Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The curious wormfish of Kona Hawaii

This isn't the best picture of one of these little fish, but it's the only one I have. They are interesting fish in that they have an almost eel-like flexibility that you generally do not see in freeswimming fish. Looking at the photo you can see the false eyespot on the tail - the real eye is on the right side in this picture. They do tend to dart into holes when you approach, we don't see them often. I took it today on a quick "captain's dive" (I captained the boat today, but one of my crew is also a captain, so I was able to sneak in the water during the surface interval) between dives one and two on today's charter.

It was a quick dive, but I managed to see an eagle ray, a tiger moray that was burying itself into the coral before I could get there, a school of Heller's barracuda, the Curious Wormfish (Gunnellichthys curiosus), bunches of anthias and about a 40-50 pound Jack and ohter goodies. I was in a hurry and didn't get close enough to anything to get a decent shot, so the wormfish is about it for today.



Monday, June 26, 2006

Whoohoo... Oregon State Beavers National Champs!!!

Baseball. Ok, as an ex-OSU student I had to be happy. Sorry, no pic.

Eel Cleaning Station....Cleaner shrimp clean eels of parasites.

The last post was really long and spammy. Yuck.

Scuba certification. How to become diving certified. Dive classes and instruction.

I'm probably rehashing some older posts here, but I thought I'd talk a little about learning to dive. For those of you who are already certified, this will be of little interest, it may come in handy if you are not.

For obtaining your scuba certification, you will have lots of training options. There are numerous dive training agencies (PADI, YMCA, NAUI, SSI, SDI... etc) you will find that offer training programs in the US, as well numerous more outside the US. Dive shops and instructors will be affiliated with at least one or more training agency. For recreational diving, in general, it's not so much the agency but the instructor you will personally be dealing with that's important. Find someone you are comfortable working with.

The agencies have set up courses, course materials and training methods your Instructor will use to introduce you to this facinating hobby.

There are a few different ways to take your course I'll mention here. I'm going to make some generalizations that may not really hold true in all occasions, but do tend to hold up in many circumstances.

Most of the mainland operators tend to offer the course in several sessions, often over a few weeks, with 4-5 days/evenings of classroom and pool work and then a follow up weekend with 4 or more dives. In tropical resort destinations, you'll often find a 3-4 day course which covers the same material at a faster pace. There are pros and cons in both cases. With the longer course, you will usually spend more time focusing on the front end training.... academics and pool skills, than you are likely to be spending time on while doing a resort based 3 or 4 day class. In many resort locations, all the same material is covered, but often at a quicker pace with a potential for less repetition on the pool skills than in the longer courses. For those who don't catch on skill-wize quickly, or are nervous, apprehensive or less physically conditioned, the short course may not be as good of an option as the longer courses.

With the shorter course, you'll be moving at a faster pace on the front end and then proceed to the open water dive training. Depending on the operator, you could get done quite quickly.

Back when I assisted with classes on the mainland, the general lines often used were "If you get certified here, you'll be able to dive in most any conditions" and "you don't want to waste time on your vacation with training dives". I think the reality was that after freezing their tails off in cold murky water, a third of the newly certified students weren't really all that interested in ever diving again. In many cases it was a matter of going down with the group, having them do the skills and then trying to make it to the required 20 minutes underwater without anyone freezing or running low of air. Now this can all vary by location, as I'm sure there are some mainland training spots which are clearer and warmer than where I did my early training.

If you are planning on picking up scuba, and dive travel is not in the plans, then find yourself an Instructor you personally enjoy and go for the course. If dive travel is in the plans, then read on...

The big payoff with the resort based courses is the water conditions for your open water dives. Now that I'm active teaching here, we get to see a lot of students who actually get some good reef diving in during their course and get hooked on the hobby. I am not meaning to condemn getting certified on the mainland in favor of taking a course in a tropical location though....

My personal feeling is that the best option, for those who are considering dive travel for certification or immediately after certification, is the referral system. Pretty much all the agencies have set up their courses so you don't necessarily have to start and finish your course in the same location or with the same Instructor. This can give you the best of both worlds.... get some good front end instruction at home over several sessions, and then do your Open Water certification dives while on vacation.

