The Mimic Octopus: Photos, Behavior and Best Dive Sites

Brent Durand
Detailed info on the Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) including underwater photos, behaviors and the best dive sites for encounters.

 

The Mimic Octopus


Photos, Behavior and Best Dive Sites

Text and Photos By Brent Durand

 

Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus)

 

 
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The Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) is one of the most remarkable cephalopods in the ocean, delighting scuba divers and underwater photographers with every encounter. Like all octopuses, the mimic has chromatophores that produce color pigments in a range of patterns and colors, as well as the ability to change skin texture. The combination of these features allows octopuses to camouflage themselves on the reef, sand, rubble or open water and hide from would-be predators.

So what's different about the mimic octopus? Like the name implies, the mimic octopus can mimic serveral different fish and critters with startling accuracy. It happens very quickly, with creativity that would make a superhero jealous.

 

About the Mimic and their Behavior

Mimics are most often seen by divers on sandy substrate and when they want to cover ground quickly will form a shape that looks like an oval spaceship floating over the sand. Or does that look like a flatfish? They generally live and seek protection in holes in the sand, often leaving two banded tentacles of of the hole - one in a defensive posture and one extended and waving slightly. Or does that look like a banded sea snake?

It's remarkable to think that the Mimic Octopus has evolved to mimic certain creatures in its environment when it will be advantageous. A flatfish is not very interesting moving quickly across the sand. And most predators have no desire to approach a poisonous sea snake. The Mimic Octopus also has a few other impersonations that are less frequently seen, including forms that look like jellyfish and lionfish.

 

Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus)

 

Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus)

 

Range, Habitat and Diet

Mimic Octopuses are found in the Indo-Pacific (Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, etc). These are UWPG's favorite locations for Mimics, where you can find them along with many other critters:

 

Naturally brown in color, they prefer open sand / silt bottom in relatively shallow water. Often dive guides will look for mimic octopuses right at the start of the dive or at the end during a surface interval. Muck dive sites make an ideal habitat.

Mimics are most active early morning and in the evening, finding their way across the substrate while feeling inside holes and under rocks for small crustaceans and fish. Once located, the mimic will trap the prey in the suckers on any of their 8 tentacles, then moving the prey to their mouth.

 

Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus)

 

Photo Tips

1)  Use a Mid-Range Focal Length

Your macro lens will provide too much magnification while a wide-angle lens will render the mimic octopus very small in the frame.

  • Compact Shooters:  Remove your wet diopter and wet wide-angle lens
  • Mirrorless:  The 60mm lens is a great choice.
  • DSLR:  On crop sensors, a 60mm lens is a great choice. On full frame, I shoot at either 100mm or 40mm.

 

2)  Move Carefully

No photo is worth injuring yourself, the reef or any critters there, so make sure to look where you're going. I often find myself frog kicking sideways or backwards when shooting mimics so it's critical to make sure you know what's "in front of you".

 

3)  Don't Harass the Octopus

Why is this a photo tip? Because once harassed, the Octopus behaves differently than if you stalk it naturally hunting, swimming or remaining frozen. You might get some likes on your post with a photo of a defensive subject, but that photo would never win a contest with experts who know the octopus behaviors. It pays to be patient and wait for the right moment to push the shutter.

 

Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus)

 

 

Not to be Confused with: 

The Wonderpus Octopus (Wunderpus photogenicus). While the Wonderpus has fixed bands on its legs, the Mimic may or may not have the bands, so that's a tough way to distinguish between the species when underwater.

The best way to differentiate the mimic form the wonderpus is the white line that runs along the bottom of each tentacle of the mimic. The wonderpus doesn't have this line and the mimic will always have it, allowing for clear identification.

 

Wonderpus Octopus (Wunderpus photogenicus)

The Wonderpus Octopus (Wunderpus photogenicus)

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, photographer and writer dedicated to capturing unique underwater, ocean lifestyle and adventure images. Brent is editor of the Underwater Photography Guide. Follow UWPG on Facebook for daily photos, tips & everything underwater photography!

 

 

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Caribbean Creature Feature: Hamlets

Jonathan Lavan
Facts, Biology & Behavior of these Little Hunters of the Caribbean Reef

 

Caribbean Creature Feature: Hamlets


Facts, Biology & Behavior of these Little Hunters of the Caribbean Reef

Text and Photos By Jonathan Lavan

 

Butter Hamlet

 
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Hamlets in the genus Hypoplectrus are unique among sea bass for two reasons. First of all, they only live in the Caribbean and therefore are a perfect subject for this column. Secondly, there is a long-standing debate as to whether or not there is more than one species. At present, they are officially listed as different species and we will treat them as such, but will examine some unique qualities and habits that may suggest otherwise.

Small in stature (averaging 5 inches) but mighty in attitude, hamlets are easy to photograph because they usually will stand their ground. One reason, it is theorized, for their different colors and pattern is that they are mimicking whatever Damselfish or Chromis species is most numerous in the area. Damselfish are well known herbivores, always tending and defending their little algae gardens. So if a similar sized, shaped and colored predator can take advantage of being mistaken for an herbivore, you know they will. The best examples of this are the Yellowtail Hamlet mimicking the Yellowtail Damselfish and the Black Hamlet mimicking the Longfin and/or Dusky Damselfish.

