It is that time of the year again: gales, rain and darkness. The only good thing about late autumn/winter to me is that the wind blows interesting things on the beach. Portuguese Men o’ War (Physalia physalis) have been a common sight the last few years (see this post from 2017), perhaps more so than it used to be, but not sure this has been properly investigated. Yesterday we saw several dozen at Loe Bar near Helston, including the smallest specimen I have seen so far. No By-the-Wind-Sailors Vellella and no Violet Snails Janthina, and definitely no Porpita or Glaucus; maybe someday!
The jellyfish are upon us again. Slow and photogenic, I had to go out yesterday in Falmouth Bay to try out two strobes with my fisheye lens for the first time. Unfortunately, the sea is like pea soup at the moment. The wide angle allows for a close focus (getting right up to the subject) so that minimises the problem of low viz, but there still is a problem with backscatter (especially when the strobes are not positioned the right way). Anyway, I had a lot of fun practicing. Although they did not come out as crisp as I hoped, cropping, decreasing highlights and increasing contrast and clarity, made them look acceptable. I encountered a few Compass Jellyfish Chrysaora hysoscella, one with a small Gadoid fish in tow (above). A bit more common were the Crystal Jellies (in the Class Hydrozoa and so not ‘proper’ jellyfish as in the Class Scyphozoa) pictured below. They are in the Aequorea genus but I am not sure of the exact species. The Barrel- and Blue Jellyfish will soon follow, giving more opportunity to practice wide angle strobe photography.
Two days after the last post I went back to my usual spot, fisheyelens on the camera. After a little recce it was obvious that the water was too milky, so I went back to the car and changed to the macrolens. It was overcast and the water was chilly. I’d seen some stalked jellyfish (see this great resource stauromedusae UK) the last time. Of course, when you are specifically looking for something you don’t find it, but in the end I noticed a Spotted kaleidoscope jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus, the most common species around here. I still struggle with my strobe, so all photos were riddled with backscatter. I could remove most of that in Photoshop luckily, but it is frustrating, especially as I had a run diving last year when I had no such issues at all. I encountered a 15 cm or so Longspined scorpion fish Taurulus bubalis as well. I cropped the shot and could put some colour back in using Windows Photos. Hope to go back over the weekend.
I joined a seaweed identification get-together at the Cornwall Wildlife Trust organised by Matt Slater last week. It was fun to chat with likeminded people and also made me want to stick my head underwater again! The weather has been horrible for over half a year now and I have been in only a few times, with little chance to take decent photos, hence the blog inactivity. This has been especially frustrating as March is the best month for seaweeds (see the 2017 Falmouth Seaweeds tag) and I am missing my window. I therefore jumped in the next day. The tides were at their very lowest, actually too low for most of my usual rockpool spot! The viz was not great due to the 20+ mph winds but just about good enough for the fisheye lens. I really hope for some good weather in the next 2-3 weeks to be able to make the seaweed photos I really have in mind.The very top photo is Berry wart cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius shot with a very shallow depth of field. The single stone above hosts a whole variety of species. The largest is Slender wart weed Graciliaria gracilis and just as the Berry wart cress it is covered in mucus threads, which must come from the tiny gastropods Rissoa parva that can be seen on it when you zoom in. To the left the wiry Black scour weed Ahnfeltia plicata. To the back the invasive Devils tongue weed Grateloupia turuturu. Green Ulva and young kelp can also be seen. Below some Harpoonweed Asparagopsis armata. The snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis were also out in force. I hope the weather settles soon!
