Monthly Archives

June 2005

Photos of Humpback Whale Bubble Displays

Hawaii, Humpback Whale, Underwater Life, Wildlife

Humpback whales are famous for their use of bubbles to “net” prey, especially in Alaska where coordinated bubble netting among groups of humpback whales is often seen. However, humpbacks also commonly use bubble displays and air releases in their social interactions in warm waters. It is thought the these bubble releases are signals to nearby whales. This seems most true in humpback groups engaged in “rowdy” behaviour, in which a group of male whales is competing for position in the group, usually alongside a focal female whale. In these situations, bubbles seem to be released by male escort whales in an effort to intimidate rival escort whales, or to create a visual barrier.

North Pacific humpback whale, male escort bubble streams alongside mother and calf, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

North Pacific humpback whale, male escort bubble streams alongside mother and calf.
Image ID: 05926
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

Bubble curtains occur when a whale swims along emitting a steady stream of bubbles. Seen from above water, the curtain becomes a bubble trail sometimes reaching a length of a hundred yards or more, and can be useful in locating whales that have been underwater for a while. Sometimes several competing males in a group will simultaneously create bubble curtains, perhaps to intimidate one another or “shield” a female from approach by a challenging male.

North Pacific humpback whale, male bubble trailing in competitive group, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

North Pacific humpback whale, male bubble trailing in competitive group.
Image ID: 02150
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

Bubble blasts usually occur just as a whale is surfacing. They may be both an attempt to intimidate a nearby competing whale and an early exhalation in a particularly strenuous competitive group. Bubble blasts often accompany a head lunge, where the whale surfaces at speed, exhaling hard and with sufficient momentum that it drives forward with rostrum and head partially out of the water. Occasionally, singletons and inquisitive whales perform bubble displays in a non-agonistic situation as they swim near a boat or research divers.

Humpback whale lunging out of the water at it reaches the surface, exhaling in a burst of bubbles, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Humpback whale lunging out of the water at it reaches the surface, exhaling in a burst of bubbles.
Image ID: 01407
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

North Pacific humpback whale, primary escort bubble trails alongside female amid competitive group, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

North Pacific humpback whale, primary escort bubble trails alongside female amid competitive group.
Image ID: 06034
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

Keywords: humpback whale, bubble stream, blow, spout, bubble trail, bubbles, Megaptera novaeangliae, underwater.

These photographs were taken during Hawaii Whale Research Foundation research activities conducted under provisions of NOAA / NMFS and State of Hawaii scientific research permits.

Whale Shark Photo, Darwin Island, Galapagos

Galapagos Diaries, Icons, Underwater Life

The Galapagos Islands, an Ecuadorian archipelago straddling the equator in the Eastern Pacific, is a remarkable underwater paradise. The central and southern islands hold a wealth of temperate as well as tropical marine creatures due to the mixing of currents there. However, it is the northern islands of Darwin and Wolf that divers typically look forward to the most on a Galapagos dive trip. These two islands, along with the smaller Roca Redonda, are the best places in the Galapagos — and indeed one of the best places in the world — to encounter whale sharks. On our first dive at Darwin in 1996 the group had left me behind, riding the current back to the anchorage, while I spent my air exploring the area where we were dropped at Darwin’s Arch. I met up with a young whale shark who happened along and allowed me to swim alongside him for 20 minutes taking photos. Eventually the shark and I caught up with the rest of the dive group, and as each diver noticed us he would swim over and join. Eventually everyone got a good look at the huge shark.

A whale shark swims through the open ocean in the Galapagos Islands.  The whale shark is the largest shark on Earth, but is harmless eating plankton and small fish, Rhincodon typus, Darwin Island

A whale shark swims through the open ocean in the Galapagos Islands. The whale shark is the largest shark on Earth, but is harmless eating plankton and small fish.
Image ID: 01520
Species: Whale shark, Rhincodon typus
Location: Darwin Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

During our several visits to Darwin Island (we’ve made three trips there in ’96, ’98 and ’06), we have dove at the Arch repeatedly. In 1996 our group saw a whale shark on every dive there including a final dive at the arch was highlighted by a visit from an enormous whale shark, probably 40 feet or more in length:

Whale shark, Rhincodon typus, Darwin Island

Whale shark.
Image ID: 01503
Species: Whale shark, Rhincodon typus
Location: Darwin Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Keywords: whale shark photo, Galapagos, Rhincodon typus, Darwin Island, underwater.

