so good viz is that it starts as just a black mass growing in the distance and doesn’t really take shape until just before reaching it. Its a bit spooky, but adds to the mystery of the temperate dives.

Our route had us cruising along the edge of the kelp until we reached our “halfway” of air consumption then turning around and heading back to the beach. We flitted in and out of the kelp and saw lots a great things. I saw a new (and my second) type of Nudibranch, finally something other than Spanish Shawl (but they were there too!) This guy was a Sea Lemon (Pelotodoris nobilis) and was quite big! I really want to get to the “cool” side of Marineland because I’ve been told that its Nudibranch City…soon my friends, soon.

This reef was great, which really makes me curious about the “cool” side of the site. We explored varied rock formations along the reef, the kelp was thick and healthy and it was littered with sea stars and fairly free of urchins. There were lots of fish, mostly the usual that you run into around So Cal… Garibaldi, Kelp Bass, Sheephead.. but they’re always fun to watch. I think the biggest drawback to the day was that it was overcast. If it had been a bright sunny morning the reef would have well lit and beautiful… that morning it was a bit dark and beautiful.

Unfortunately for me, the batteries in my strobe were dead (guess that’s what happens after about 4 months…oops!) Regardless, I spent the morning taking video. Enjoy!