Monday, March 30, 2009

Turtle Pinnacle - Turtle cleaning station in Kona Hawaii....

Turtle Cleaning Station Kona Hawaii from Steve on Vimeo.
Today's diving was good. Cathy did the first dive, at Golden Arches, and reported viz approaching 200 feet, mentioned it was warmer too. I did the second dive at Turtle Pinnacle. As we approached the dive site we were in very deep water (I didn't have the sonar set up, but we were off the reef and in deep water, probably 150-200 feet) and could still see the bottom. We pulled up to Turtle Pinnacle and probably had 135 feet or so of viz on the reef. This site is not one that's known for it's viz, so conditions were excellent today.

Turtle Pinnacle is a turtle cleaning station. Turtles will swim to there and solicit a cleaning from tangs (surgeonfish). In it's heyday, you could generally count on seeing several turtles there. The last few years it's been more hit and miss. We had two turtles at the site today. One was there for a cleaning, the other looked like it was just looking for a ledge to tuck under for a sleep at the time.

The turtles will often lay down and spread out for a good cleaning. The video above shows classic swimming cleaning behavior. This can get fun if there's several turtles wanting to be cleaned. It's almost as if they get jealous... turtles will swim over to a swimming turtle being cleaned and cut in tight trying to steal their fish!



Saturday, March 28, 2009

Just a picture...


South Kona Hawaii vacation rental near Kealakekua Bay...

As you probably notice, I'm pimping our vacation rental a bit this post. It's been running full and I just looked at the availability calendar and noticed we've got lots of availability yet for this summer. We're located down in Captain Cook between the upper highway and the water, on the road that goes down to the old wharf that people use to launch their kayaks to paddle over to the Captain Cook Monument. We like to think it's a nice spot. It's roughly a 25-45 (traffic can be slow on school days in the morning) minute drive into Kailua, so it's away from the touristy crowds. If you are curious, you can check it out here.

I've got two days off in a row, the only time this month. We've been pretty busy, that's a good thing. Yesterday I put together a quick e-mail newsletter to send out to the mailing list. I've ignored putting out a newsletter for about a year... I can't bring myself to take the time to write one up send one out when there's not a whole lot new going on - I can do that here. Today I've got another project in mind that will keep me busy for the day.

The fish above is a Titan Scorpion (Scorpaenopsis cacopsis). This one's probably about 15-18 inches in length. They can sit right out in the open and blend in with the surrounding rock and coral.... they're tough to spot, and just as tough to photograph to where they show up in the photo. They're one of the "stonefish" you hear about, with venomous spines. This particular one seems to like a specific rock outcropping at one of the sites we dive, but it's so difficult to spot we only find it every now and then, usually in the same general area.



Friday, March 27, 2009

Here's an Oval Mushroom, or Razor, Coral....

We see these corals from time to time while on dives. They're not overly common and many divers don't notice them. The species name is Fungia scutaria. They're interesting in that they are not sessile, they are unattached and can move around a bit to where they get the conditions they want. Divers occasionally notice them when their tentacles are retracted and invariably think they're dead, I really discourage touching them as unless it's bone white, it's alive. Another reason not to touch the corals, dead or alive, is that Hawaii has a law making possession of many corals illegal, so it's not a good idea even if it's passed on the the great reef in the sky.

This is the first photo I've got of them with their tentacles out quite nicely. Back in my aquarium days we used to keep these in our reef tanks, they'd really come out nicely under the proper lighting. I'm not sure where the source was, I suspect the Philippines and other areas south of here, but some of them had remarkable coloration.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Maybe I've been wrong all along....

Yesterday I was doing the navigation portion of an Advanced Open Water certification. Part of what we have to do for that is run a 100' course while counting kick cycles and timing it. We have a 150' line on the boat for this so I took it down for the students to follow. I'd guessed at the viz to be 70-80 as it was a mediocre day... well, 100' of the line out and I could still see my divers, barely. I guess I'll have to call it 70-80 feet of "good" viz, but viz was more in the 100' range. Now I'm tempted to take the line down on a good day just to see what the viz really is. I've always called some of our better days as 100'+, but I'm now betting it's actually much better than that.