 

Barred Hamlet

 

Hamlets have unusual mating habits as well. They mate everyday at dusk rising up in the water column cupping around each other to spawn. What makes this ritual truly unique is that all Hamlets are simultaneous hermaphrodites. What this means, quite simply, is that the fish are both male and female and will trade places, back and forth, during the course of each mating rise. In fact, it has been observed that if one fish in the pair feels as if he/she has not gotten their fair share of male or female time, they will chase their mate around the reef in dissatisfaction. And you thought you had it tough in your relationship.

 

Indigo Hamlet

 

Usually Hamlets of the same species will seek each other out and live in close proximity to each other for easy access. However, if that same species is not available a Hamlet will often mate with the species that is available. This leads to a hybridized Hamlet. When observing offspring it might or might not be easy to pick out which two species have mixed. Typically it is scientifically accepted that any two animals that can successfully breed with each other and have viable offspring that can also breed are the same species. Hamlets’ mating behavior is a clear example suggesting that they all may in fact be the same species. Another reason to speculate that they are the same species is that all juvenile Hamlets or “fry” look exactly the same and then will morph into one species or another (see photo).

 

Juvenile Hamlet

 

As I had mentioned, they are a great starter fish for the beginning underwater photographer. They are dynamic, colorful and will suffer close approach most of the time, usually giving some nice profile and full front views. When you are diving, always move slowly, as it is easy to swim past these small fish. They frequently can be tucked into a crevice or observing you from behind a gorgonian. They are there watching you, watch for them on a Caribbean Coral Reef.

 

Yellowtail Hamlet

 

Black Hamlet

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Jonathan Lavan: The owner/operator of Underpressure Diving & Nature Photography is a citizen scientist and wildlife expert and has been SCUBA Diving for thirty years and taking photographs both above and below the water for about 10. He was pleased to have been made Volunteer of the Year for 2012 by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation. As a SCUBA Diver he has been a photographer, teacher and research associate for many different organizations.He is a staunch environmentalist and educator of young people. Jonathan is committed to making a difference on this planet through his images and his message of good will to all creatures. www.underpressurephotog.com 

 

 

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Oceanic Whitetip Sharks; Predators on the Reef!

Jonathan Lavan
Caribbean Creature Feature for Novice & Experienced Shark Divers

 

Oceanic Whitetip Sharks; Predators on the Reef!


Caribbean Creature Feature for Novice & Experienced Shark Divers

Text and Photos By Jonathan Lavan

 

Oceanic Whitetip Shark

 

 
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So a little reality check now that shark week is over. Diving with and photographing sharks when done safely can be a thrilling and incredible experience. Going with a trained guide and understanding their behavior is the key. Oceanic Whitetip Sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus) are a great starter shark as they are big, graceful and impressive but not particularly aggressive.

Oceanic Whitetips are Requiem sharks, a family of pelagic sharks that must keep swimming to ventilate properly. They will often pass over reefs in search of prey, particularly at dawn or dusk. During the rest of the day they will be found in open water from the surface to well below recreational dive limits. They are truly beautiful and photogenic sharks having very large rounded pectoral and foredorsal fins, usually with white tips, hence the common name. It is a viviparous species meaning that it gives birth to live young. Its gestation period is about twelve months and will give birth to 5-15 pups from 2-2.5 feet in length. The pups, of course, immediately start swimming as soon as they hit the water and from that moment on they are on their own.

 

Oceanic Whitetip Shark

 

Naturally curious and intelligent animals, they will readily approach, which will afford you the opportunity for some great shots. As long as you have a large camera (or failing that a piece of pvc pipe) in case the sharks get a bit too curious, you should feel completely at ease. Usually they will approach and then turn at the last minute, particularly if you continue your own approach. On the rare occasion that they do start actively bumping you or other divers and the behavior continues, it is time to move slowly back to the boat. Remember, they want to go to as little trouble as possible for their meal so the likelihood of them trying to make you one is extremely remote.

 

Oceanic Whitetip Shark

 

Photographing Oceanic Whitetips

You will get as many good shots while snorkeling at the surface as while actually diving. This takes a bit of aerobic work but it is well worth it. The light is usually fantastic and the accompanying Pilotfish (which prefer the shallower water) will really add to your composition. There are many dive operations that can give you a great and safe shark diving experience, but I can’t recommend Epic Diving (epicdiving.com) more highly. They know just how to make the sharks come around but not get too agitated. Epic Diving runs out of Cat Island, Bahamas, which you can reach through Nassau.

 

Oceanic Whitetip Shark

 

Protecting Sharks

Sharks are fascinating and beautiful creatures worthy of our respect and protection. If you are lucky enough to see a species like the Oceanic Whitetip Shark over a Caribbean coral reef, share your shots with the world so people can better understand that these majestic creatures should be cherished and appreciated, not feared.

 

Oceanic Whitetip Shark

 

 

Interested in diving the Caribbean?

Our sister company Bluewater Travel can book your next dive trip for you, and it won't cost you more. Their website has resort & liveaboad reviews, dive site maps, underwater videos and more.