In my case, I would love to have referrals who've already done their training on the mainland who would come to me for their Open Water dives. I generally take referral students as they call (but you'll want to call well in advance) and not worry about trying to set up large classes, so my typical class size is just one or two, maybe more if a family is calling. The referral students generally come ready to go and we don't need to do an extended day of pool and academics - we can concentrate on the diving. With the small class sizes I generally have, we get to do more diving than skill work on the dives. The skills themselves usually only take up 5-10 minutes of each dive, and then the rest of the dive is just plain fun diving. I just finised a student 2 days ago who had nearly 4 hours underwater on his Open Water certification dives... he'll be hooked.

There are still other options for those who are not sure if they would like to go through a certification course. Most resort operators offer introductory dives or "discover scuba" dives. This will allow you to see if you are interested in persuing a scuba certification at a later date, or you could complete the course following the intro dive if you have enough time at your destination.

You've got lots of options, and this is a lot of information to take in, but hopefully this helps some. If you are interested in learning to dive, contact your local dive centers and see what they have to offer. It's a blast!!!!



Sunday, June 25, 2006

A day off from my scuba job.... so I went diving again.

I'm still trying to figure out the camera. I'm having fun with it. I went down to the Place of Refuge again for a shore dive and went back to the rock with the shrimp from the other day. Today there was an Undualte Moray (Gymnothorax undulatus) in being cleaned by both the scarlet lady cleaner shrimp and banded coral shrimp - it got crowded in his little hole. I took a pile of pictures, and that's sort of what it takes to get the one where most everything you want is in focus. This was one of two out of about 12-15 shots that came out fairly OK - everything else was either the eel or the shrimp out of focus, this one was close. Next time I'll try some manual settings, ratehr than the "underwater macro" preset on the Olympus sp-350, to see if that helps.

This is a closeup shot of one of the christmas tree worms on that coral head shot I posted earlier. They are neat. I still need to get a real crisp shot of one. It might take some practice to get what I want.



Saturday, June 24, 2006

Things to do in Kona Hawaii.....

Well, besides watching turkeys - yes turkeys are gettting quite common at elevation here, we've got 2 hens with chicks up our road right now - you've got all sorts of stuff to do here. This particular shot was taken just up the hill from us, those are mac nut trees in the background. We tend to see more pheasants than turkeys in our yard.

The two things that you can do here which I consider to be world class, as in you are unlikely or hard pressed to be able to do this anywhere else in the world, are the manta ray night dive and visiting the lava flow. The lava flow does happen to be on the other side of the island, which is a bit of a trip (2 .5 hours or so by car) but well worth it when the lava is flowing and you can approach it. The lava flow is also worth a blog on it's own, I'll leave that for someone else.

Today Bob and I finished off a student's Open Water certification class. It was a very easy day as he was very well prepared and had better buoyancy control than many of our certified divers. Bob lead the first dive at "Golden Arches", a fish filled area south of the Kona airport in the "Pine trees" area which features two sizeable underwater archways off shore. We did our second dive at "Turtle Pinnacle", a turtle cleaning station I've mentioned in earlier posts. We only had one turtle, but saw lots of cool stuff, including a horned helmet snail, a flame angel, a divided flatworm, coral banded shrimp, several eel species and other goodies. It's always fun introducing a new diver to the underwater world. Whooohoo!

Since I had a student today, I didn't have the camera with me. Here's a picture I took on yesterday's fun dive of a couple of yellow tangs. I mentioned in an earlier post that tangs are also known as surgeon fish, and have a scalpel they use for defense. The scalpel on yellow tangs is retracted except when in use, it's the white spot near the tail.



Friday, June 23, 2006

Went scuba diving for fun today.

I went down to the Place of Refuge to play with the camera a bit. It does great for true macro, and is a bit off for lighting when the fish are just out of range.

I popped down deep initially to see what was out in the sand. When you go out in sand patches in Kona, you'll generally find rocks, coral heads, or garbage like tires or cement blocks which become a little oasis of life.