So you're probably looking at the picture above and wondering what's interesting about it... it's a wire coral in front of my hand (I had to give the camera something to focus on)... but that's not the interesting part. The interesting part is what's on it. It practically takes a magnifying glass, but if you saw this particular wire coral while underwater you might notice there are not one, but two, Barred Wire Coral Shrimp living on it. Here's the slightly closer view with the shrimp circled. These little guys are tough to spot. I'd noticed one on this particular coral several months back, then decided to check on it a few weeks ago and noticed a shrimp of a different size than I remembered. Last week I decided to pop a quick picture of it, I thought there were two shrimp on it at the time (they tend to crawl to the opposite side of the coral when you get close enough to investigate) and the pic confirms it.

Now I'm wanting to break out my closeup lenses and external strobe and see if I can get a picture of one. They're much larger than the Siphopteron Quadrispinosum I took a picture of the last summer (I'm thinking I posted pics last June or July) with the closeup setup, so there's potential for a good picture if I'm lucky.



Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Scrambled egg nudibranchs? Fried egg nudibranchs? Whatever.... they're neat looking no matter what you call 'em....

We're winding down on a real busy spell, I may actually get a planned day off come Friday and Saturday if the phone doesn't ring for those days. We've been doing lots of diving this month, I generally do the second dive of the day while Cathy's been doing the first... if we alternate dives, the customers get two slightly different style of guided dives during the day, kind of a yin/yang thing, Bob comes back tomorrow, so we'll be able to spread the diving out between us some - guess that'll make it more of a rock/paper/scissors experience at that point.

I was able to sleep in today, not that it really happened, as we're doing the night dive today. The mantas have been showing up in good numbers up at Garden Eel Cove for the last little bit.

Water conditions have been consistently good for diving the last little bit, and the water temperature has inched up a degree or two making it much more comfortable... Yahoo!!!



Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sure you thought it was oysters.... where pearl necklaces really come from....

Just kidding. This is one of the many types of sea cucumber we have here in Hawaii. Sea cucumbers are quite common here, and are a sign of a healthy reef. They are sort of the vacuum cleaners of the reef, with tentacles in their mouths that sweep through the sand picking up sand and detritus. As the sand passes through they digest whatever they can, this is one we found "caught in the act" of redepositing the sand back on the reef.

I'm not big on scatological references, but we do have customers asking what that "string of pearls" was laying on the reef on occasion, so I thought I'd post the picture as it answers that particular question.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

We had a tidal wave watch today...

We were pulling on to the mooring for our second dive today, and the boat leaving mentioned there was a tidal wave watch in effect from a big bang down in Tonga. After a bunch of phone calls we found it had been announced that there was no threat by then... phew... relief. We've only had a few of these in the time I've been here, but it wouldn't be fun to have a tidal wave materialize.

Here's a shot of a group of aholeholes, also known as Hawaiian Flagtails (Kuhlia xenura). There's a batch of them living off the edge of the lava at Pyramid Pinnacle, they've been in the same spot for years. They tend to be found very shallow right up in the surge, and are mylar shiny.... fun to watch on sunny days.



Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Another day of gorgeous weather in Kona today....

Yesterday's rains were predicted to continue on into today originally. We woke up to gorgeous blue skies once the sun came up. It was completely flat and the boat was full of good divers who were in no hurry (we're getting back to the harbor around 4:30 or later when we do the longer trips), so we decided to make a day of it and cover some ground again heading north to check out the area adjacent to the dive site we hit the other day with the same group. Cathy dove with the group, checking out a veritable swiss cheese reef of swim throughs. We've never actually dove that specific area before, although Bob's dove it as part of a one way dive, I'd like to dive it the next time we get up that way. It's quite different from the adjacent parcel of reef we dove the other day. Hopefully we can get up there again a couple times this year.

Tomorrow was originally a day off, but now it's a charter. I may have a day off later this month, still plenty of openings in April though.

The fish above is a "Rockmover Wrasse", which is the adult version of a "Dragon Wrasse" (Novaculichthys taeniourus). They look quite a bit different from the juveniles, and have slightly different habits. As adults, they've earned the name "rockmover" because they spend their entire days picking up rocks and corals and moving them around. They can pick up a pretty good sized chunk of coral, even chunks roughly the same size as they are. They're searching for small urchins and other goodies that they can eat.