Revenge of the Mahi Mahi :: Part II

Hawaii, Stories

Continued from Part I

You see, mahi, as open water fish are prone to do, seek cover underneath and beside any floating object that they can find. This mahi is no exception. He has seen manfish before, swimming gracefully below the surface and sporting deadly appendages that send out flashing darts, impaling his comrades. Under normal circumstances the mahi would keep his distance from any manfish that he saw. But he is now desperate and willing to consider anything. Furthermore, the mahi observes that this particular manfish is so bloated that it can only bob at the surface. Has it fed recently? Apparently not, since the manfish is so weak that it swims no faster than sargassum and can only vaguely wag its worthless rubbery flippers. The mahi seizes the moment and races for cover.

For a moment poor manfish is confused. Where has the mahi has gone? Why are the false killers now so keenly interested in him, swimming so closely and showing their teeth? The false killers are in manfish‘s face now, pinging him with their sonar and looking very agitated. The FK’s repeatedly swim off, turn and rush hard at the frightened little manfish. The false killers are smiling. Smiling with their famous false killer teeth. This is strange, manfish thinks, why are the FK’s suddenly acting like this?

A flash of gold and green catches my eye. Holy shit, the mahi is next to me! When did this happen? Either this mahi is the most frightened fish I have ever seen, or the most fearless, or both. It dawns on me, too late, that the mahi is using me for cover. I am insulted to think that I could, even for a moment, be mistaken for drift garbage or a stray fishing net. I realize that I have been outfoxed, that this fish knows exactly what it is doing, and that I am not only his protection but an alternate and perhaps preferable food source for the false killers. I punch at the mahi to get him away from me. The fish is too quick. I end up punching nothing but water, hard, and my shoulder starts to hurt. If I had a speargun I would serve this mahi some cold steel for having put me in this position. The guys on the boat are laughing. One of my fins is slipping off from my backpedaling. The fish is laughing.

It is assumed that when large toothed cetaceans are playing with something, they do not appreciate an interloper who comes along and takes their toy away. From the perspective of the false killer whales, I had just taken their ball and might be getting ready to go home. They were considering how to get their ball back, as well as whether I too might be some form of toy or food. Trying to explain to them that the ball just rolled over to me on its own accord was not an option.

Try as I might, I cannot keep a steady shot of the false killers as they corkscrew around and underneath me trying to get at the mahi. My fins keep getting in my way and theirs. Occasionally the mahi swims across the camera, two inches in front of the lens, but for the most part he does an admirable job of keeping me between himself and the false killers. I begin to make my way back to the boat, hoping that no other false killers show up. As I near the swim step, I look down to see the mahi hiding between my fins. I try to swipe at the fish with one of my fins, cutting the fin through the water sideways like a knife as hard as I can. I miss the fish and the sharp edge of my fin caroms off my other ankle. I cannot swear because of the water that has leaked into the top of my snorkel and is now coming out my nose and causing me to choke. The mahi ditches me for the boat. I feel used. The false killers stay on my heels as I shoot out of the water onto the swim step. No one is there to assist me with the camera, they are high-fiving on deck and laughing too hard.

Revenge of the Mahi Mahi :: Part I

Hawaii, Stories

REVENGE OF THE MAHI, or, The Hapless Research Videographer

Perhaps their reputation is unjustified. I know of no documented case where a human has been attacked by one. Nevertheless, false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) are intimidating creatures. Have a false killer swim up to you and smile, displaying its many sharp and gleaming teeth, and you may wonder what possessed you to enter the water in the first place. False killers are pack hunters and are capable of taking on any animal in the ocean, with the possible exception of true killer whales. Roughly the size, color and shape of pilot whales, false killers produce canary-like vocalizations to communicate with one another as well as sonar echolocation to locate prey. On many of the occasions that we have observed false killers, they have been consuming or harassing large fish. On at least one occasion they were inquisitive of, and possibly harassing, a humpback mother, calf and male escort.