 

 

About the Author

Jonathan Lavan: The owner/operator of Underpressure Diving & Nature Photography is a citizen scientist and wildlife expert and has been SCUBA Diving for thirty years and taking photographs both above and below the water for about 10. He was pleased to have been made Volunteer of the Year for 2012 by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation. As a SCUBA Diver he has been a photographer, teacher and research associate for many different organizations.He is a staunch environmentalist and educator of young people. Jonathan is committed to making a difference on this planet through his images and his message of good will to all creatures. www.underpressurephotog.com 

 

Further Reading

 


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Diving with Devils - Ultimate Guide to Manta Rays

Jeff Milisen
Your Guide to Finding, Photographing and the Biology of Mantas

 

Diving with Devils: The Ultimate Guide to Manta Rays


Your Guide to Finding, Photographing and the Biology of Mantas

Text and Photos By Jeff Milisen

 

 

 
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If you listen to fishing lore, the ocean is a scary place full of sea monsters. There are sharks. Then there are squid the size of school buses. And then you have whales that dive down to unfathomable depths to eat those squid. Even smaller animals like sea snakes and jellyfish have the ability to send you right to the ER. And then you have “Devil Rays.” These swimming stealth bombers have horns that stick out of their heads.

Fortunately, the advent of scuba diving has been slowly setting the tall fishing tales straight. Sharks aren’t as terrible as we thought; whales are actually quite friendly; and as it turns out, manta rays don’t have spines, teeth or even pitchforks with which to cause injury. Their giant size, graceful nature and gentle disposition have earned them a top spot on nearly every diver’s bucket list. So what should you know about manta rays that may help bring home that perfect shot?

 

DESCRIPTION

The modern name is derived from the Latin American Spanish term “manta,” which means large blanket. As blankets go, “large” is an understatement - manta rays can reach 23 feet from wing tip to wing tip. They are usually black on top with white slashes on the shoulder and often white fin tips. As such, mantas are hard to mistake for other animals. They come in two varieties:

 

Coastal Mantas (Manta alfredi)

These are the smaller of the two species, smaller being a relative term. They can attain a width of 18 feet and as their name suggests, generally stick close to shore. Coastal mantas come in one color variety. Look for shoulder slashes that run parallel to the angle of the mouth and white underbellies with black spot patterns. These black spots are actually unique for every coastal manta ray and have been used in photo-identification studies to tell the mantas apart. 

 

 

Pelagic Mantas (Manta birostris)

The overriding memory of my first encounter with a pelagic manta ray is a huge, black animal. The fact that it appeared from behind me in the middle of the ocean made it seem ominous at first. As the name suggests, pelagic manta rays are highly migratory and their home range can cover vast stretches of open ocean. Pelagic mantas come in three distinct color morphs, all of which are considered the same species:

Normal morph - These animals have black mouths and more angular shoulder slashes that can cut straight over the top of the body. On the underside, look for larger black blotches and a charcoal lining to the wings.

Melanistic morph - These animals are solid black all over with small white patterns in the area of their gills. 

Leucistic morph - These animals are mostly white on both surfaces. They are incredibly rare.

 

 

MANTA’S PLACE ON THE FOOD CHAIN

Their gargantuan size leaves them off the menu for most oceanic predators. Powerful wings enable mantas to outrun the rest. So if nothing eats mantas, where do they sit on the food chain? Similar to most natural giants like whales and dolphins, mantas eat plankton. Five percent of their body mass per day is required to keep an adult manta swimming happily. At an average of 100 pounds per foot of wingspan, a 15-foot wide manta must eat 75 pounds of plankton every day.

Their specialized diet means that mantas must spend their days filtering through high concentrations of plankton. Their usual habitat includes areas of upwelling currents, reef channels or other high nutrient areas. Oftentimes, high nutrient loading translates into less than optimal water clarity. One of the best places on Oahu to find mantas, for example, is Kaneohe Bay where the visibility, unfortunately, rarely exceeds 20 feet.

 

WHERE TO FIND THEM

Both species of manta ray occur circumtropically. If you are traveling specifically to see mantas some good bets include the Maldives, Bali, Isla Mujeres, Socorro, the Great Barrier Reef and Yap. If you really want an experience though, Kona Hawaii proclaims itself as the manta capital of the world. Kona’s reefs have many cleaning stations where mantas can be encountered during the day with some degree of reliability. Once the sun goes down the action really starts to heat up. Divers gather at one of two sites and work together using their dive lights to concentrate the plankton. And to the delight of the guests, as many as 40 mantas have been known to cue in and spend their evenings swooping through the plankton clouds. You can expect closer-than-close encounters.  The mantas will cruise within inches of your head, often giving you a slap as they swim past. The lights from hundreds of divers create an atmosphere more akin to a Vegas show than a coral reef, complete with giant, dancing stage performers. This really is the ultimate manta experience.

 

 

CONSERVATION STATUS AND RESEARCH

Both species of manta ray are considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as near threatened, and as recently as last year they were listed on the Conventions for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II. Their population worldwide is declining. Threats to manta rays include entanglements with marine pollution, climate change and ingestion of plastics. The biggest threat comes from overfishing. Artisanal fisheries and bycatch in other fisheries may be taking unsustainable numbers of manta rays locally, while a market for manta gill rakers as medicine in China is driving a commercial market. Mantas are especially at risk because they start as relatively low populations, reproduce slowly, take many years to mature and have a low rate of distribution.

To monitor the take of mantas and find out what we can about their movements, a number of studies set up worldwide are utilizing the unique spot patterns on mantas’ ventral surfaces to tell the animals apart through photo identification. Photo identification is an effective way to gather similar information as tagging studies without the related stress of capture. Studies in Mozambique, Brazil, Socorro, Japan, Mexico, Ecuador and Hawaii are helping to identify distinct populations for more effective management.