Tuesday, March 17, 2009

We were rained on today....

A big front came through the state today. They had a flash flood warning for the Big Island. For us that basically meant drizzle for much of the day, other parts may have had more rain, I haven't seen the rainfall totals for the state but Kona wasn't hit all that hard. Generally we see very little rain out on the ocean in Kona, rains typically fall on the mountains.

The water's really flattened out. Yesterday was flat with a light breeze, we decided to head way up north, closer to the Four Seasons resort area than Kailua, to one of our favorite sites to dive it with some divers who've been return customers with us for a while. We only get up there a few times a year, but the conditions were right yesterday. Highlights of the dive were... everything! It's a very nice dive site. The divers did manage to find 2 young frogfish, which only topped off a great dive. After that dive we headed back and went to Pyramid Pinnacle (and several other names) for a very nice dive. It features several swimthroughs, several pinnacles and plenty of nice topography, as well as a bunch of fish and invertebrate species.

The picture above was of a puffer fish hanging out in one of the caves at Pyramid Pinnacle.

Today it was nearly mirror-pond flat at Pawai Bay. Along with the rain came a north wind that basically sent us down that way as we had intro dives today and wanted flat water. We got the flat water we wanted and had great viz for our dives at two sites in the bay.



Saturday, March 14, 2009

The manta night dive is going off bigtime again right now.....

Hawaii fish video from Steve on Vimeo.
I looked at the manta report and noticed they've had 17 mantas the last couple of nights off the Kona airport.

When this is going like it is, as a diver you'd owe it to yourself to do the dive. It's also a fabulous snorkeling experience!

This video is one I've previously posted from last spring, but it's not a bad idea to repeat it, it'll give you an idea of what it can be like on a crazy busy manta night.



We had a few bright sunny days... and I'm due for a haircut....

We had some really bright sunny days before today (clouds everywhere and rain in the hills today). There was a weather system that brought in some fairly strong north winds that blew all the clouds and the vog out. This shot was taken at about 4:30 in the afternoon - that's Hualalai in the background, and you rarely ever see the top of it in the afternoon, it's usually covered by clouds over the course of the day.

Despite the winds, the diving's been good. The winds really only affected the top couple feet of water, and since we didn't have a swell going on Thursday, while it looked awful on the surface (lotsa whitecaps) the viz was really great underneath. Yesterday and today there was a bit of a swell along with the winds, but the excellent underwater viz has still been holding up.

Water temperature? Brrrrrr. Our customers have been doing fine, but those of us who are used to diving here are freeeeeezing. I've taken to wearing a 3 mil shorty underneath my full suit to take the edge off. Cathy was talking with one of her fishermen friends this morning and he was saying he hadn't seen the water this cold since about '94. Things should start edging up over the next month or two, but we're thinking fondly of summer/fall water right now.



Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Day off... Tinker's Butterfly fish... Blabber...

I've got the day off today, which is a good thing at this point. I've tentatively only got 3 days off between now and the 3rd of April, and I'll probably fill those if I can... you gotta work while you can get it. I went to the airport to pick up Pat last night - man is that place dead. I worked out there as a greeter for a shuttle company a couple of years ago during my slow season and the 7PM United SFO flight usually arrived full, last night it was only half full at best and we're hitting spring break.

The picture above is of Tinker's Butterflyfish (Chaetodon tinkeri). They were considered to be "endemic" to Hawaii but they've found them (or something extremely similar) elsewhere in the last few years. They're a deep water fish, at least a 100' for the most part, and that might explain why they're just now finding them elsewhere, not a whole lot of divers doing the deeper reefs in some locations.

An interesting thing happened to the camera at this dive site, and it's happened here before so now I'm thinking it's depth related. The camera (Canon G9) freezes up and shows a line of rotating blocks with numbers on it, looks much like some of the countdown clocks you see on some websites. I'm not sure what it's all about, but it quits when I get shallower. Yesterday it was at about 100', so I could only manage 4-5 shots and couldn't really get underneath the Tinkers without it locking up again. I'm guessing the housing compresses enough at that depth to press a couple of specific buttons at once and causes the screen to default to what it's showing. Guess I'll have to download the CD for the camera to find out what that screen means.... I pretty much read just the quick start manual.

