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

 

 

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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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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

 


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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.

 

 

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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

 


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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

 


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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

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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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Ultimate Guide to Sea Turtle Photography

Jeff Milisen
A Hawaii-Centric Guide to Sea Turtles, Where to Find Them, Photo Tips & Behaviors

Ultimate Guide to Sea Turtle Photography


A Hawaii-Centric Guide to Sea Turtles, Where to Find Them, Photo Tips & Behaviors

Text & Photos by Jeff Milisen

 

sea turtle

 

 
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More than six hundred thousand tourists flocked to Hawaii in April this year. While a few flew in for work, most of the guests were here on vacation. Their motives were mostly similar: lie on a beach, soak up some sun, and go for a swim. At some point hunger drove them away from the beach toward a buffet of tropical edibles. And between the gluttonous cramming and food-induced beach comas, they will sometimes even procreate. Of course, these activities aren’t solely for people seeking a tan. One of Hawaii’s most symbolic and photogenic creatures has made a lifestyle out of similar passions.

 

Sea Turtles in Hawaii

Sea turtles have had a roller coaster relationship with Hawaii. Early explorers described seeing so many turtles that they were navigation hazards. As happens all too frequently, the human population in Hawaii exploded to the detriment of the local wildlife. Turtles were hunted to near extirpation until the state and federal governments put a stop to collecting and even harassment of such animals in 1978. Over the next few years, they multiplied. A lot. Today it is imperative to keep a lookout at the bow of a small boat moving through Kaneohe Bay lest a turtle pop up for a breath. They have become a staple of Hawaiian tourism and a symbol of the successes of proper management. There is currently a movement to take green sea turtles off the threatened list. Thus, now seems like an appropriate time to appreciate these gentle, floating mega fauna.

 

sea turtle

A honu proudly shows off a healed war wound at Portlock, Oahu. This animal was likely the victim of a tiger shark, one of the only animals equipped to consume full-grown sea turtles. Canon 500D, Tokina 10-17mm, 1/160, f/9, iso 200.

 

Hawaii’s strict anti-harassment laws have brought the species back from the brink, but they still face many anthropogenic hazards. Boat strikes, poachers, and marine debris all claim an untold number of turtles every year. I’ve witnessed numerous examples of these hazards, but by far the most memorable was a turtle I came across under the ledge of a popular fishing spot. Its front flipper was connected to its head by numerous hooks and lines, pinning both extremities to its side. Reflecting on the same anti-harassment laws that saved Hawaii’s turtles, I nervously reached out and removed one hook from its head hoping that would resolve the situation and be on my way. The turtle swam around and approached me again, creating an extenuating circumstance by turning me into a cleaning station. As I was running low on air and the lines and hooks were mostly gone, I swam off with the turtle trailing behind as the most unique dive buddy I’ve ever had.

This article is taking a Hawaii-centric approach to the topic of sea turtles, which means we are mostly dealing with the abundant green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas). Greens, or honu as they are locally known, are the largest of the hard-shelled turtles reaching a maximum size of somewhere around 1 meter in length. They can be distinguished from their other shelled relatives by having a blunt head and a beak without a hook. In discord with their namesake, green sea turtles are not especially green but are instead named for the green colored fat under their shells. Unlike other sea turtles, honu eat mostly macro algae and seagrass. 

 

sea turtle

This turtle became so infatuated with its own reflection that I found myself having to swim away at times to keep from scratching my dome port. Canon 500D, Tokina 10-17mm, 1/160, f/8, iso 100.

 

Where to Find Them

Green sea turtles are found circumtropically and are one of the most frequently encountered species in many parts of their range. The turtles in the Atlantic and the Pacific represent their own subpopulations. Major nesting sites exist on Ascension Island, Costa Rica, Hutchinson Island in Florida, the Pacific Coast of Mexico and throughout the Indo Pacific. Look for greens in shallow coastal waters foraging on seagrass beds where available.

In Hawaii, green sea turtles are pretty ubiquitous. The key to any good photo is a compelling and willing subject, and the places that maintain a friendlier turtle population tend to be where they have had the most exposure to people. For example, the sites best known for harboring lots of relatively tame turtles on Oahu include Makaha, Hanauma Bay, much of the North Shore, and the boat accessible Turtle Canyon. Likewise on the Big Island, places like Honaunau, Puako and Turtles Reef are hot spots for cuddling up next to a honu and popular places to go for a snorkel. While these are recommended honu hideouts, nearly every dive site has a few resident turtles. 

 

sea turtles

A pair of Hawaiian green sea turtles resting in the coral gardens outside Sea Cave off the southeast side of Oahu. Canon 500D, Tokina 10-17mm, 1/100, f/8, iso 400.