The shrimp above are cleaner shrimp, often called scarlet lady cleaner shrimp locally. In the tropical fish days I knew them as eel cleaner shrimp, as they are often associated with eels. These guys did have an eel waiting for them under the other side of the rock.

Here's a picture of a little coral growth that is loaded with christmas tree worms. Lots of corals will have critters growing in, on and around them, so it's fun to take a close look every now and then.

Water temp was 79 today. We still have a pretty big south swell, but the bay at the park was still quite protected.



No mantas on the manta ray night dive tonight.

Bummer. The last few nights have been off an on for the manta rays apparently. Tonight was an off night. We had plenty of plankton, but no mantas to be seen. We usually set up for the mantas and if there are none in roughly 15 minutes we'll turn it into a regular night dive and check back every so often to see if any mantas have come in.

Tonight's night dive was very nice though. We saw two good sized spiny lobsters, a regal slipper lobster, several common slipper lobsters, two Hawaiian red lobsters, a large anemone hermit crab, a smaller anemone hermit crab, tons of shrimp, loads of eels out hunting and other good stuff. We had two experienced divers tonight so I took the camera down. Right now it's not really set up for night shots, I probably won't take it down on night dives 'til I figure a few things out. I'm posting a couple pics that turned out.

The fish at the top is a Stocky Hawkfish (Cirrhitus pinnulatus). We see these fish often at night and they have a neat color pattern. The second picture is of the smaller anemone hermit crab we saw. The third picture is of most, but not all, of a Bearded Cusk Eel (Brotula multibarbata). They look like a cross between a catfish and an eel and are not commonly seen. I posted this only because I saw one, I might not be able to get a good photo of one just because they are quite skittish and usually end up under a rock quite quickly when found.

The water temperature is still running 79 degrees according to my computer. Water conditions underwater are pretty good, but we've been having a big south swell and unseasonally odd winds the last few days which have made for choppy surface conditions. Hopefully that'll settle down soon enough.



Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Urgent Kona Hawaii weather report....

It's nice!!!!!

Here's the underwater photo of the young adult phase of the yellowtail coris wrasse I pictured two posts below. They go from red with white diamond patterns to this. This is probably the most stunning color phase. Older adults will develop a more greenish-turquoise hue. This pic is my first known repeat on the blog - I'd posted it a couple months back using a photo host which is now down, you may or may not see it in the archives.



Monday, June 19, 2006

A busy Kona diving day ahead....

Tomorrow went from two passengers to five passengers in the morning due to a few phone calls earlier today, and then I have 3 or 4 on the manta dive tomorrow night. We're starting to pick up for the summer.

Today was spent running errands and working on my web page. I started getting people telling me my pricing was well below several of my competitors so I had to check it out. I'd done the numbers recently and did realize that I litterally could lose money when I have solo students so that needed to be bumped up. After cruising through websites it appears most of the notable boats have had increases. I'm keeping things as close to what I've been charging as possible for now, a few things have gone up a few bucks here and there but no major changes. I'll need to keep a closer eye on the local market in the future, Kona seems to still be priced below Maui for most certified diving experiences.

Here's another little white mouth moray eel from the other day. I am liking the new Olympus sp-350 camera. Eels, though they may look a little fierce at times, are often quite approachable, and having a housing that will allow use of the onboard flash is quite nice... it makes the color show up well.



Sunday, June 18, 2006

No scuba diving today, cleaning our Kona vacation rental..

It's been slow on the boat this last week, but from Tuesday on it gets busier with 5 charters booked between then and Saturday. The goal is to run about 8-9 charters a week and then hire another Instructor/boat captain to fill in the gaps, play extra crew if we have students, and give Bob and I a break. At that point I'll have decisions to make as far is whether to push for 2 charters a day, every day.