It's been cool and cloudy, wet in the evenings, the last several days. We've missed the flooding that some of the other areas of the state have had, and the only effect on the diving was a swell that came in the last two days limited the sites. Today we've actually got some sun... yahoo! It's actually been foggy up mauka around Honalo to Captain Cook in the afternoons, felt like being back in Oregon... only I'd probably freeze myself numb going back to foggy and 40 degrees for days on end, foggy and 66 is almost too cold anymore.

Whales have been out in force the last few days. We could hear them on all the dives, and two days ago I was diving at "High Rock" and had gone out to the spot called "Lionfish Arch" and another name or two, and a trio of whales swam between our group and the boat - unfortunately we were keeping our eyes out towards deep water. The northwest swell was just coming up that day so viz was lowering, probably in the 60-70 foot range, the whales were probably 60-100 feet the opposite direction of where we were looking.... Man, I WANT TO SEE WHALES UNDERWATER, preferably soon. So close.



Sunday, March 08, 2009

So what's this? Some kind of sea snake? Nope...

While technically there are a species or two of sea snakes that have Hawaii included in it's/their range, sightings are very very rare. We'll occasionally get snorkelers saying they saw some kind of sea snake working it's way through the coral. My suspicion is that this is the prime suspect.... what is pictured above is the body of either a Tiger Snake Moray (Scuticaria tigrina) or a Large Spotted Snake Moray (Uropterygius polyspilus), the latter of which I didn't even know existed 'til I opened the book 3 minutes ago to look up the scientific name of what I've always known of as a "Tiger Moray". I think you have to be a bit more of a science guy than I am to readily tell them apart unless you've got a really good shot of their nostrils (I'll have to take a look at my original shots to see if the nostrils above the eyes come in clear enough to differentiate between the two species).

Anyways, it's not totally uncommon to see a view similar to the above of these or other similar species of eels - body only, winding around through coral. The bodies are very tubular, as opposed to the regular morays which have tall dorsal fins, and remind people of snakes. If you are diving you can usually take a bit of a look around the coral head you see the body in and find it's head coming out somewhere. If you've got a camera - be ready, as the head will usually end up in another opening of the coral within seconds. I managed two head shots of this one before it disappeared again.



Hawaiian Flame Wrasse

Here's my first shot of a Flame Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus jordani) that has come out really at all. This is a male. They're tough to get a shot at as they tend to dart away at the last minute and you can't really get all that close to them. I took this one from probably 5-6 feet away and luckily I was shooting in RAW and could bump the exposure up enough after the fact to get a recognizable image... awfully dark otherwise.

They're endemic (live only in Hawaii) and pretty hard to spot, so not that many visitors are aware of them. You need to be able to tell the difference between them and a female pencil wrasse, and there's lots of pencil wrasses where these guys tend to hang out. The males can look spectacular when they are flashing and in full display. Take a look in the blog's sidebar at the Amazon ad for "Hawaii's fishes"... a male in full display is on the cover of that book. One of these days I may have to break out my strobe and see if I can get enough light on one to do it justice.

It's still quite flat, but brrrr is it cold for here in the water. Call it 71/72. I'm packing extra shorties on the boat for the next bit in case the divers aren't staying warm enough with their full suits... layering usually does the trick.

Yesterday's dives were fun. Cathy did a dive in Pawai Bay with our customers and the highlight of the dive was a couple of 8-10 foot hammerheads that joined in on the dive for a few moments..... WAY COOL! I did the second dive, off at Kaloko Canyons and while we didn't have any awesome shark action, we still saw some neat things. We pulled a double yesterday. Bob's under the weather for the next week or two it seems, so old friend Rich, an instructor and state research diver I've worked with off and on for several years, filled in for the evening dives. The manta dive was sort of strange... Rich saw 5 mantas on the evening dive, but the night dive was a bust for much of the dive 'til one showed up towards the end.