 

 

NAIL THE SHOT

Here are a few quintessential manta shots. Use these as a creative starting point and then feel free to add your own twist, be it a diver, marine life, boat or other unique aspect to make the shot yours. Whatever your desired shot, the only lens you will want with mantas is a fairly wide one. I prefer the Tokina 10-17mm at 10mm for cropped sensors, but full frame users do well with a 14mm or 15mm prime.

Manta in Sunburst - This shot is pretty self-explanatory. The premise is to shoot from under the animal, placing the sun behind it. The trick is to expose for the surface water about 10° off from the sun and use your strobes as a fill light to get detail in the shadowed underbelly. Use live-view or the viewfinder to compose the shot and wait until the moment where manta and sun are in perfect eclipse. For a neat trick, try to find an animal near the surface and take advantage of Snell’s window to capture some clouds or elements above the surface.

 

Night Mantas - Attracting a manta to your dive lights is one thing. Nailing a wide-angle shot at night can be a little trickier. The problem is the plankton. Try holding your primary dive light away from the camera and lens to attract the plankton and resulting backscatter out of your image. The animal will be feeding excitedly, so wait until it is posing just right before pulling the trigger. Power the strobes low so as to not blow out the bright white underbelly. There may even be enough ambient light to try bumping up your ISO and shooting with just ambient light.

 

 

Reefscape - To pull off a reefscape, it really helps to have a cleaning station where the animal will predictably come through the composition multiple times. It is best to think of reefscapes in three parts. The foreground could be the manta or it could be an interesting coral formation. The mid ground will usually be whichever reef or manta was left out of the foreground. The background is going to be some variety of blue, perhaps with a diver or boat in silhouette, but often it will just be the rippling surface.

 

 

A large part of the skill in any marine animal encounter is in how you conduct yourself.  While the first impulse is to swim directly at the animal in an attempt to get closer, mantas can swim much, MUCH faster than you and will do so if spooked. A better alternative is to sit back and allow the animal to become comfortable with your presence. Mantas are highly intelligent and will often become inquisitive on their own. The point is to let the manta come to you. Only after a rapport has been established is it appropriate to compose your shot and hit the shutter button.

Our understanding of manta rays has come a long way since fishermen first coined the term “Devil Ray.” But we may be loving them to extinction through overfishing. The dive tourism industry is offering hope. Mantas have already been protected in many areas because tourism has shown they are worth more alive than dead. So the next time you travel, support the conservation cause by asking to see the area’s manta rays. Your ticket purchase will be sending a message that these are animals worth saving, and you will be in for the encounter of a lifetime.

 

 

 

About the Author

Jeff Milisen is a relatively new content writer for the Underwater Photography Guide who specializes in black water and big animals.  When not behind a camera, Jeff is a marine biologist working to reduce overfishing by improving methods for farming fish. Milisenphotography.yolasite.com

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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Caribbean Creature Feature: The Secretary Blenny

Jonathan Lavan
Get the Big Picture by Slowing Down and Seeing the Small Stuff

 

The Secretary / Spinyhead Blenny

- Caribbean Creature Feature -


Get the Big Picture by Slowing Down and Seeing the Small Stuff

Text and Photos By Jonathan Lavan

 

 

 
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So you’re getting more serious about your diving and underwater photography – perhaps even fanatical about it. Hopefully you have mastered the art of buoyancy control and learned that the slower the dive the better the dive will be. If you’re concentrating on Macro or Super Macro you could easily spend the whole dive searching the nooks and crannies in a less than twenty square foot area. That is when you will start to see and find the likes of the Secretary and Spinyhead Blenny.

Secretary and Spinyhead Blennies are both tube blennies in the genus Acanthemblemaria and are closely related. As the description suggests, they live in the vacated tubes of Calcareous Tube Worms and seem to prefer locations in plenty of light at the top of coral heads. At no more than two inches in length they are very hard to see and even harder to tell apart. Blennies’ eyes can function independently, giving them that goggle-eyed look that enables them to look in two directions at the same time, keeping careful track of both prey and predators.

 

 

The most effective way to tell a Blenny from other small fish, such as Gobies, is by their cirri. Cirri are the antennae-like projections on top of the head and frequently the snout of all Blennies. These can vary wildly in size and shape depending on species. It is believed the cirri are an additional sensing organ that helps the blenny know which way the water is flowing, enabling them to read the current and know which way the food will be coming from, as well as to help them to anticipate the approach of predators. If you watch long enough, you will often see a blenny dart out of its hole and grab a meal out of the water column.

 

 

The only other time you might see Blennies out of their hole is if a territorial dispute were to occur. Sometimes a Blenny will decide that he likes his neighbor’s home better than his own – then the games begin. If you are lucky enough to catch two of these tiny titans locked in battle you are sure to get some great photos. Whether perched on their pectorals watching, feeding or fighting these truly animated little fish put on quite a show. On a Caribbean coral reef it’s often the smaller creatures that are harder to find who engage in fascinating behavior and create great photo opportunities. Blennies, with all their fussy behavior and animated features, will provide all the macro opportunities you are looking for.

 

 

Interested in diving the Caribbean?

Our sister company Bluewater Travel can book your next dive trip for you, and it won't cost you more. Their website has resort & liveaboad reviews, dive site maps, underwater videos and more.