We tented the house this last week. I'd hope to get a picture of it to show, but they pulled the tent down before I made it to the house. In Hawaii, we're pretty prone to termites. Every so often, say 5-10 years (and almost any time a house is sold that hasn't been tented within a few years), you are likely to have to tent your house and fumigate it with a gas that permeates everything and kills termite colonies and anything else it touches. It leaves no residue, but we're starting to lose our geckos. They seem to tolerate it initially, but then have troubles the next few days. Sad, but they will be replaced with a new bunch in the coming weeks. We had to move out for a day or two... there's no place like home, but it was almost like having a mini vacation. I do think the dog's happy to be back in familiar surroundings.

This picture is of a pair of juvenile Yellowtail Coris Wrasse (Coris gaimard), also sometimes called rainbow wrasse or red coris wrasse. These little fellas are neat in that they have tow or three fairly distinct color phases as they grow. The juveniles are sometimes mistaken for percula or ocellaris clown fish, or nemo fish as some are calling them, by those who don't realize Hawaii has no clownfish (our water is a couple degrees too cold for them to reproduce effectively from what I've heard). Adults will look very little like these guys other than body shape. I linked a pic of mine of the adults in an earlier post, but the photo gallery I used is down, I may have to repost the pic from my direct connection... I'll find it and put them in my next post.



Friday, June 16, 2006

Tried my Olympus sp-350 camera underwater for some photography today...


I am. I picked up an Olympus sp-350 and it's housing for use underwater, with hopes of renting it out if I had good results. Today I did a short dive (my first with this camera) during our surface interval and took several shots... I was quite happy with the results.

We had some pretty Kona experienced divers today and took them up to a spot north of the northernmost Kona day use mooring to do a live boat dive. It was a very nice dive, lots of canyons and topography. They apparently saw 2-3 mantas (daytime), depending on who's counting, and one diver swore they saw a marlin off the dropoff.

After the dive we moved down to "Hoover's" and I took a "Captain's dive" during the surface interval to see if I could find that frogfish from last week. Bob described the location and off I went. No luck. I decided to play with the camera using the "underwater macro" setting. This setting is really nice. I have to figure out exactly what it is and try it manually. I figure they bump up the shutter speed to stop motion, bump up the f-stop to give a bit of depth of field, and fire the flash most of the time depending on lighting. Only one of the shots didn't have a flash fire, most of the shots were quite workable.

Here's a shot, probably one of the best teethy shots I've taken yet, of a Whitemouth moray (Gymnothorax meleagris) taken with the camera. I took two others that showed the eel better, but this one was great for showing off the teeth.



Tuesday, June 13, 2006

More Kona Hawaii scuba diving talk....

Here's a nice photo of a Whip Coral Goby which Pat took the other day. These guys spend pretty much their entire lives on a whip coral.

Today we had fun diving with some recently certified divers and another diver who hadn't dove in a couple years. Everyone did fine. There was a bit of a swell from both the north and the south today, that's fairly unusual this time of year. We do sometimes see that in the March/April timeframe. It knocked the viz down to mediocre for here, maybe 40'+ on the second dive. Highlights of the day were turtles... and hearing "that's the coolest thing I've ever done" from one of the new divers - Diving can be a totally new and exciting world.



Sunday, June 11, 2006

Frogfish photos from the other day.

Here's a couple photos Pat took the other day of a rather large Commerson's Frogfish (Antennarius commersoni). Pat figured it was roughly basketball sized. For those of you not familiar with frogfish, they are a member of the angler family. Frogfish will basically sit motionless on a rock and wiggle a small appendage above their mouth which acts as a lure for small fish. They have a hinging jaw and they can gulp down any small fish that approaches, some frogfish are capable of eating fish as large or larger than themselves. Frogfish are also known to be the fastest eaters on the planet, according to the website of the Shedd Aquarium, they can swallow their victim in 6 milliseconds !!!! That's faster than I can eat a Burger King whopper.

These guys start off bright yellow, and as they grow they tend to slowly get multicolored ugly (is that a color?) to match their surroundings. You may even have to look twice to see it in the photos, they can be real hard for divers to spot... I believe Bob swam right past this one and only one of the divers in the group noticed it at first. I have a couple of pictures of a medium sized frogfish back in the blog (check the archives) which had lost it's yellow and yet to develop the other colors. Pat's flash didn't fire on these shots, so the pictures have had some photoshop help, but they should be relatively close.