Facebook/instagram and even news websites have been awash with Barrel jellyfish photos and videos the last week and so I had to get a piece of the action! I had seen these gentle giants in previous years but had not tried to take any photos in earnest. I snorkelled out from the beach in Falmouth and after 200 meters or so I sure enough found three or four (they occasionally came close to each other but there of course was zero interaction). Barrel jellyfish Rhizostoma pulmo can in rare cases have a bell 90 cm wide but these were smaller, maybe 90 cm in length. I dove to take shots from below again and again: good exercise! I learner to hold my breath so the shot would not be ruined by air bubbles. I tried some over-unders but the shore was far away and so ended up only being a sliver, tricky!I tried some downward shots as well, which were much more gloomy. I saw a lone Blue jellyfish and a couple of Compass Jellyfish Chrysaora hysoscella. They are much smaller and have longer tentacles that unlike the Barrel jellyfish can sting (but not badly). Jellyfish are a great subject, beautiful and not rapidly swimming off! I hope to go back soon and try some more shots. (I will have to make sure to wipe the dome port occasionally as I had to spot-fix quite a bit).
David Fenwick (Aphotomarine), Matt Slater (Shoresearch Cornwall) and Thomas Daguerre (HydroMotion Media) had all tipped me off about the elusive ‘Cave of Dreams’ at Pentire/Fistral Beach in Newquay. Recent posts by Cornish Rock Pools and The Marine Enthusiast reminded me of the stunning Scarlet and gold star coral Balanophyllia regia that live there and made me decide to drive all the way (well, it is a good 45 minutes) to the North Coast. I did not find the cave on two earlier visits (see this post from almost exactly one year ago), but today Thomas showed me exactly where it was. Cave is a big word, it is more of an overhang, and I don’t think I would have ever managed to discover it myself (you can find a photo of it behind the aphotomarine link). The corals are tiny, 5-10 mm in diameter, but there are many of them, in the low hundreds. Unlike most corals, this species relies solely on catching food with its tentacles, and it does not have algal symbionts (zooxanthellae) to provide energy from photosynthesis. Dark ‘caves’ with lots of waterflow are thus a good habitat for them. They look a bit like the tropical sun corals, who I was lucky to see in Hong Kong last year, and which are quite popular in the reef aquarium hobby. I had to carefully position myself on the rocks, dipping my camera in the water. It was too shallow to stick my head in, and I did not want to enter the water anyway, to prevent disturbing this widespread, but uncommon species. There were some interesting sponges (one of them Polymastia boletiformis) and red seaweeds, but I decided to only focus (no pun intended) on the corals. I was quite excited, this is definitely one of the most interesting species I have seen so far in Cornwall and I am sure that many people would be amazed to learn that corals live on our shores. I played around with my wide-angle lens, my new macro lens and took shots without the wet lenses. The light was low and I had to contort myself a bit but some of the shots turned out nice. The macro is still difficult, but maybe I might be expecting too much from the setup I have (without strobes). I hope to go back soon and try to get more photos, I would love to try an underwater panorama shot!
I now am the proud owner of a nauticam CMC wetlens. It arrived too late for my first encounter with a nudibranch this year, however, it came just in time for a proliferation of stalked jellyfish. These tiny (around one centimeter), sessile relatives of jellyfish are not very well-known, but seem to be getting more popular, see for some other recent finds the other local blogs Cornish Rock Pools and The Marine Enthusiast. To find them, you need to carefully scan seaweeds in rock pools (they are not very picky when it comes to which species they attach themselves to). The key resource for UK (European even) rock poolers is David Fenwick’s Stauromedusae website. Above, the most common species, the Spotted kaleidoscope jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus, recognizable by the primary tentacles or anchors (the white ‘balls’ inbetween the tentacles). Below, St. John’s stalked jellyfish Calvadosia cruxmelitensis, with a zoomed out photo and finger nail to give an idea of scale. Finally, two not so good photos of a third species Calvadosia campanulata taken above-water as these were located just below the surface. One more species can be found on mainland Cornwall (the Goblet stalked jellyfish Craterolophus convolvulus) and one on the Scillies (the Horned stalked jellyfish Lucernaria quadricornis, but who knows this species is also present on the mainland). So some more searching to do!