There were very few boats on the water yesterday morning. We only saw 4 other companies out and we were the only 6 pack boat that we noticed. Things ought to pick up for everyone the next couple of weeks with spring breaks... hopefully. Things are pretty slow in Hawaii in general. I heard rumors of 30-35% hotel occupancies the other day, not good.



Thursday, March 05, 2009

Ooooohhhh... it's flat out there.... very nice diving, very good viz....

Hopefully this'll keep up for a while.

The water's really cold right now, call it 71/72 or so... brrrrrrrr. That's as cold as it's been since I've moved here, I can only recall it being that cold in January/February of '00. It never really warmed up as much last fall as it usually does, so I guess the cold had a head start.

I'm excited.... I found my first baby frogfish of the new year for me. Sorry, no pics. I worked on my website a couple of days back and used the memory card from the camera to transfer pictures between my main computer to the old computer that has a copy of frontpage 2000 on it, and forgot to put the card back in the camera. I just knew I'd find something that would excite me... anytime I don't carry the camera that seems to happen. The frogfish was small, about the size of a finger nail. I'm hoping it sticks to the same general spot so we can track it as it grows. It's kind of in a high traffic spot right now, but if it moves maybe two feet in the proper direction it'll be in a good spot for viewing without getting knocked around by careless diver's fins. Last spring we saw more juvenile frogfish than we have in years, I'm hoping it's a trend that continues.... now we just need to start seeing more lionfish!

Here's another Yellow Margin Moray. It's probably our second most commonly seen moray, and probably our biggest that we see on a regular basis.



Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I done did it!

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out microsoft frontpage and trying to figure out how to build a website back when I first set up my business.... quite frustrating at times.... and once I finally got a page up I did very little to the index page over the years. Well, it was due for a refresh and today I sat at the computer and went to work.

I never was able to come up with a transparent background for the photos like I mentioned in the last post. A friend suggested I try saving the image in .gif rather than .jpg and that nearly worked, just had some excess stuff showing up where it was supposed to be transparent. I finally decided to just turn the background a solid color, then match that on the webpage so they blend. The Dragon Moray above is the same one from last May or so, only the background has been blacked out.

Anyway, it was with some trepidation that I did this, as the website is the business's lifeline. In many ways, it's a lot less "noisy" website now and some people may prefer the look, previously the blue wavy stuff that surrounds the blog played a prominent role on the first page, now it's much more subdued. I've tried to keep as many elements from before as possible so I don't get dinged by search engines and lose traffic - search engine optimization is some kind of mystery for the most part, but I'm thinking I'm getting a little clued in over time.

Pat's off in Oregon visiting friends, it'll be interesting to hear her opinion on it. I've tried cleaning it up some, keeping (actually adding) photos and adding some extra information on the front page that people had to search for before. You can check it out here.



Monday, March 02, 2009

The burning question....

Late at night, when you're tossing and turning and just can't get back to sleep, you're probably asking yourself... "I wonder what dive boats serve for lunch?". Well, it runs the gamut. Some operators provide little, others feed you pretty well. As far as it goes for us, it's a choice of sandwiches, garden or chef salad from a local deli and a mix of individually wrapped assorted junk foods... yum, yum... along with waters or sport drinks. I try to stick with commercially prepared pre-packaged individually wrapped items, 'cause in my way of thinking dive boats aren't necessarily the most sterile of environments, and I know from experience (not on dive boats, but elsewhere) food poisoning isn't all that fun. I wouldn't consider it a veritable scu-buffet, but it tides most people over 'til they can grab a late lunch after a day of diving.

Here's a shot of some of what we try to offer.

The shot at the top is of a yellow morph of a Spotted Puffer (Arothron meleagris). This color is quite rare in the Hawaiian Islands, but more common in other parts of the South Pacific. I'm trying to get just the fish with a transparent background and I'm having troubles, I don't know if it's a blogger thing or if it's something I'm doing in photoshop incorrectly. If I can figure it out, I may try doing some similar stuff with my main website for the dive business. It's in need of a refreshing, I haven't done much with the front page in years... I'm kind of leery about doing too much and messing up my search engine positioning, but it's long overdue for a slightly different look.