Yesterday I dove with another operator. Most of the dive operators here are "friendly competitors" and you will often find crew members who work for several operators. I'll help out from time to time when someone's in a pinch and I'm not already commited. I've got several dive operators I recommend when I can't service someone's needs (full boat, too big of a group, etc), if you are thinking of diving Kona, do check with me for reservations... if I can't take care of you myself, I'll be happy to recommend someone who might have availability.

I'm still waiting on my Camera, I think it was shipped on Monday or Tuesday. I played with Ebay for the first time ever and picked up an underwater housing for an Olympus flash unit, direct from Olympusauctions, for dirt cheap. For the camera or camera housing, you probably can do just as well or better off Amazon than you can off Ebay, but the housing for the flash is a low demand item and I managed to pick up a new, in the box, $300 buck housing for $58... now I have to buy the flash... uggh, the camera hobby can be expensive. I've always used just the camera's onboard flash, or forgone a flash alltogether before. Since the housing for the remote flash was available so cheap, I figured it might be worth the investment. Once it all comes in I'm still going to have to deal with a tray, arms and maybe a focus light... I hope people take me up on the underwater digital camera rental when this is all said and done.



Kona's water temp has bumped up quickly...

In the course of 4 days the temp readings on all our computers (Bob's, mine, and our customers') jumped 4 degrees. I've been getting readings of 79 from the old airport diving area up to Garden Eel Cove and slightly north. This was looking to be a very cool summer of diving last sunday, but it appears our last south swell brought in the warmer waters. I haven't seen it jump that quickly before.

I haven't posted the last few days. On tuesday's night dive we saw 4 manta rays. That night we did a dive early with a customer who I certified last year. He hadn't dove since, but did great, getting around an hour on the dive. After his dive we dropped back in the harbor and picked up the divers I've had earlier in the week for the trip out to the Kona Airport for the manta ray night dive. It was a good dive, nice and warm for me... I've been getting quite cold on the night dives 'til the temps started bumping up. Next year I'm going to need to get a thicker wetsuit when the temps drop.

On Thursday, we had a double. We took a couple out for the day. They'd dove with Bob for several years and saw him in town and got our number. Bob did both dives with them, saw lots of stuff, including Harlequin Shrimp. I'm not going to name the site with the shrimp, as once they set up on a good coral head they can stay for a few years - I'm hoping we find them regularly at that site... sometimes they disappear.

On the evening trip, we had a diver who hadn't dove in 5 years and 4 snorkelers. I dove him on the first dive, he did great! It was a nice 60 minute dive. We saw lots of critters, loads of banded coral shrimp and 2 eagle rays- It was a nice lead in to the manta dive. There was one manta on the dive that evening, but it gave everyone a great show.

Here's a much better picture of a Dragon Wrasse (Novaculichthys taeniourus) that my wife, Pat, took on the dive the other weekend. These guys are really tough to get a good picture of with a point-and-shoot digital camera because of the focus and shutter delays these cameras have in low lighting. I've yet to get anything this decent.



Tuesday, June 06, 2006

It's a beautiful morning in Kona today.

We've got nice flat water conditions right now. This evening we're doing a two tanker. We'll go out and do a dive with a passenger who hasn't dove with us in a year, and then swing back into the harbor to pick up those who've already dove with us the last week and head out to just off the Kona airport to do the manta ray dive. Should be a nice evening for it.

Here's a picture of Ho'okena Beach park in South Kona. The Big Island, being some millions of years younger than much of Hawaii, isn't loaded with beaches, but there are still some nice ones to be found. Hookena is one of my favorites. It's an old cattle wharf area with a nice local beach surrounded by cliffs. In the past few years they've fixed it up substantially. I was afraid they'd mess up the local feel, but it's quite nice. The beach park is multi-purpose, with camping, a nice beach, decent snorkeling and such. It can make for a nice shore dive, but you may have to dive it a few times in different directions to find a route that interests you. Dolphins often rest offshore on sunny afternoons. It's a great place to relax.