 

About the Author

Jonathan Lavan: Thee owner/operator of Underpressure Diving & Nature Photography is a citizen scientist and wildlife expert and has been SCUBA Diving for thirty years and taking photographs both above and below the water for about 10. He was pleased to have been made Volunteer of the Year for 2012 by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation. As a SCUBA Diver he has been a photographer, teacher and research associate for many different organizations.He is a staunch environmentalist and educator of young people. Jonathan is committed to making a difference on this planet through his images and his message of good will to all creatures. www.underpressurephotog.com 

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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Tips to Capture Vibrant Manta Ray Photos

Craig Dietrich
Underwater Photo Techniques for Giant Pacific Manta Rays

 

Tips to Capture Vibrant Manta Ray Photos


Underwater Photo Techniques for Giant Pacific Manta Rays

Text and Photos By Craig Dietrich

 

 

 
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I’ve taken two trips to Socorro, Mexico in the last two years, where I was fortunate enough to have some awe-inspiring encounters with manta rays. Manta rays are in the eagle ray family, and the rays I encountered had an average wingspan of between 18 and 23 feet across. Regardless of manta ray size, there are basic fundamentals that can help you capture great manta ray shots.

 

Here are some tips to help improve your images:

 

Use a Smart Approach

The approach should really be more of a non-approach. Sheer photographer instinct and adrenalin will make you want to swim toward the mantas, but here’s where I say “Stop.” Let the manta approach you… for a couple of reasons.

First, it allows them to set the tone for your encounter and allow them to establish their comfort level with you as a diver. Second, it allows you time to position yourself in relation to the sunlight so you don’t lose a great shot because you were too busy swimming toward the mantas, forgetting about the sun’s positioning. I would expand this positioning tip to say, “When possible, separate yourself as much -- and as safely -- as you can from other divers” to help avoid bubbles, a random leg or equipment from other divers ending up in your otherwise perfect shot.

 

 

 

Lighting

In my opinion, the sun is the most important lighting tool when photographing manta rays. The sun serves as a great backlight and can add drama and mystique to any photo. Due to the size of the mantas I swam with, a two-strobe setup is a must, as one strobe can’t handle the job of lighting such a big subject. The strobes will even out the lighting and fill in the shadows, creating a properly lit image.  

 

 

Lens Choice

This is simple: go as wide as you can (for example: SLR: Tokina 10-17; Compact: any wide-angle wet lens). The wide-angle field of view allows the photographer to fit the scene into the frame and to get as close as possible to the manta. It also helps provide good clarity and allows the strobes to light the subject properly.

 

 

Conclusion

Swimming with manta rays is an amazing experience in itself. It’s important to remember that not every image will be perfect every time. I encourage my students to plan, to think and to take a chance in setting up for the right shot.  And sometimes, that shot winds up being the perfect shot.

 

About the Author

Craig Dietrich is a former Naval and family/children’s photographer.  An avid scuba diver, his two loves of diving and photography came together and now Craig is based out of Pompano Beach, Florida.  View more of Craig’s work at www.dietrichunderwater.com.

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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Nudibranch Self Defense in Action

Cesare Naldi
Incredible Behavior Sequence of Fringehead Stung by Nudibranch Cerata

 

Nudibranch Self Defense in Action

Incredible Behavior Sequence of Fringehead Stung by Nudibranch

Text and Photos By Cesare Naldi

 

 

 
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Several years ago I made a series of dive trips to the Channel Islands as part of the undersea photography class at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California. The goal was to apply our classroom knowledge underwater.

During one of these trips we dove the beautiful and cold waters of Santa Cruz Island. For most of the dives I decided to shoot macro since visibility was not at its best and the water is always very rich in amazing benthic life. At the end of each dive I always make sure to spend as much time as I can at 15-20 feet, trying to make the most of these last photo opportunities, and on this day the time turned out to be very well spent. In fact I was able to capture this interesting behavior just before surfacing.

 

Setting up the Shot

I spotted the Fringehead after a long dive, and since I hadn’t seen one recently I decided to take a snap shot just to keep a memory of the encounter. The fish was positioned on a flat rock and there was no possibility of finding a nicer composition or any interesting lighting effect. But as I got ready for the shot I noticed that there were many nudibranchs, including a Hermissenda crassicornis very close to the Fringehead. Naturally, the thought of making a more interesting photograph with the nudibranch and the fish in the same frame came to my mind.

 

The hermissenda enters the frame and moves closer to the attentive Fringehead.

 

The Unexpected Result

I had to wait several minutes before the nudibranch passed in front of the Fringehead, and when the position was right I started shooting, hoping for the nudibranch to get closer and closer. And at the end, it got so close that it stopped and stood up right in front of the jaws of the Fringehead. It stayed like this for ten long seconds until the fish decided to get a little taste of this boldfaced sea slug.

The Fringehead kept the nudibranch in its mouth for less than a second and then abruptly spit it out. The action unfolded quickly, and when I checked the images on the LCD screen I was very happy that I was able to freeze the action at the right instant. But I was also excited to have witnessed one of the most amazing defense mechanisms employed by nudibranchs.

 

Self Defense, Nudibranch Style

These tiny, colorful creatures do not use a shell to protect themselves from predators. Instead, they have developed the ability to eat poisonous prey and store that prey’s stinging cells on their dorsal cerata without being affected by the poison. They basically just use the self-defense cells from their food source as their own protection.

The result is that nudibranchs are not a very desirable meal, and this bold Hermissenda crassicornis was no exception!

 

Getting closer...

 

and closer...

 

A bold stare-down

 

The fringehead makes a move

 

The moment the fringehead gets stung by cells in the hermissenda's cerata

 

The fringehead cringes post-stings

 

The hermissenda moves along casually

 

Capturing the Shot

Patience and luck were the key elements to capturing this behavior sequence, but having the camera settings ready was also essential to avoid missing the action.

