Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I haven't postsed in several days... No charters this week as of yet and I'm still letting my head clear from whatever bug it was I had, along with a mild case of food poisoning, so I've been out of the water.

Charters should be starting up again at the end of the week, which is a good thing because I'll be able to give my new hire some days. Early May is looking to be pretty busy, and late may is booking up for Memorial Day and such.

This is a collector urchin, or "pebble collector urchin" which is one of the most common urchins we see during the day. They tend to collect garbage, broken bits of coral and such on them. I've aways thought it might be as camouflage because they do not have sharp nasty spines as other urchins do- don't quote me on that but it makes some sense. You can pick these guys up. If you do, take a look at the "smooth" part between the rows of spines... it's loads of urchin feet and they're cool to watch as they move. After 20 or 30 seconds, the urchin is likely to stick to you. I generally only pick these guys up to feed to helmet snails (look though the archives, I've got a nice picture of a helmet snail "pouncing" on a collector urchin in there somewhere) if I find a snail on a dive.



Thursday, April 20, 2006

It's a sunny morning in Kona

I've got a couple of days off, the ears are feeling better, hopefully I'm completely over the crud by the time I'm back to diving. Today's a run-around day to get errands done and then start cleaning our vacation rental for the next group.

I've got my full timer hired. I'm excited. He's got a decade of full time guiding and teaching experience in Hawaii so he'll be a nice addition, I'll talk more about him when his two weeks notice is up.

We did the manta dive the other night again, 19 mantas at the site this time. It was cool, even for me on the boat. We were tied off to another boat and as their divers were getting in I could hear them hollering. I could see 6 or 7 mantas swirling next to my boat in the shadows, in addition to the mantas under the divers and those over my group which was already down at the site.

The photo above was taken at the "end of the road" up north of Kawaihae and Hawi. There are a series of valleys on the north end of the island which streches from Pololu Valley to Waipio Valley. I really like Pololu Valley. At the end of the road there is a steep, but relatively short (15-20 minute) hike down into the valley. It's a nice way to get some great sightseeing and a bit of a hike in without traveling all the way to the other side of the island, or trying to walk the Captain Cook Monument trail which is a little more serious hike - I do need to try that monument hike again just to see if it kills me as much as when I was 30 pounds heavier a few years back. I'll post a pic or two of Pololu Valley at a later date.



Sunday, April 16, 2006

Going out on another Kona manta ray night dive tonight.

I've been having manta ray charters quite a bit the last couple of weeks. We went out on Friday night and had mobs of mantas for the evening. Between the 3 videographers that report, they've identified as many as 27 mantas at the site that evening.

Yesterday we went out and finished the Open Water certification dives for a student. My ears are killing me right now... one of the hazards of the profession is trying to do multiple ups and downs when you are coming off a cold. This stuff I've had for coming up on a month now has my ears a bit sensitive. I made it down a couple of times and then had my other Instructor/Captain finish things up. In a couple of days I should be OK again. I'm doing another night charter on Tuesday, I'll stay up top both tonight and then.

The picture above is the best one I've taken thus far of a cleaner shrimp. These are neat little critters that generally pick a spot to live and then fish will come to visit them and have parasites cleaned off of them. They are often associated with eels and will climb all over them, even in their mouths, to clean. If you find these, you can present your fingers and they will climb up on them and start tweaking at your cuticles... just watch out that there isn't an eel in the same hole - you don't want to be making the Hawaiian "shaka" sign permanently.



Friday, April 14, 2006

Current Kona Hawaii water temperature is 75 or so.

Last night they had a record count at the manta ray night dive. 23 mantas!!!! I wasn't there but I'm heading out there for tonight's dive with 4 divers and a ride along.

The last couple of days I've had some students taking their open water course. They were lucky enough to see dolphins underwater on their very first dive, as well as a sleeping whitetip reef shark and several turtles.

Yesterday we had a certified diver on as well so he had his own private guide. Apparently they saw 2 pregnant whitetip reef sharks on the first dive off Lone Tree Arch and then at Garden Eel Cove saw a manta ray on the second dive. The students finished their course and are joining us for tonight's night dive.

Here's another photo of a fried egg nudibranch I took ages ago with the older camera. I had a tough time getting a good pic of these nudibranchs with that camera for some reason. The camera had an onboard flash but I was always either under-exposing or over-exposing the shots on these nudibranchs. I could never figure out why. This one turned out OK with a little photoshop help.



Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Wow! 18 manta rays at the Kona manta ray dive tonight!

Today was a long day for me. Class in the morning, pool session in the afternoon and then a two tanker late afternoon/night dive. I'm back at it first thing in the morning tomorrow. The manta dive is just hopping right now. We had 18 tonight and apparently there were 16 or 17 last night. That's 5 huge nights in a row. I have another manta trip being put together for Friday evening and likely again this weekend.

Here's a picture of Regal Slipper lobsters. These guys are one of a few types of slipper lobsters we have here, they are the most colorful. I think I took this picture down at Casa Caves last year, but we do see them on our night dive on a fairly frequent basis.