 

 

Photo Tips

As with most animal photography, turtles need to be romanced into behaving for the camera. Take some time to get to know your subject before diving in for the winning shot. Underwater photography isn’t just about getting the exposure and composition right; the unique experiences are what drive the resulting imagery. Most of these rules can be applied to any underwater subject that comes into focus. 

 

Don’t Chase

The best way to get a shot of a turtle’s tail is to swim after it. Head-on shots are better achieved through patience and playing to the animal’s inherent sense of curiosity. Approach slowly or better yet, let the animal come to you. As long as they aren’t spooked, they can often be entranced by their own reflection in the dome port. When this happens, set the shutter speed to fast and just hold down the shutter.

 

Wait for your Shot

Turtles can be deceptively difficult to shoot well. Anybody can point and click, but it takes real patience to put everything in the right place. Even if the subject is facing the camera and at the right angle (which it won't often do naturally), the front flippers can awkwardly block the head. When the turtle is being sociable, keep an eye in the viewfinder and a finger on the trigger. Remember, while faster dslr’s may take photos at a rate of ten pics per second, strobes take a few seconds to recycle. Use the artificial light wisely and hold off until the shot comes into view.

 

Create the Shot

It always helps to have a plan. Visualize the shot before entering the water thinking about the elements of composition, lighting, and exposure. Where do you want the subject? Are there other divers in the image? What are they doing? The more detail that goes into the plan, the better the final image will be.

 

sea turtle

When shooting most nektonic animals, it is a good idea to shoot at an upward angle to separate the subject from the substrate. In this case, a snorkeler hovers excitedly over her first Hawaiian green sea turtle encounter at Kahe Point, Oahu. Canon 500D, Tokina 10-17mm, 1/125, f/9, iso 100.

 

Be Adaptable

Often, the situation won’t unfold the way it was originally imagined, so instead of wasting the experience, use the added elements to create something exceptional. Did the plan call for a reflection at the surface but the seas are too choppy? Use the stormy water to create a dramatic image instead. Are there more people crowding the animal than expected? Document that. These unexpected elements are what help tell the story of your shot. 

 

Respect Local Guidelines

Hawaii offers turtles protection from harassment. Harassment is defined as any action that alters the natural behavior of the animal, which means absolutely no touching or riding the animals. The wording on the laws is intentionally vague, so it is in the best interest of the photographer to be conservative in how they act around protected animals.

 

In General

Unless you are looking for a portrait/head shot, go wide or go home. But if the equipment in question isn’t any fancier than a point and shoot, don’t worry as turtles are fairly forgiving subjects.

 

sea turtle

This image is the result of an hour spent gaining an animal’s trust. It took many minutes, but eventually, the turtle decided I was not a threat and swam with me for the remainder of the dive, affording me many opportunities to wait for the sun to be shining bright enough for the sunbeams in the background. Taken at Honaunau, Big Island. Canon 500D, Tokina 10-17mm, 1/160, f/8, iso 100.

 

sea turtle split shot

Split shots of static subjects are tough enough. Taking over unders of moving subjects requires lots of planning, even more patience, and a healthy dose of good luck. Puako, Big Island. Canon 500D, Tokina 10-17mm, 1/160, f/8, iso 400.

 

hawaii sea turtle

A young green sea turtle pokes its head through the wreckage of a Navy LCU off the west shore of Oahu.  Canon 500D, Tokina 10-17mm, 1/160, f/9, iso 200.

 

 

Behaviors

Even if the plan changes, the preparation process is key to making your pics pop. Part of the visualization process should include a behavior that the turtle is exhibiting. Below is a short list of the most common behavioral opportunities pertaining to turtles and how to up the chance for success. 

 

Resting

Anywhere turtles are seen frequently provides an opportunity to observe them lying about. However the award for the laziest turtles might have to go to a pair that hangs out on the stern of the wreck of the YO-257 on Oahu. It seems that if they aren’t on the deck itself, they are usually lying out in a hold somewhere or heading to the surface for a breath. If the latter is the case, just sit tight - they’ll be back shortly.

 

Basking

Hawaii is one of the only places (in addition to the Galapagos and Australia) where green sea turtles are known to bask on shore. People frequently mistake these beached animals as injured or laying eggs. More than likely, the turtles are thermoregulating or even just taking a break. They make for engaging and unique over/under subjects when entering or leaving the water or even to set off a pretty sunset. When preparing the shot, keep in mind that laws prohibiting harassment of sea turtles extend beyond the water’s edge. Favorite basking beaches can be found at Puako, Honaunau and at various beaches on the north shore of Oahu. 

 

Feeding

When they aren’t resting or lying around on a beach, turtles are generally stuffing themselves with marine salad. Often, they can be found feeding in shallow water where the rocks meet the ocean. The good news for shutterbugs is that the turtles are often so engrossed in their food that they forget their surroundings. Therefore, macro shots of turtles munching on rock fuzz are an easy way to snag a last-minute shot at the end of a dive. 