On my first day back in the islands after a three week break, we run into a group of false killers off the south side of Lanai. They are leaping out of the water and not traveling, an indication that they are on prey. I enter the water to videotape what is happening. “No problem,” I think, as I swim toward a pair of false killers herding a large fish, “finally we’ll get footage of FK’s taking prey, to complement the other footage we have shot of them clicking us with their sonar and interacting with bottlenose dolphins.” It appears to me that the FK’s are playing with their fish, and that perhaps the larger FK is teaching something about hunting to its much smaller companion. The fish, a large male mahi mahi, is flashing his colors and turning wildly, trapped at the surface by the FK’s. He is in deep trouble and knows it.

But this mahi mahi is a very smart fish, and a lucky one. (This of course is obvious. Had he not been smart and lucky, he would have been consumed by his brothers long ago). The FK’s have let him live long enough so that he is still alive when the rare manfish swims towards him and his FK adversaries. It is thus that in the manfish the cunning mahi mahi sees both salvation from his desperate situation and a remarkable opportunity to turn the tables on the species which has cruelly hunted his kind with hook and spear for millenia. Poor manfish.

As I approach the trio, one of the FK’s peels off to make a brief pass by me, then resumes his harassment of the mahi. Our policy as research videographers is to stop approaching and float at the surface when we get within decent video range, which is what I do. I am now a short distance from the boat, twenty feet away from the hunt. Much to my good fortune the action moves nearer to me and I sense that some in-the-face action is coming. My attention alternates among each of the three animals. It is when I briefly take my eyes off of the mahi that he delivers his coupe de grace, a stunning maneuver that shifts the balance of power in this silly drama. I do not recognize how thoroughly I have been outwitted until it is too late.

Continued…

The Kelp Forest :: Part V

California, Natural World, Stories, Underwater Life

When the goal is simply to swim in and admire a kelp forest, nothing beats the (relatively) warm clear waters of Southern California’s San Clemente Island in late summer. On a good day the panorama at San Clemente is stunning: kelp in all directions reaching from seafloor to surface, summer sun and canopy shadow constantly changing, fish swimming the avenues of the forest and visible over a 100′ away. One is enveloped — literally — by life as far as one can see, an effect I have experienced only a few times, and fleetingly, elsewhere in the ocean. On a day like this I will spend as much time in the water as possible, staying just below the surface to take advantage of the wonderful quality and variety of sunlight in the canopy, waiting for subjects to photograph against a backdrop of kelp. There are always garibaldi, kelp bass, various wrasses and juvenile fish hidden among kelp fronds to photograph year-round. It is September and October — the magical Indian summer months at Clemente — that are my favorite as they have brought torpedo and bat rays, seals and sea lions, huge schools of salema and mackeral and enormous sea bass though the forest in front of my lens: wonderful animals in a spectacular setting to spite my limited ability to capture them on film.

Garibaldi in kelp forest, Hypsypops rubicundus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Garibaldi in kelp forest.
Image ID: 01055
Species: Garibaldi, Hypsypops rubicundus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

California bat ray in kelp forest, Myliobatis californica, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

California bat ray in kelp forest.
Image ID: 00267
Species: California bat ray, Myliobatis californica, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Jack mackerel and kelp, Trachurus symmetricus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Jack mackerel and kelp.
Image ID: 00380
Species: Pacific jack mackerel, Trachurus symmetricus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Kelp fronds, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp fronds.
Image ID: 03423
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