If you visit there, you ought to drop into the South Kona Fruit Stand, which is about a quarter mile south of the turnoff to the Place of Refuge (Pu'u Honua 'O Honaunau), it's probably the largest fruit stand in the area and has lots of strange tropical goodies you won't find in stores.

Have a nice day,


Monday, June 05, 2006

One of my best Fried Egg Nudibranch photos yet...

These are our most commonly found nudibranch in Kona. I've taken bunches of photos of them over the years, but I always have a tough time getting the true exposure and color on them.... too much flash, too little flash, etc. I shot this one using the supermacro feature and in RAW and it came out quite nicely. It's probably my best shot as far as showing the color and their patterns well.

Personal stuff....

I've got a day off today. I'm going to make good use of it and build some shelving for the cabin of my boat so I can keep things a litte more orderly and easily accessible in the cabin.

The vacation bloat is gone, I'm down 16 pounds since the 24th... mostly water I suspect. Pat's starting the low carb diet again so I guess I'll follow along. I lost 40 pounds a couple years back when we approached it seriously (gaind 12-15 of it back over time). People can knock the diet, but my bad cholesterol and triglycerides took a nose dive to excellent levels on that diet.... maybe that happens when you replace corn chips, french fries, potato chips, ice cream, burgers and pizza with fish, chicken, broccoli, green veggies and peppers. For me, avoiding carbs eliminates most of my bad eating habits. If I can lose 20-25 pounds this time I'll be down to where I haven't been since the 80's. We'll see how guacamole affects the equation... One of our avacado trees is loaded and dropping.

In a little Hawaii news... Go! airlines Http://www.iflygo.com is set to start flying on Friday. There are going to be inter-island fare wars for a while. They've got round trip fares down to $59!!! It was getting to where one way tickets were in the 80-100 dollar range. I'm sure rates will go up, but it'd be nice to keep the price in the 50-60 buck a flight range like it was 5 or 6 years ago.



Sunday, June 04, 2006

Kona's water temperature is up to around 77 or so...

This has been one of our colder water years as of recently. Today all the divers were seeing 77/78 on thier computers. Yay!!! It's been a tad cool. Should go up from here. Typically we see our warmest water from late August into October, sometimes beyond. This last December, if I recall correctly, I was seeing 81 degrees on my computer at the start of the month, and it was down to 75/76 or so by the end of the month. Once winter starts we tend to see a degree to degree and a half drop with each major northwest swell that comes in. The temp tends to have it's low peak around early February and holds 'til April and then slowly climbs again.

Today's weather was gorgeous. We'd had some crummy weather action the last few days and today was more like our typical summer weather. Clear on the mountains early, with clouds building throughout the day 'til they are nearing shore, with sunshine on the water most of the day.

We did our first dive off Hoover's. It's the northernmost mooring ball, located just north of the gravel pile off the Kona airport. It's one of our "prettier" dives, with lots of interesting topography and lots of coral reef that was Protected from hurricane Iniki which came through from the southwest in the early 90's. Lots of stuff was seen (I played Captain, so I was up top and didn't see it), nudibranchs and a BIG frogfish, which was actively angling with it's lure, were the highlights. (Pat joined the group today and may have some pics of the frogfish I can post, we'll see when she takes a look at what turned out).

Our second dive was off High Rock. It's located of the north pine trees shoreline and features a large elongated pinnacle which rises to just below the surface from about 40 feet down. Highlights were Dragon Wrasse, Octopus, Leather Coral, a Dwarf Moray, a nice nudibranch and lots of neat topography and fish. We had a Whitetip Reef Shark swim under the mooring while we were on our safety stop.

Dives for the day were both in the 79-80 minute range. Our divers were all good on air, and when we are well within computer profiles we will let them dive 'til their air is down to where they should ascend, rather than set an arbitrary "you're out of the water at an hour (or less)" that is seen with some operators.

