September in Bali: Underwater Macro

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Bali as a dive destination really surprised me with the sheer variety and quantity of wildlife to be seen. The rich coral life supported many species that were rare at other more famous dive areas in the region. I could choose no better place than Tulamben to start taking underwater photos. There were lots of  Nemos to shoot, though some were shyer than others, like these false anemonefish or clownfish.

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The pink anemonefish flashed a bright pink against the brilliant green of their protective homes. Even so, they sulked at the camera rather disagreeably.

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It was this panda clownfish that finally posed nicely for me while guarding his pink eggs at the base of the anemone.

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Next up, the challenge was to spot and shoot the pygmy seahorses. My task was made far easier with the world’s best dive guide ever, Wayan. It was amazing how he could spot the little creatures so easily and point them out carefully. Here, you can see how tiny a pygmy seahorses is.

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Here’s the Denise pygmy seahorse up close, looking so elegant and fragile.

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Less delicate looking was the regular Gorgonian pygmy seahorse, though this male is very obviously pregnant. For seahorses, the males carry the eggs while the females swim free. What a great arrangement.

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Other rare fish included this longnose hawkfish, a very pretty fish that started my subsequent fascination with hawkfishes of all shapes and sizes.

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Then there was the jawfish that burrowed in the sea bottom, only revealing its face and yellow eyebrows to the surface.

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And there was the funny-looking ribbon eel that showed off its striped blue body and brilliant yellow mouth, looking like it had a tragicomic accident with a fluorescent yellow marker pen.

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Another interesting find was the robust ghost pipefish that looked remarkably like leaves gliding along in the current.

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Here’s a video with a pregnant one, you can just about spot its eggs in between its ventral fin parts right at the end of the video.

There were also other creatures like this pretty little cuttlefish so well camouflaged against some stinging coral.

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And then there were the pretty nudibranchs, also unglamourously known as sea slugs. There were pink ones with yellow trimmings…

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… black and white ones with orange trimmings…

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… purely blue ones…

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… and even pairs with pinkish brown splotches on them. I bet these fellas must be poisonous, otherwise they’d be way too easy to be spotted and gobbled up!

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Diving the Similans: Small Fish

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I’m not very lucky with big fish. Whenever we’re out for a dive to see something like a special sort of shark or bumphead parrotfish or whatever, I rarely get the first glimpse. Also, my group is invariably the one that doesn’t see anything while other people spend ages looking at it. Case in point was that my group was the only one throughout the whole 4-day trip that didn’t see a single leopard shark, not even at the dive site named after them.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t see as many big fish or perhaps just out of sheer perversity, I like taking pictures of small fish. Each trip, I take one of the prerequisite photos of clownfish. These here playing in the anemone are called false clown anemonefish. It’s funny how they look so cute frolicking among the anemone tendrils yet have such grumpy expressions up close.

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Next is a series of my favourite little fish: the hawkfish family. These are infernally difficult to get good pictures of because they’re very shy. The pixy hawkfish is one of the shyer ones. Even though they’re rather common, most of the time I see them peeking out from a coral crevice. Either that, or the dart of a tail into shelter. I like the way it cocks its head very slightly to one side as if posing for a picture.

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Much less frequently, I spot the freckled hawkfish. It’s funny how it comes in two variations. I like the one with bright orange-red and white streaks better.

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The duller version somehow looks a million times grumpier. It still has freckles on its chin, just not the cute bright red ones of its prettier variation.

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The trick to small fish is merely patience, not luck. Once I spot one, I normally lie in wait for it to emerge and get used to me. Most small fish like either pause for a while to rest on a bit of coral, or stay in their own territory. It’s not terribly hard to get in a few shots in good light for fairly decent photos. Plus, good pictures compensate loads for bad luck with big fish.