Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stalking Elephant Seals, Crocodile Hunter Style

On Tuesday (yes, I said Tuesday - one of the fringe benefits of working for myself and being between corporate jobs), Roger Uzan and I chartered a little yellow boat called the Andrea M for the day. We were supposed to be a group of three, but our third had a family emergency and had to back out.

Our plan was to eventually reach the Coronado Islands in Mexican waters, but to take our time getting there. We checked out several floating kelp paddies along the way, but didn't find any pelagics or unusual critters. We came across three pods of California Grey Whales, two groups of white-sided dolphins, and a solo dolphin heading somewhere else very fast. None of them wanted to stay and play.

We finally got to South Coronado Island. I didn't know that there were pens holding farmed tunas.

We dropped into the water south of the island, on top of a pinnacle at 55 feet of depth. The site was crazy with nudibranches. I easily spotted a dozen species in the first ten minutes. Here are a couple photos from that site.

We then took the boat around to Middle Coronado Island. There is a particular beach on which you can usually find a colony of elephant seals. In the photo below, you can see the beach from where we had the boat anchored. We decided to see how close we could get to take photos of the seals. It was Roger's idea to swim underwater along the left side of the cove and crawl through the shallows to get near the beach. As we got into the water, I had a strange feeling that I guessed was a lot like the Crocodile Hunter might have had when somebody suggested that he grab a crocodile or touch that final stingray.

The approach worked well. Actually, the elephant seals didn't seem to mind us, although the female next to the big male was keeping a wary eye on us.

According to National Geographic, bull elephant seals can be 20 feet long and 8,800 pounds. I've seen bigger ones on television, but I bet this one weighed 6,000 pounds. Even though I was in mid-thigh deep water in front of him (and you can see that he is at the water's edge), he barely even opened an eye to see me. His girlfriend was keeping her wary eyes on us the whole time.

While we waited and hoped that the elephant seals would take a swim, we had a many sea lions to keep us company.


After a bite to eat, we went up to the south end of North Coronado Island. This is the side less frequented by dive boats, away from known dive sites like Keyhole and Lobster Shack. Our boat captain, Danny, knew a location where rare Purple Hydrocoral could be found. Its deep, though, usually in the 80-120 foot range. We found our first piece at 50 feet and a large quantity around 100 feet deep. We also found a nice cabezon. The sea lions were around again to entertain us.

Last, here is my dive buddy and trip planner Roger Uzan. One of his videos can be found on YouTube. Be sure to watch it in HD.

More of my photos can be found at my Photobucket Album and some of Roger's stills can be found at Roger's stills.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Truth Trip VII: The Rest of the Photos

Here is a final selection of photos from the TTVII Trip.

A Crevice Kelpfish

A Snubnose Sculpin

A large Lingcod with some pointy looking teeth

I like how the baitfish come in different color patterns. Some have stripes over their top halves, some have spots, and some are just silver.

The ones with a row of spots are Pacific Sardines. I'm not sue about the stripe-topped ones. They could be small Jack Mackeral, but I'm not sure. And then there are the plain silver ones.

And now for a small assortment of nudibranchs. Usually, if I can't find anything else to take macro photos of, Spanish Shawls are the backup plan. Sometimes they will even pose!

And here's a cute little Limbaugh's Cadlina.

And finally, a boldly colored Porter's Chromodorid.

A few more photos are located in my Truth Trip VII Photobucket album.

Truth Trip VII: Group photo

Here's the motley crew from Truth Trip VII. I'm the one with the baseball cap in the center of the back row.

Its called the "Truth Trip", but we were on the Vision and not the Truth. The Truth was used for the first trip and the name stuck. The boats are very similar.

All of the boats are run by Truth Aquatics, a great operation out of Santa Barbara.

Truth Trip VII: How to fnd Octopi Using the Braille System

The Truth Trip is a yearly scuba diving trip to coastal southern California that is organized by members of the Diver to Diver (D2D) internet forum. This year was the seventh trip and it was held in mid-September, 2008. I have realized that I never posted any photos from the trip, which was a lot of fun.

Here is another octopus story!

Just sit right back
And you'll hear a tale
A tale of a fateful shot
That started with
A clown nudibranch
Just climbing across a rock

Each dive, I was looking high and low for octopi. I found two hiding in their crevices, but the best find was purely by accident. I was making way through the reef when I came across the little clown nudibranch below.

He wasn't in a great position for a photo, so I took a few shots as he crawled through the plants. One particularly annoying piece of kelp kept getting in the way. I brushed it back a few times, but it kept crawling back into the shot. Crawling? That's what I thought. It turns out that my annoying piece of kelp was a good sized (4") decorator crab that was trying to move across my shot. I guided him to a clear area to the side of my nudibranch so that I could take a couple of photos of him. He would wave his claws in the surge, looking like he was doing sumo wrestler moves, with a few "fins to the left" and "fins to the right" moves mixed in.

As I was having to deal with said surge, I put up a hand against the rock to steady myself. To my surprise, my point of contact was the middle of an octopus. It took me a few shocked seconds to realize what I had found. The octopus was so flat across the rock that he looked like he had been steam-rolled and was just a flattened image of his three-dimensional self. Luckily, it took the octopus even longer to realize that I had found him, giving me the time to change camera settings and get off some shots before he crawled into his hole right below where I had found him.