See more kelp forest photos

The Kelp Forest :: Part IV

California, Natural World, Ocean Sunfish, Stories, Underwater Life, Wildlife

Further to the south, Santa Barbara and Catalina Island kelp forests offer somewhat less profuse animal life but warmer and clearer waters. While I don’t dive these two islands often anymore, I do dive kelp originating from these islands throughout the summer: drift kelp. I was introduced to the notion of seeking out floating paddies of kelp by bluewater photographer Mike Johnson and have been hooked ever since. It is a strange pursuit, driving miles of open ocean in search of drifting kelp in the hope of finding something under it. You see, kelp plants that lose their hold on the reef continue to float and grow, drifting with the winds and currents until they are beached or reach warm water. Along the way they gather a variety of passengers including juvenile fish, Medialuna eggs, barnacles and pelagic nudibranchs. Paddies and their passengers further attract a variety of open ocean life: diving birds, bait fish, yellowtail, tuna and marlin, blue and mako sharks. Perhaps the oddest of these visitors is the ocean sunfish (Mola mola), which recruits small fishes at paddies to clean it of parasites — a cleaning station for the largest bony fish in the world, miles from shore in deep oceanic water, circling a scrap of drifting seaweed.

Continued…

Ocean sunfish schooling near drift kelp, soliciting cleaner fishes, open ocean, Baja California, Mola mola

Ocean sunfish schooling near drift kelp, soliciting cleaner fishes, open ocean, Baja California.
Image ID: 06308
Species: Ocean sunfish, Mola mola

Blue shark underneath drift kelp, open ocean, Prionace glauca, San Diego, California

Blue shark underneath drift kelp, open ocean.
Image ID: 01006
Species: Blue shark, Prionace glauca
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Pacific white sided dolphin carrying drift kelp, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens, San Diego, California

Pacific white sided dolphin carrying drift kelp.
Image ID: 00043
Species: Pacific white-sided dolphin, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Half-moon perch, offshore drift kelp, Medialuna californiensis, San Diego, California

Half-moon perch, offshore drift kelp.
Image ID: 01933
Species: Halfmoon perch, Medialuna californiensis
Location: San Diego, California, USA

For more photos of the kelp forest, see http://www.oceanlight.com/html/kelp.html

The Kelp Forest :: Part III

California, Natural World, Stories, Underwater Life

Central and Northern California kelp forests are bathed by cold, nutrient-laden currents. The waters here are generally not clear but are rich with animal life. Invertebrate displays on the rocks below the kelp forest are some of the most profuse and interesting in the world and it is common to see large schools of rockfish and pelagic jellies hovering among the kelp. Kelp forests here breed some of the world’s hardiest divers, those who manage year-round dry suits, beach entries and surface swims, winter swells and the distinct possibility of meeting great white sharks in murky water just to dive in Macrocystis.

Continued…

Kelp canopy, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp canopy.
Image ID: 06119
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Giant kelpfish in kelp, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Giant kelpfish in kelp.
Image ID: 05141
Species: Giant kelpfish, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Northern kelp crab crawls amidst kelp blades and stipes, midway in the water column (below the surface, above the ocean bottom) in a giant kelp forest, Pugettia producta, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Nicholas Island

Northern kelp crab crawls amidst kelp blades and stipes, midway in the water column (below the surface, above the ocean bottom) in a giant kelp forest.
Image ID: 10215
Species: Northern kelp crab, Pugettia producta, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Nicholas Island, California, USA

Kelp forest, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp forest.
Image ID: 04675
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

For more photos of the kelp forest, see http://www.oceanlight.com/html/kelp.html

The Kelp Forest :: Part II

California, Natural World, Stories, Underwater Life

It is my spirited opinion, one that I enjoy defending over a beer after a long day on the water, that diving amidst giant kelp is the most magnificent diving in the world. I am fortunate enough to have had some amazing experiences underwater — watching swarms of hammerheads soar overhead, riding the broad back of an accommodating manta, being eyeballed by an inquisitive whale. However, the diving I consider most dear is that found in the splendid kelp forests along the coast and offshore islands of California. Vast beds of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) line the shore, rising from rocky reefs nearly 100ft deep to reach the surface before spreading out to form a thick floating canopy. Underneath this canopy, the sensation of swimming amid the columns of kelp plants is akin to flying through a terrestrial forest. Corridors between kelp stalks lead to wide openings in the forest in which schools of fish hover. Shafts of light filtered by the canopy above fall across kelp to the reef below. When the current shifts and bends the kelp stalks in a new direction the topology of the forest changes, creating new avenues and rooms to explore.