Good night,


Monday, April 10, 2006

17 mantas at the Kona manta ray night dive last night.

After a few weeks of nothing, then a couple weeks of mixed results, it looks like things are heating up at the manta dive off the airport. We did it last night and there were 17 mantas. I played Captain, there were flashes going off all over underater on the site so I knew there were a bunch to be seen before the divers even came up. Check out this earlier post for a brief video on a night there were six. We've had 15, 15 and 17 mantas the last three nights. So much for the "they don't show up around a full moon" theory many visitors keep telling me - there's no actual correlation. I'm hoping it stays big for the spring.

This picture is of a true chameleon. I think it's a female Jackson's Chameleon (Chamaeleo jacksonii - males have three horns and were used in early dinosaur films), but they've also found a couple other species in the islands which are similar. They are native to Kenya and Tanzania.

These chameleons were apparently introduced accidently in the early 70's when an Oahu reptile breeder's cage (large aviary size) was torn up by a storm. Now they can be found on all the major islands here. We have several other introduced species of lizzards, and there are stiff penalties if caught transporting them between islands. Non-native species can compete for food with native critters (birds for example) and cause problems.



Saturday, April 08, 2006

That's a Moray - Hawaiian style.

I was looking through some old pics this evening and I saw this guy. I like the green head and odd shaped jaw. Not all of them have quite this much character. This is an Undulate Moray (Gymnothorax undulatus).

We don't see them all that often during the day, but they are one of the predominant eels we see on the reef on the night dives. They actively feed at night and we do often see them at the manta sites. It's part of the briefing to tell you to expect to see them and don't freak if they go across your leg or park on your arm looking for fish attracted to your flashlight, as far as they are concerned you are "eel furniture".

Watching these guys hunt is often a highlight of the dive. The mostly hunt by scent and will poke around trying to find a sleeping fish, usually tangs. When they get right next to a fish they will strike, usually missing 4 out of 5 times or so. When they do catch a fish it's often what you'd consider to be in the wrong direction. They usually catch the fish vertically between their jaws. Generally the fish is too large to swallow and they have a magnificient way of dealing with that... they will tie their body in a knot and back their head through the knot rapidly. Usually in about 3-5 quick pulls through the knot, the fish will basically explode and fold in half and it can swallow it down. Sounds gross, but even people who claim to be "afraid" of eels are facinated by it when they see it.

We got the boat back in running shape today. Hopefully it's good to go for a year or two without much downtime. Pat and I are going to spend a few hours tomorrow cleaning (ok, taking it out to play) and then I've got charters lined up starting tomorrow night (just got the call minutes ago).



Friday, April 07, 2006

Nice day in Kona today.

The weather was quite nice. I've been spending the last couple days chasing around looking ofr a part for the boat and making sure what I thought was wrong, was wrong. I found the part and got the old one out (it squeaks and it shouldn't, probably a good indication of why it doesn't work) so tomorrow we'll get it back together and take it out for a run. Hopefully I'm back in the water working in a day or two.

Here's some Raccoon Butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunula). We usually see these butterflys singly or in small numbers, however we have a number of sites where they do cluster up. At a few sites which have boulders, there often are Sergeant Major Damsels guarding eggs and the Raccons have figured out that the damsels are afraid of humans. On occasion the Raccon Butterflys will swim up to you as a group and shadow you within inches waiting for the damslefish to leave and then swoop in on the eggs for a free meal.



Thursday, April 06, 2006

The last post was looooooooonnnnnngggggg




Here's an underwater photo hint: Manual white balance

I think back early on in this blog I mentioned I was starting to play with manual white balance. I'll try to explain it and give the method I use.

One of the inherent problems with taking pictures underwater is that water either blocks, absorbs or reflects (I'm not sure if it's one or all of these - talk to a physicist, or at least someone smarter than I, if you want the straight scoop)certain wavelengths of light, and the deeper you go the less light is available, especially for photography. Red light is the first color to go and in general a blue cast to underwater photos is extremely noticeable.

Underwater photographers try to offset this through several methods... adding light with a flash or using a red lens to add red back in were the most common methods 'til recently. There can be problems with flash photography, 1- the light can still only penetrate so far and it takes a lot of strobe power to light up even 2 or 3 feet beyond the flash, and 2- if the flash is too close to the camera it will light up particulate matter in the water between the lens and your subject and you'll get white spots on your photos. Both of these are common experiences for underwater photographers when they first start out.

My early solution was just to get as close as possible and hope for the best... it actually worked pretty well for close stuff in clear water (for instance, the nudibranch pics in recent posts were all in macro with the onboard flash of my older camera). The trouble was if I was trying to take a wide shot, say of a reef or a person or two. In those cases I usually had a picture with a strong blue cast, or if using the flash, a dull photo with a lot of white spots. If you go out and pick up a cheap disposable underwater camera you will likely get a picture that might have a blue cast that looks like this.....

... even if you get a nicer camera you may end up with a photo that looks much the same if you use the automatic settings. I took this pic using the automatic settings. In any case, you'd need to be a photoshop genious to get a picture that looks close to realistic colorwise.