 

Breathing

As much as they would rather remain motionless on the bottom or gorge themselves on seaslime, turtles have to go to the surface to breathe every so often. When this happens, they take one or two breaths and disappear beneath the surface. The two ways to get this shot are while wading in a shallow, protected embayment or spotting one from a boat. The turtle should be positioned such that it is facing toward or lateral to the lens. Be ready with a long lens focused on the spot they are likely to come up because the breath will last only a quick second. 

 

Cleaning

Much like neighbors who refuse to mow or rake their lawns, turtles don’t clean themselves. Instead, the other reef inhabitants take the task on themselves. Most congregations of turtles have a resident cleaning station nearby. Because yellow hues show up brightly underwater, it is visually optimal to target cleaning stations with a lot of yellow fish. In Hawaii this means yellow tangs (Zebrasoma flavescens) that are most abundant on the Kona coast. Be wary that the tangs will scatter quickly, so act fast with the wide-angle lens.

 

Breeding

Get lucky. Breeding occurs in the springtime. That’s about all the help anyone can give.

 

sea turtles mating in hawaii

This pair of sea turtles were found mating offshore from Kihei, Maui. Note the male’s front flipper claws gripping the carapace of the female. The coupling lasted only for a few minutes before they parted ways.  Canon A650is, 1/250, f/4, ISO 160.

 

Nesting

The vast majority of nestings in Hawaii occur at French Frigate Shoals, an atoll that sits in a protected section of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. That means that the same turtles that are visiting tourists at Waikiki Beach swim 500 miles to this remote location every year to lay eggs before swimming all the way back to Oahu. Recently, and for the first time in decades, turtles have been observed nesting on the islets surrounding Oahu in June and July. Many of these small islands are off limits to the public, so these episodes are best witnessed from nearby shorelines and small boats.

 

 

Other Sea Turtles

While green sea turtles are common in Hawaii, there are several other species that prove just as interesting. All of the species mentioned below have been found in Hawaii, but are much more rare than their “green” cousin.

 

Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata)

Hawksbills are extremely rare in Hawaii and considered critically endangered throughout the rest of their range. They can be distinguished from greens by having a curved beak, flatter shells, and overlapping scutes where the carapace (dorsal shell) and plastron (ventral shell) meet. They are endangered because they historically supplied much of the world’s need for tortoiseshell and have yet to recover. Their strange diet is comprised mostly of sponges. The Caribbean and western Indian Ocean (and Red Sea) remains some of the more common places to encounter hawksbill sea turtles.

 

hawksbill sea turtle

Hawksbill sea turtles are rarely seen in Hawaii. This older specimen was observed just inside of the boat channel at Honokohau Harbor, Big Island. Canon G12, 1/80, f/8, iso 125.

 

Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead sea turtles are no strangers to life in the open ocean but can also be found in shallow coastal environments. They come ashore only to lay eggs. Loggerheads are notable for having blunt snouts and small plastrons (ventral shells). Food items include most animals they can catch. Frequently this means sessile, shelled organisms like gastropods and crustaceans. Females will often battle it out over territory in a ritual that escalates into biting at each other. The best place to visit loggerheads is off the coast of the southeastern United States and along the Gulf of Mexico. 

 

Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea)

This is the largest sea turtle with an average size over 6 feet long and the largest on record being almost 10! Leatherbacks are very rare, and encounters with divers do not happen often. They have a skin covering on their massive carapace and an overall black appearance. The leatherback’s mouth is full of sharp protrusions that point backward helping to guide jellyfish - its spicy food of choice - down its throat. They are one of the world’s few living giant reptiles and as such they are not likely to be confused with other sea turtles. 

 

 

In Conclusion

Underwater Photography Guide readers would do well to follow another practice set by sea turtles. They may devote a few hours here and there catching sunrays on the beach, but the vast majority of their time is spent living life under the waves. Chances are good that your vacation would be better occupied off the beach than on it, dragging a camera in tow and working to capture a mind-blowing image of one of the ocean’s most charismatic reptiles. Aloha.

 

sea turtles in hawaii

A pair of sea turtles cruise over a sandy area outside the warm water discharge site at Kahe Point, Oahu. Canon A650is, 1/40, f/8, iso 80.

 

About the Author

From cone snails to sharks and many things in between, Jeff Milisen has interests firmly rooted in anything related to marine biology. Such a varied career has led him to spend considerable time in remote habitats. When not plying the open ocean or poking around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, he visits the multitude of dive sites around his home in Kona. Wherever his exploits go, he is sure to have his dive gear and camera packed and at the ready. Visit milisenphotography.yolasite.com for more of Jeff’s imagery.

 

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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