For this reason, whenever I shoot macro with a 105mm lens, I always set the camera on manual mode, usually at ISO 200 and 1/250s @ f/16. The two strobes are also set on manual mode and placed on the sides right next to the lens port. Considering the minimal distance between the camera and the subject their power is very low.

Focus is also set to manual and at the closest focal distance (thanks to the zoom gear), so that if I spot something interesting I only have to aim at the subject and get closer and closer until it is in sharp focus. With just one or two clicks I will have a sharp image.

Afterwards, depending on the subject and if conditions are good, I will begin to work on a more sophisticated and intriguing framing and/or lighting. 

These photographs were taken with a Nikon D300 with the Nikon 105mm lens in a Sea&Sea Housing with two YS110 Strobes. Exposure at ISO 200 and 1/200sec @ f/16.

 

About the Author

Cesare Naldi is an Italian professional photographer and cinematographer. He acquired his lighting and photographic skills at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California. He is fascinated by the underwater world, and he has traveled throughout America, Europe, Asia and Africa. His photographs and short films have been part of numerous exhibitions in California and Italy. His reportage of Rajan, the swimming elephant of the Andaman Islands, has been published on several newspapers, magazines and books, including the National Geographic Magazine and Taschen Books.

 

Further Reading

 


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A Nudibranch Safari in Norway

Christian Skauge
Skinny Dipping with Nudi Beauties in Gulen - Photos, Camera Settings & more

A Nudibranch Safari in Norway


Skinny Dipping with Nudi Beauties in Gulen

Text and Photos By Christian Skauge

 

Flabellina nobilis is one of the most common nudibranchs on the Norwegian west coast.

 

 
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The universe of nudibranchs is a strange microcosmos – and if you get hooked, you’ll soon find yourself addicted to looking for new and ever stranger species. For most people it takes several years of scuba diving before they see their first nudibranch, but as soon as you discover these delicate little creatures you’ll start seeing them on almost every dive.

The colors and shapes give them an alluring power much greater than their size. Even big, burly fellows with twin-tanks and tough-guy attitude might come back on shore with a soft look on their face, saying ”man, did you see that beeeautiful slug?”

 

The Eubranchus species are describes as having «balloon-like fringes» - clearly seen in this colorful specimen.

 

Cadlina laevis is relatively seldom seen. It lives deeper than most other nudibranchs, feeding on sponges. It produces acid in the yellow glands along the edge to defend itself from predators.

 

Naked gills

Nudibranchs come in two categories – those that are hard to find, and those which are impossible to overlook, at least seen from a divers point of view. They are described scientifically as the nudibranchia, literally meaning ”naked gill”. As the name implies, they don’t have a house on their backs. Nudibranchs are generally divided into four main groups.

The west coast of Norway is an exceptionally good place to go looking for nudibranchs. The main hotspot is the house reef of Gulen Dive Resort just north of Bergen, where 63 of Norway’s around 90 species have been found in recent years. The resort hosts an annual Nudibranch Safari at the end of March, which is high season for nudibranchs in Norway.

Diving the house reef only, divers with a keen eye can easily spot over 20 different species on a single dive. Sometimes the bottom is almost completely covered with colorful slugs, and visitors from all over Europe are impressed both by the great variety of species and the sheer number of nudibranchs that can be seen.

On the Nudibranch Safari described below, experts are on hand to teach the participants more about nudibranch biology, behavior, feeding habits and identification. In March 2014 Gulen Dive Resort offers four consecutive events: Two regular Nudibranch Safaris hosted by Dr. Alex Mustard/Bernard Picton and Bernard Picton/Jussi Evertsen, a Nudibranch Symposium targeting scientists and nudibranch experts, and a special Russian Nudibranch Safari hosted by the Dr. Alexander Martynov and Dr. Tatiana Korshunov.

 

Flabellina pedata is very easy to identify - it is the only purple nudibranch found in Norway.

 

The beautiful Favorinus blianus hides a sinister secret: It feeds on the eggs of other nudibranchs!

 

Kinky mating and reproduction

The nudibranchs have rather special preferences when it comes to reproduction since they are hemaphrodites. This means they have both male and female reproductory organs.

The upside to this ingenious reproduction scheme is the possibility for all mature individuals to reproduce, and they can do so with any other nudibranch of the same species which they encounter. If you spot two nudibranchs laying side-by-side in a cheeky 69-position, they are most certainly mating, as their reproductive organs are positioned on their right side.

Many of the nudibranch species have their own, distinctive way of arranging their eggs. Some string them out in beautiful, parallel lines or elaborate spirals, while others prefer to lay them out in a flower-like arrangement or a ribboned cluster.

Quite often it is possible to tell which species the eggs belong to just by looking at the pattern in which the are laid. The eggs are also often laid directly on the main food source, which also gives an indication to what species it is.

When the eggs hatch small pelagic larvae are released, which settle on the bottom after a few days. During this stage several species actually have a minute, snail-like house on their back - but this soon disappears.

Thanks to currents in the water the nudibranchs are able to spread their offspring over vast distances. The larvae will only settle if the right kind of food is present, enabling them to grow to adulthood and reproduce over again.

Nudibranchs that feed on animals available year-round (for instance, dead men’s fingers coral or anemones) often live for over one year. They can be spotted almost anytime, while other nudibranchs that rely on more seasonal food can only be seen during short periods of time.