When I bought the housing for my newer camera, the housing would not allow me to access the pop up flash. I had to figure out the manual white balance. Most digital cameras will have both auto white balance and white balance settings for different lighting conditons... daylight, cloudy, etc... which will allow it to change the way it handles processing the image on the sensor. At some point several camera companies came up with menus that allowed you to manually set white balance by actually pointing the lens at something white and it would figure out the proper white balance and recalibrate the way it sees colors for those exact lighting conditons... this works FABULOUS underwater.

This is pretty much the same photo as before, only this time I put the camera into manual white balance mode, showed it something white (I carried a white shop rag down with me, some people just use sand if it's relatively white), set the WB and then took the shot.... Pretty close to real.

At that point you can go into your favorite photo editing program and do a single click on "Auto levels" or some other "instant fix" image adjustment and most programs will give you a darned realistic looking color. This third photo is taking the manual WB photo and then running the auto levels setting in Photoshop. Simple.

Manual white balance only works for the specific lighting conditions it was set in, so you may have to change it when so much as a cloud passes over or you even go to a different depth. In some cases there just won't be enough light to get good color even with manual capabilities, but it's always worth a try if you have no other light source. It takes some thinking at first, but once you get practiced it's not all that hard to do it on the fly.

Be aware that not all digital cameras have manual WB capabilities, if shopping for a digital camera and housing for underwater, you'll definitely want one that can do it if you want the versatility for longer shots.

Hope this wasn't too confusing, or boring, but it's made a world of difference in my underwater photos. I'll probably not use it much once I have an extra grand or so for a nice strobe, but it's great for the available light stuff I'm doing now.



Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Anyone looking for a scuba job in Kona Hawaii?

Hi there,

Today was a work day on the boat. We installed a new outdrive (the part behind the boat with the prop that actually goes in the water) on the boat. The last one was probably 10-15 years old and we fixed it up a few weeks back to get by, but it was time to pick up a new one. Now we'll go through the old one and get it ready for storage in case I ever need to pull the new one - hopefully the new one will last me years without glitches, but it's always handy to have a backup that can be changed out quickly. Tomorrow we're hopefully replacing the water pump and then we'll have replaced virtually everything mechanical in the last year. As I was told by an Oceanic dive gear rep when I picked up the boat, "B-O-A-T stands for bust out another thou". It's never ending, we replaced the engine block last fall and the water pump is about the last old part left. This all sounds scarey, but any boat person knows the drill. It's all part of owning a boat. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll have a few years before more major work.

About the title of this post, it looks like my primary employee will be heading back to the mainland soon, so I'll be hiring again - I thought I might throw it out there since in never hurts to let people know you're in the market for help. In my case, since I'm a six pack boat with no retail store, I'm looking for someone with a minimum of a DM certification, with preferrably an Instructor certification and Captain's license. I know once I put out an ad in the local paper, I'll get bombarded by calls (OK, 6 or 8 anyway) from the mainland from people who would "love to work on a boat". Unfortunately it doesn't work that way, prospective dive employees need to have at least some professional dive credentials and local knowlege is fairly important. In general I end up hiring someone I already know and have worked with over the years. There's a fair amount of job movement within the local diving community and it's kind of tough for a new person to break in and get steady work, but sometimes a newcomer will find a niche. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the upcoming weeks.

The picture above is a close-up of the business end of a Crown of Thorns Starfish. These guys are big green spikey star. Those spikes are not to be messed with. They contain a venom that can be very painful, even to the point of splitting your skin open and leaving a quarter sized wound that can take months to heal. I've met several people who've touched them and said they had spots that took years to clear up. It can be like a very bad spider bite. You don't want to touch the spikes on these guys, even with gloves on as they'll go right through a glove. It's one of the few "dangerous" critters we have here, but injuries are usually the fault of the diver. Look, don't touch, and they're harmless.



Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Hawaii is finally back to it's normal weather pattern...

We're back to that great weather we're famed for, it's about time. I'm still a bit under the weather from that bug I caught. I've had my crew doing the diving when we've been out. We haven't gone out since the weekend, getting a little slower now that spring breaks are ending, but I've got a few things lined up for the last half of the week.
I thought I'd try something a little different the other week at the end of a fun dive. I decided to hunker down and try to keep still enough to take some pictures in the surge zone. These were taken at a spot right next to the entry/exit point at the Place of Refuge. The surge was strong enough to push me around but the fish seem to handle it just fine.
At high tide lots of the herbivorous fish swim up into the surge zone to feed off the algae on the rocks and corals. It's amazing how much fish life you can find in 6-18 inches of moving water. In these photos you should be able to see all sorts of surgeonfish doing their thing (eating). From what I understand, surgeonfish (also known as tangs) don't really store body fat like most animals so they pretty much eat constantly.
If you ever see them in aquariums you'll usually see the keepers have left a leaf of spinach, kale or romaine lettuce rubberbanded to a rock or coral so they have something to graze on. Without it they tend to emaciate and grow unhealthy.