Truth Trip VII: The REAL Hot Action at Santa Cruz

Also known as Nudis Gone Wild! I'm not talking about UC Santa Cruz, home of the Banana Slugs, this is Santa Cruz Island in the Northern Channel Islands, home of the nudi "slugs".

I was lucky enough to catch a pair of Spanish Shawl nudibranchs making baby nudibranchs. I've often seen them together but never through the whole process - and at this magnification!

First, we have the approach.

The top Spanish Shawl (whom I will call a "him", even though I know that they are hermaphrodites) makes his approach. He introduces himself to "her". He offers to buy her a drink. Perhaps he asks if she would like to come back to his rock to see his collection of kelp leaves. Meanwhile, he friend, hereafter referred to as "the wingman", waits at the bottom of the image, just in case he has to deflect the fat best friend of the female. Luckily for our Romeo, Juliet's BNFF (Best Nudi Friend Forever) has apparently headed to the kelp bar for a little grazing and is away from the action. You can see that his Juliet is tossing her luxurious mane of spikes as she pretends that she is "soooo drunk" from eating fermented algae.

And then comes The Nuzzle.

Juliet shows the universal sign of interest by gently laying an antler upon Romeo's reproductive organs. You can see that she, too, is aroused and ready to make the "four antlered beast with many quills".

And finally - Doing the dirty deed!

Within minutes of first meeting, Romeo and Juliet are turned head to tail and have started a little DP, nudi style. You'll notice that each of them has an penis and a female duct (I'm using the scientific names here, instead of just calling them an "inny" and an "outty"). Mating last only a few minutes and the two part ways, without even the exchange of a telephone number.

And finally, one last gratuitious hardcore centerfold shot.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

La Jolla Shores Dive - January 11, 2008

I went down to La Jolla for a couple of dives yesterday morning. You may not have noticed, but Saturday night, the moon was at its perigee - the point in its orbit in which it is closest to the earth. Its actually 31,000 miles closer than at its apogee. Apparently, the moon appeared 14% larger in the sky and up to 30% brighter. I can attest that it was a big and bright moon. The other effect of a close moon is a perigean tide. At La Jolla, the high tides was + 7.0 feet and the low tide was -1.8 feet. The effect was a slight bit more on Saturday. For those of you that dive at the Catalina dive park, the tide was so low that upon entering or exiting the water, you had to climb up/down from the bottom stair landing and over the rocks. I hear that it was quite hard. At high tide, the water was above the middle stair landing.

I hit the water around high tide. The beach entry is a shallow slope, so the higher tide made for a very long swim before dropping down. The edges of the La Jolla canyon at 50-100 feet are small shelf walls that are very eroded with lots of holes and crevices. That's where were I found this Coonstripe Shrimp and his Spiny Brittle Star roommate.

On my second dive, I finally found a fringehead. His heckling of me while I tried to get a good photo in the low visibility helped me to identify him as a Sarcastic Fringehead. "You think you're a photographer? I've seen better efforts by a blind person."

Speaking of visibility, the first dives was okay at about 15 feet. What I hadn't counted on was the huge 8.8 foot swing in the tides would drag a lot of crap and particulate over the lip of the canyon as that huge amount of water was pulled away from the beach. I bet the incoming tide was very clear (and cold) as water came in from the canyon.

I present...the Sarcastic Fringehead.

There were a few nudibranches on the dive, but nothing too exciting. I did see a pretty Navanax, but none of the photos were worth posting. Here is a token nudibranch for the nudi lovers.

A White-Spotted Dorid

There were little Speckled Sanddabs all over the place.

On the way in, you cross hundreds of feet of sand dollar beds. Most of the sand dollars were more like "sand fifty-cent pieces". I guess that's because of the economy and recession. Everything is worth 50% less. Many people probably don't know that they are really a pinkish color before they die and dry out, becoming the white skeleton that you find on the beach. They stand on end in the sand and use their short bristles/arms to feed as the water washes back and forth. They are mostly oriented toward the beach to best feed off of the waves that sweep in and out. Some of them even have little trails behind them where they have changed position. Once you find the sand dollars, you don't even need a compass to find the beach exit. Just head toward shallow water and go in the direction that the dollars point.

Living Sand Dollars.

Dive 1 Summary

Time under water: 61 minutes
Maximum Depth: 101 feet
Temperature: 49 deg F

Dive 2 Summary

Time under water: 53 minutes
Maximum Depth: 64 feet
Temperature: 54 deg F

Doesn't include that %@$ quarter mile swim from the beach to where you can at least drop down twenty feet.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Diving on the Eureka Oil Platform

I've been a little slow to add photos, so thanks for checking back. I'm going to try and add photos more often in the future.

Last weekend, Scuba Center Temeula chartered The Bottom Scratcher for a three tank trip. The ultimate destination was the Eureka Oil Platform, but we first stopped at Izor's Reef along the way.

Izor's Reef is an artificially created fishing reef. It is in 100ft of water, but the structre can rise 20 feet above the sand. The reef is made from concrete poles that are about 2ft square and up to 50 feet long - or longer. There were many small fish and schools of juveniles, particularly blacksmiths. There were many White Plumed Anemones (Metridium) which are also common on the HMCS Yukon, a sunken wreck in San Diego.

After one deep dive, we headed over to the Eureka Oil Platform. The Eureka is 9 miles out of Long Beach, in 700ft of water.

Most of my two dives were spent at 55ft where there were horizonal structural element that stretched between the legs of the platform.

This Sheephead had some pretty gnarly teeth.

My occasional dive buddy Bill Kibbett.