 

Polycera quadrilineata is very common, and mostly found on the kelp fronds where it feeds on tiny bryozoans.

 

Hero formosa is considered to be very rare in Norway, and is only known from relatively few locations. On the house reef of Gulen Dive Resort it usually turns up in good numbers at the Nudibranch Safari.

 

A Taste for hot, spicy food

Nudibranchs are carnivores and feed on almost all kinds of other animals. If you want to find a particular species, it helps to know what it feeds on. Many prefer hydroids, while others feed on bryozoans, dead men’s fingers soft coral, sponges, anemones, barnacles and even eggs from other nudibranchs.

If you find an area with hard bottom, it will be a good place to start looking, although one might also find nudibranchs on sand or soft substrate. The two white-and-yellow species found in Norwegian waters, Limacia clavigera and Polycera quadrilineata, along with several other species prefer staying on kelp, where they graze on bryozoans.

It is no coincidence that many nudibranchs prefer a diet consisting of cnidarians like hydroids and anemones. The fringed nudibranchs, the so-called aeolids, have the ability to channel the stinging cells of their prey into special chambers in their fringes (called cerata) on their backs - not only eating the hydroid but also stealing their protective sting.

If a predator tries to eat the nudibranch, it will burn itself in the mouth and will spit the nudibranch right back out again. The color of the cerata or fringes is actually made up of the content of the intestines of the nudibranch as they branch out into the fringes.

The typical red color seen on many nudibranchs comes from eating hydroids, which in their turn have been eating little crustaceans, absorbing the red color from their shells. Other nudibranchs which are feeding on sponges, are able to use toxic or bad-tasting compounds from their food for their own defense.

 

Hydroids are the main food of most aeolid nudibranchs, for instance the Flabellina, Facelina and Eubranchus species - but the Doto also favour this food.

 

Very small and extremely beautiful. The Diaphorodoris luteocincta cannot be mistaken for any other nudibranch species in Norway.

 

Join the Nudibranch Safari!

There are a lot of books and online resources available if you want to learn more about nudibranchs. But the best (and most fun) way is to join the Nudibranch Safari. Gulen Dive Resort in Norway has been running these events for five years, and the end of March is the best time of the year to see lots of nudibranchs.

More info on the Nudibranch Safari: www.scubapixel.com/nudisafari

 

Norwegian nudibranch experts Jussi Evertsen and Torkild Bakken working on the collected material, trying to sort out the different species.

 

About the Author

Christian Skauge is a former Nordic Champion of underwater photography and has won several international photo contests. He writes articles about diving and underwater photography and is published regularly in magazines around the world. He also runs underwater photo and marine biology workshops. Check out his website for more info: www.scubapixel.com

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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Inside Look: Training Sharks to Eat Lionfish

Antonio Busiello
Controlling Invasive Lionfish in the Caribbean - A New Meal for Sharks?

Inside Look: Training Sharks to Eat Lionfish


Controlling Invasive Lionfish in the Caribbean - A New Meal for Sharks?

Text and Photos By Antonio Busiello

 

Shark eating Lionfish

 

 
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Lionfish have the potential to become the most disastrous marine invasion in history. 

Lionfish are native to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. With no natural predators in the Atlantic, lionfish populations have exploded throughout the waters of the Caribbean and U.S. in recent years. Biologists and scientists all around the Caribbean are working with the local Marine Parks trying to find a solution for stopping this impending epidemic. On the Island of Roatan in Honduras, local divemasters are even trying to train sharks to include lionfish in their diet. Although endangered themselves, sharks in the Caribbean may help keep the population of lionfish under control, providing yet another reason to protect the beautiful predators.

I have been working with park officials and local divers in documenting the attempt to teach sharks how to eat lion fish, and eventually to include them in their diet. They think that If these predators start to see lionfish as prey, eventually the lionfish may be kept under control as a part of the ecosystem. 

 

About Lionfish

Lionfish can take over seafloor and reef habitat and establish densities of more than 200 adults per acre. A mature female lionfish produces some two million eggs every year, and those eggs and larvae are carried far and wide by currents—fuelling an ongoing invasion.

George Burgess, director of shark research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, calls them the "Norwegian rats of the sea."

 

Lionfish Caribbean

 

Lionfish Caribbean

 

Eating & Hunting Lionfish

Roatan Marine Park has also made efforts to put lionfish on the menu and make people aware that they can cook and eat them, another idea for keeping the population in check. The fish are said to be tasty once their venomous spines are removed.

Harpoons and spears are illegal under Honduran fishing laws, hovewer the park has acquired an exception to arm trained and licensed divers with fishing spears called Hawaiian Slings. Their sole aim is spearing the invasive lionfish, and local humans are doing as much lionfish hunting as we hope the sharks will. During a competition organized by the park, more than 1,700 lionfish were killed and cooked in a single day. One diver with a rubber band spear gun was able to kill 60 by himself. They really are everywhere.

The spearfishers began feeding the lionfish to sharks, and after a while we saw a shark actually hunting a lionfish and eating it! This spawned the idea and shows the exact hunting behavior that those involved with the Roatan project hope will catch on. Ian Drysdale of Healthy Reefs hopes that sharks are getting a taste for lionfish and will take to hunting them on their own without any human intervention.