I have been a bit busy and so the photos below are some weeks old. The seaweeds are in decline already it seems. Actually, that is not true, there are plenty of seaweeds growing, but some of the prettier ones are dying off and some of the uglier ones are taking over. The window to take the nicest rock pool shots is quite short, pretty much early spring only. The ubiquitous False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata is yellowing, the green Sea lettuce Ulva lactuca is starting to cover everything and the Red grape weed is getting ‘fluffy’. Not the best session photo quality-wise and probably the last of the year. The Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia is abundant and looking good (on the photo with Discoid forkweed Polyides rotundus) and I managed I nice shot of young Thong (or Spaghetti) weed Himanthalia elongata. I have done some more research into ‘proper’ underwater cameras and was tipped of about the Canon G16 (thanks Thomas from HydroMotion Media), maybe something for next year….The past couple of times when focusing on the seaweeds I also encountered some animals (it is hard not to). Many Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis, with some having very short tentacles. Next, a Decorator crab Macropodia rostrata covered in Banded pincer weed Ceramium. Mermaid’s purses (egg cases) of the Bull huss/Greater-spotted Dogfish/Large-spotted Catshark/Nursehound Scyliorhinus stellaris seem to be exclusively attached to Bushy rainbow wrack. Finally, a Stalked jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus on Wireweed Sargassum muticum.
A short update on the aquarium; I have collected some more anemones and hope to collect a lot more now spring has started (I went for my first dive of the year this Friday; it was really nice to be back in the water but the visibility was really bad and it was only 9 degrees!). I do not have a decent full tank shot (FTS as it is called on aquarium fora…) but decided to post some quick iPhone pics anyway. The first photo shows three species: top left is a Diadumene cincta or lineata, bottom left a Dahlia anemone Urticina felina and the two on the right are Strawberry anemones Actinia fragacea. Next a Plumose anemone Metridium senile followed by a white variety of the Red-speckled anemone Anthopleura ballii. I feed the anemones a couple of times a week by hand with pieces of defrosted shrimp. The anemones readily take up the shrimp, especially the Dahlia anemone is very quick to grab food and close up. The Plumose anemones are more difficult as they are often closed (they slowly open up when they sense food in the water but often they don’t) and have very fine tentacles not suited to feeding on larger particles. They would be better fed with zooplankton from a turkey baster but I have been too lazy to do that. When they are fully extended they are beautiful, white or orange but often they are flat as a pancake and shift shape a bit, leaving behind pieces of tissue that sometimes develop into tiny anemones. I have some beadlet anemones and a small orange and white species I am not sure of too. There are a whole bunch of other species (I can recommend this excellent guide) and many are very beautiful (see here for a gallery of photos by Paul Kay). The plan is to try to find more Dahlia anemones, as these come in many colour variations, but they are not very common in the rock pools here. A common species when snorkelling in the Helford is the Mud sagartia, which would also be nice to have. I am doubting about getting some Snakelocks again: they are very pretty and I could get the commensal spider crab as well, but they are also quite deadly…
The weather has been generally awful so far this year and so I have not been out much. However it is March already so at least a small blog post is in order! There are loads of Worm pipefish Nerophis lumbriciformis around, some of the males carrying eggs (see also the blog header and the ‘about’ section). I found my smallest one yet. Next up a Sea urchin Psammechinus miliaris with what is probably the parasitic (or commensal?) polychaete worm Flabelligera affinis (thanks David Fenwick). After that, a slighlty out of focus shot of the hydroid Candelabrum cocksii. A few of these small individuals were sat under the first rock I turned over; I reckoned they were some type of spoon worm but they are something very different, thanks again David Fenwick, see for his much better photographs of this weird little thing here. Next the Wrinkled rock borer Hiatella arctica with siphon extended and the pretty acorn barnacle Balanus perforatus. Finally a picture of the Strawberry anemone Actinia fragacea, quite common and pretty, but I do not think I have ever posted a picture of it on the blog before. (All pics taken at Castle Beach in Falmouth btw.) I have three in my tank and it is high time for an aquarium update as well. I hope to go out tomorrow and the weekend as the tides are very low so watch this space!