Here's a picture of 2 very cooperative Dragon Wrasses (Novaculichthys taeniourus). This is the juvenile phase, the adults have a different look and lose the two long spines at the front of the dorsal. The adults are called "rockmovers" in Hawaii because they will litteraly pick up coral chunks larger than themselves and toss them aside looking for small starfish and sea urchins to smash and eat. The juveniles are very flighty and will dive into the sand or under a rock when you get too close - hence this being my first fairly reasonable pic of a dragon wrasse (lucky for me it was two). Back in my aquarium days, I owned/kept one of these guys for years. I had a big tank with an oyster shell substrate, and every evening at about 7:30-8:00 (I had the lights set to go off at 9:00) it would start gatering algae from around the tank and make a little pile and then dive in to the substrate through the pile. I knew another person who had one in a tank that contained several fish, he had a lion fish that he would feed shrimp by hand, and one day the dragon wrasse jumped up and took the shrimp out of his fingers before they were under the water... at that point he said it became a challenge to see how far that fish would jump out of the water. He apparently entertained friends on a regular basis and evenentually got the wrasse to regualrly jump to where it's entire body was at least 6 inches out of the water - 'til it landed on the floor rather than in the tank. The wrasse was apparently fine, but he avoided that stunt from thereon. These fish have lots of personality and are favorites with nearly everyone that sees them.



Saturday, June 03, 2006

Today's Kona scuba diving adventure...

We had a new group on today. We're just coming out of a pretty strong south swell and the south facing sites are still not ideal. We did our first dive at Turtle Pinnacle, which is quite protected. My leg's healing up quite nicely and since I haven't dove this site in a while I led the dive. Lot's of stuff today. There were 3 turtles at the site, one of them being cleaned by about 40-50 tangs at once. We saw a white collector urchin, these guys are rare, the usual collector urchins being blue. My batteries in my camera died prior to a lot of the good stuff so no pics of this. We also saw a firedart goby, as well as a large fried egg nudibranch, some shrimp and other goodies. The hit of the dive though was a small Java Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus), at least I think that's what it was, either that or a hybrid yellow margin/undulate that I doubt is likely. This guy was about 32" long or so, they can hit up to 8' and are the largest Gymnothorax eel in the Pacific. This eel was out in the open and hunting, it took a on full-sized Naso Tang (Naso literatus) and was able to swallow it whole in about 2 minutes. I'd never seen an eel eat a fish that size, even the larger eels I've seen eating at night. Lots of knot wrapping and fish crushing took place.... too bad I didn't charge my battery in my camera last night. Anyway, it was a great way to spend 84 minutes.

Bob led the second dive at another site and the group had another great dive. The highlight of their dive seemed to be the group of spinner dolphins which swam by a couple of times.

Well, I spent too much time thinking about yesterday's post..... I ordered a camera and housing. I ended up picking up the Olympus sp350 and the Olympus housing for it. I did a bunch of reading on this camera this evening with reviews by users both above and below water. The main gripe I found about this camera (battery usage) was apparently fixed with a firmware patch back a couple months ago, I may have to hook the camera up to the computer and update it when it arrives, not a big deal.

This whole unit should be small enough for me to pocket and carry in case something nifty comes along (like an eel eating a fish 5 times the size of it's head). I'm thinking I'll offer it for rental and carry it if it isn't being rented. I see plenty of people on dive boats burning through 20-40 bucks worth of "inexpensive" disposable cameras in a day, and that's before even developing the film. I may be able to get some takers interested in trying out a fairly high end digital for the day that I can burn the results to a CD once we get back to the wash down with the boat. We'll see.

Here's a shot I took the other day of a Divided Flatworm. These are one of my favorite little slugs.


Friday, June 02, 2006

If I were to choose a new digital camera for underwater photography tomorrow...

I thought I'd talk a bit about cameras for underwater photography. You've got tons of options available. Cameras can run the gamut from disposable cameras in housings meant to go to 65-80 feet that sell for 15-20 bucks or so to housed DSLRs (digial single lens reflex) that can run you easily a couple thousand and up.

A year and a half ago I bought an Olympus 8080 and I picked up an Ikelite housing for it this winter. It's a great camera and takes great photos.

My wife recently picked up a Canon A 620 and WP-DC90 waterproof case. She used it on our Maui trip and had some great results.