 

Lionfish Caribbean

 

Shark Caribbean

 

Shark eating Lionfish

 

Shark eating Lionfish

 

Shark eating Lionfish

 

Shark eating Lionfish

 

Shooting the Photos

It was very hard for me to get these images. I shoot with a 10.5 fisheye and had to work very close to the action. Sharks get very aggressive during feeding frenzies and I found myself in thrilling situations a couple of times.

I hope this project will catch on and that the lionfish will be kept under control by local predators, just like in Pacific and Indian Oceans.

 

Shark eating Lionfish

 

Shark eating Lionfish

 

 

About the Author

Antonio Busiello is an award-winning documentary and fine art photographer. A native of Italy, he studied anthropology at the University of Naples and then started traveling the world to focus on photography. Now with home bases in London and Florence he continues his storytelling through photography.  www.antoniobusiello.com

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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The Craziest Critters in Lembeh

Mike Bartick
Amazing Behavior Photos you Need to See

The Craziest Critters in Lembeh


Amazing Behavior Photos you Need to See

Text and Photos by Mike Bartick

 

 

 
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There is no doubt that Lembeh Straits is a prime destination for small marine animal life. The area and resorts have been a leader in destination dive travel for many years and offer up a slice of the exotic wrapped in a patina of comfortable ambiance.

For me, a Bona-Fide critterhead, Lembeh was instrumental in spring boarding my obsession for critters to the point of moving to the Indo-Pacific. Justified by the fact that I needed to be closer to the action, right in the epicenter of biodiversity known as the coral triangle. This geographic area covers much of Indonesia and a slice of the Philippines, and has been a never-ending adventure for myself and many others engaged on the same underwater photography path. One thing I have discovered along the way is that it the path has actually narrowed, honing my curiosity for specific things that normally interest no one but myself and (obviously) other critterheads.

As always I encourage everyone to use the best critter guide his/her travel budget can afford, create a critter list prior to a trip and check The Underwater Photography Guide for additional insight and photo shooting tips. It’s important to use these resources as much as possible!

 

Pharoe Cuttlefish Egg

Pharaoh cuttlefish (Sepia pharaonis) lay their large eggs in the coral heads for extra protection. This massive egg is nearly the size of a golfball and the cuttlefish inside of it is ready to vacate to begin his life. Nikon 105 and +5 subsee diopter

 

pennate batfish

Juvenile Pennate Spadefish (Platax pinnatus), often called juvenile batfish, are really amazing and fun to photograph. It is speculated that the bright orange band mimics the colors of a poisonous flatworm, giving the little spadefish a bit of protection against predators. Nikkor 60mm

 

pennate batfish

Pennate Spadefish (Platax pinnatus) in a head-on stand-off. Patience prevailed as I was able to capture this difficult fluttering spadefish the instant it looked at me. Shooting behavior requires total attention for that split-second opportunity. Nikkor 60mm

 

mandarin fish mating

Mating Mandarin fish (Synchiropus splendidus). Each evening at sunset these amazing dragonettes pair up and mate. The larger female will scoot around the coral head with one or more males in tow and when the time is right they begin to rise above the coral head together in an affectionate manner, eventually broadcast spawning and darting back to the coral head below. The female will repeat this act over and over with several different males.

 

mandarin fish spawning

The mating mandarin cast spawn and dart away, returning to the reef below. I shot this at 3 frames per second with a high ISO and low power on the strobes in order to capture the action and I still missed the photo I had in mind.

 

Lembeh Pipedragon

Lembeh Pipedragon (Kyonemichthys rumenangi) - Part pipehorse and part fable. This really cool and very small creature has been on my list since it was described just a few years ago. My guide Nunsix flagged me over to a wall where this little guy was living amongst a small bit of algae. I decided to take a deep breath and position myself under the pipedragon to get the shot I wanted. Again, it briefly glanced into my lens allowing me to get a clear photo with both eyes. I have only seen profile pics (which I also shot) but I wanted to see its face. Nikkor 105 and + 5 diopter. Cropped 20%

 

Seahorse

These amazing Pygmy Seahorses (Hippocampus severensi) make their home, living amongst the hydroids and bryozoans on the reefs and under coral heads. This pygmy seahorse and the one at the top of the page were very challenging to photograph as they love surgey areas. In addition, their dark coloration and compressed bodys make them very cryptic and tough to find. Nikon D300s 105 and +5 diopter

 

Butterflyfish Lembeh

Butterflyfish appeared out of nowhere while shooting wide-angle at Angels Window. Although Lembeh isn’t a true wide-angle destination, it does offer some very unique opportunities to utilize your wide lenses. Nikon D300s, Tokina 10-17

 

Hairy Frogfish Yawn

Hairy frogfish (A.striatus) are always on my hitlist. This small and very active little guy had quite the attitude and yawned at me several times. Hairy frogfish are a bit more sophisticated than their anglerfish brethren. The striatus have a large and unique lure that they use to excite their prey, coaxing them closer for the kill. Nikon D300s, Nikkor 60mm

 

Special thanks to Kasawari Lembeh Resort and guides Nunsix and Ali. The service is impeccable, guides are fantastic and the resort is stunning. You made our stay very special to say the least. Stay tuned for details for detsils on Lembeh, Macro Madness June 2014

 

About the Author

Mike BartikMike Bartick is an avid and experienced scuba diver and Marine Wildlife Photographer. He has an insatiable love for nudibranchs, frogfish and other underwater critters, and is the official critter expert for the Underwater Photography Guide. Mike is also one of the UWPG trip leaders. See more of his work at www.saltwaterphoto.com.

 

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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