Continued…

Kelp canopy, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp canopy.
Image ID: 02118
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Kelp forest, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp forest.
Image ID: 02409
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Kelp bed. Giant macrocystis kelp is anchored on the ocean floor and grows to reach the ocean surface, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp bed. Giant macrocystis kelp is anchored on the ocean floor and grows to reach the ocean surface.
Image ID: 02502
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Divers and kelp forest, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Divers and kelp forest.
Image ID: 02988
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

For more photos of the kelp forest, see http://www.oceanlight.com/html/kelp.html

The Kelp Forest :: Part I

California, Natural World, Stories, Underwater Life

My first experience with seaweed was as a kid combing the shores of Newport Beach where I grew up. After storms my brother and I would find clumps of the brown stuff pushed up the beach. We would pick through them to pop the small bubbles attached to the leaves. If the seaweed was fresh and still had its rootball attached, we would break it apart to reveal a mix of tiny animals: brittle stars, baby octopus, urchins, crabs, little shells and worms. The glimpses of marine life that seaweed brought to our shore triggered a childhood curiosity in the ocean and its inhabitants. Yet it was not until I began diving in kelp that I gained a fuller appreciation of the ocean world.

Continued…

Kelp forest, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp forest.
Image ID: 04651
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Jack mackerel schooling amid kelp forest, Trachurus symmetricus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Jack mackerel schooling amid kelp forest.
Image ID: 00256
Species: Pacific jack mackerel, Trachurus symmetricus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Kelp plants growing toward surface and spreading to form a canopy, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp plants growing toward surface and spreading to form a canopy.
Image ID: 01293
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Kelp fronds and forest, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp fronds and forest.
Image ID: 01497
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

For more photos of the kelp forest, see http://www.oceanlight.com/html/kelp.html

Seagrass in Motion

Underwater Life

One morning while diving at San Clemente Island I was struck by the lackluster light. It was cloudy and dark and I had yet to find any exciting subjects to shoot. I was spacing out in the shallows watching the kelp fishes meander among the weeds when I started fiddling around with long handheld exposures trying to find something interesting in the motion of seagrass as it was tossed about by passing swells. Here is what I got:

Surf grass on the rocky reef -- appearing blurred in this time exposure -- is tossed back and forth by powerful ocean waves passing by above.  San Clemente Island, Phyllospadix

Surf grass on the rocky reef — appearing blurred in this time exposure — is tossed back and forth by powerful ocean waves passing by above. San Clemente Island.
Image ID: 10240
Species: Surfgrass, Phyllospadix
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Surf grass on the rocky reef -- appearing blurred in this time exposure -- is tossed back and forth by powerful ocean waves passing by above.  San Clemente Island, Phyllospadix

Surf grass on the rocky reef — appearing blurred in this time exposure — is tossed back and forth by powerful ocean waves passing by above. San Clemente Island.
Image ID: 10237
Species: Surfgrass, Phyllospadix
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

A garibaldi fish (orange), surf grass (green) and palm kelp (brown) on the rocky reef -- all appearing blurred in this time exposure -- are tossed back and forth by powerful ocean waves passing by above.  San Clemente Island, Phyllospadix, Hypsypops rubicundus

A garibaldi fish (orange), surf grass (green) and palm kelp (brown) on the rocky reef — all appearing blurred in this time exposure — are tossed back and forth by powerful ocean waves passing by above. San Clemente Island.
Image ID: 10238
Species: Surfgrass, Phyllospadix, Hypsypops rubicundus
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Surf grass on the rocky reef -- appearing blurred in this time exposure -- is tossed back and forth by powerful ocean waves passing by above.  San Clemente Island, Phyllospadix

Surf grass on the rocky reef — appearing blurred in this time exposure — is tossed back and forth by powerful ocean waves passing by above. San Clemente Island.
Image ID: 10247
Species: Surfgrass, Phyllospadix
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

These photos were quite simple to expose and I shots hundreds of them on the dive, throwing away 95% of them upon review and ending up with a few worthwhile keepers.

Nikon D100, 12-24mm f/4 lens, f22 at whatever, available light.

Keywords: motion, blur, time exposure, seagrass.