That got me to thinking I wouldn't mind having a smaller camera than the one I have now for when I can't carry something as large as I now have. There are a number of digital cameras you can house and maybe have 350-700 dollars into it and have a great little camera for both above and below the water. Many dive stores will have cameras that are "specifically made for underwater use", but often you can pick up a medium to high end name brand camera and house it for the same price... and generally get more for your money.

As it turns out, going through lots of message boards, the Canon is a very popular choice. Another camera I would highly consider is the Olympus sp350 and housing it in either an Olympus or Ikelite housing. This camera can do nearly everything my current camera can do and is in a much smaller format. It also can take a strobe that will give you TTL (thru the lens) exposure control that very few cameras in this price range offer. Another popular choice in the point and shoot range is the fuji e900 and housing. These are all compact cameras with fairly serious capabilities, that can be used as normal point and shoot cameras that you can grow into and have all sorts of manual controls once you figure things out. I also believe they all have underwater shooting modes, I know the Canon and Oly do and that my wife had some good results shooting in underwater mode on her Canon.

If I were looking at a DSLR today, and didn't own any lenses already, I'd pick an Olympus E330. It's a serious professional caliber camera with some great features for underwater photography. If I owned lenses from a current SLR or DSLR, I'd be looking at digital cameras from the same manufacturer as the camera... no such luck at this time.

I will mention, notice I didn't bring up film cameras among my choices. I used to have a film camera for underwater... big learning curve and sketchy results. Not to mention, film only gives you 24-36 shots and you have to get it processed. I could literally shoot hundreds of shots with my current camera on a dive if I wanted, and I'd only have to sit at the computer for a while to get them printed out. I can't stress how much ahead of the game the average hobbiest photo diver would be by going straight to digital right off the bat.

Keep this all tempered with the fact that I am just a hobbiest... It's all opinion folks.

So here's a pic I took on the trip to Maui. I used the RAW function on my 8080 for this and it really helped for the exposure. I can't wait to get to some of our lava tubes and domes to try some similar photos here.



Kona Hawaii underwater photography with RAW

Pardon the wierd post title, just giving the search engines something to recognize.

Yesterday we had a diver, with family doing an intro on board. It's always fun to introduce people to diving. Bob lead both dives. The first dive was at Turtle Haven, there were plenty of turtles, as well as an eagle ray and other goodies. The second dive was at a spot Bob and I know as "Tako Bell". It's also called Kaloko Ponds, Inside Kaloko, Lures (after a fishing boat that sank there years ago) and such. "Tako" is what the locals call octopus. I think it's pretty much the japanese name for the critter.

I've met our divers for the next few days, they're staying in our vacation rental. It should be a lot of fun on the water with them.

I finally broke down and tried taking some RAW photos underwater with my camera. RAW is a file format that some cameras can use that is more or less uncompressed. It takes forever (well 10 seconds or so, seems like forever) for my camera to write a photo to RAW, so you can't take any more pics 'til the writing is done unless you have it in burst mode. My version of photoshop supports RAW, but I never downloaded the update for my camera. I took some RAW pics on our trip and again the other day and Pat (much more computer literate than I) helped my download the update and get it in the proper file to work.

RAW is cool. You can play with exposure, color, sharpness, white balance and other things I've yet to understand after the fact... before sending it to your edidting program. Makes for a bit more work on editing, and more waiting when taking photos, but if I can tolerate the waiting I'll be shooting more RAW. I won't have to go through all the custom white balance gyrations I've had to do.

Here's a photo of those Tinker's Butterflyfish (Chaetodon tinkeri) we saw the other day. This pic was taken at 104' and I can't effectively manual white balance at that depth. The RAW photos can get to pretty close to accurate after the fact though, this one could probably still use a little editing work, but it's good enough for me. The long, slender stick-like things coming out of the rock are know as whip coral or wire coral. We find them in lots of spots below 85-100 feet. If you go back through the blog archives, you'll find a pic of a whip coral goby. Those gobies will pretty much spend their entire lives on a whip coral.