Snorkeling with Blue Sharks

Last Tuesday I went on a boat trip with BlueSharkSnorkel departing from Penzance. The Celtic Fox took us an hour out from the coast. On the way we were greated by Common Dolphins and a small Sunfish sped past as well. (Being in the water with a big Sunfish would be an amazing experience!) After some chumming and mackerel fishing it was time to wait for the sharks. There was quite a bit of swell and I felt a bit seasick! Finally, the plastic bottle tied to a hookless line with mackerel bait started to bob up and down, announcing the presence of the first Blue Shark (Prionace glauca). After giving the shark(s) some time to get settled around the boat we slid in. Two sharks around my size appeared and disappeared. I did not pay attention to their sex, but at least one had small wounds on its back which could suggest it is a female (the males bite when mating). They had some parasites too. The sharks came up to about a metre from us but remained relatively wary, so I did not get any close up shots unfortunately. The pic above came out OK, it gives a nice impression of the blueness of the shark and their pelagic habitat. This was my second Blue Shark experience (see this old post) and hope to go look for them again some time!

Rockpooling on St. Martins

Although St. Martins does not seem to have any rockpools, the beach that was nearest to us (called ‘Lawrences’) has a stretch of rocks lying on the sand that can be turned over at low tide, and so we did! A nice find was a small Sevenarmed Starfish Luidia ciliaris (these can grow up to half a meter across, although you will not find them that size in rockpools). We also found a Bootlace Worm Lineus longissimus, which is (probably) the longest animal on the planet. These nermertean worms secrete a powerful toxin in their mucus, but luckily for us it affects arthropods and not mammals. They are not very rare btw, I see them here in Flushing and Falmouth too. It was about 5 meters long (without stretching it), but they can grow ten times the size of this! In the second photo you can see it in its natural habitat, under a rock, with some photobombing crabs and worm pipefish. Another cool find was a juvenile Conger Eel Conger conger. Otherwise we found the usual suspects, lots of crabs and a bunch of fish, see for a small selection below.

Mermaid’s Purse

Just three pics of the same shark egg case (‘mermaid’s purse) laid by a Nursehound (Scyliorhinus stellaris), also known as Large-spotted dogfish, Greater spotted dogfish or Bull huss. My camera was only five centimetres away from it (this technique is called ‘close focus wide angle‘). Mostly attached to perennial and tough Bushy rainbow wrack (Cystoseira tamariscifolia). 

Spotted Kaleidoscope Jellyfish

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.

Falmouth Rockpooling

Some photos from Last Sunday at Castle Beach in Falmouth. Above, the periwinkle Littorina littorea, which aggregrates in great numbers on the upper shore. Below, three echinoderm cousins: a Cushion star Asterina gibbosa and a little Sea cucumber Pawsonia saxicola with a Brittle star in the background. It was the first time I saw this beautiful colour variant of the Risso’s or Furrowed crab Risso pilipes. More common is the very similar Montagu’s crab Risso hydrophilus, there are usually 5-10 individuals under a single rock. The small ones especially come in a range of colours that make them excellently camouflaged against the pebbles. Next a juvenile Shanny Lipophrys pholis, a detail of a Corkwing wrasse (I could pick it up, that is how low the tide was) and a shot of the beach, showing the versatility of the mzuiko 60mm lens.

Silver Steps Diving V

Yet another solo dive (I know, I know, not ideal) this Thursday morning before the easterlies are kicking in. Actually, the water was already choppier than I expected, but for macro photography the viz is not as important. I did not get ‘the’ shot but it was a nice dive all around. I discovered a little swim-under and saw lobster, rock lobster (craw fish) and a huuuuge conger eel. I was focusing on a little tunicate when I looked up and saw it looking back at me from not very far away at all. Its head was as big as mine. I slowly swam backwards, thinking of this encounter…..overall they do seem to be aggressive towards people though, and with my fisheye lens this could have been a really good shot. This later happened again, this time a smaller individual but still sizable. I did not stick my macro lens up its nose but grabbed a halfhearted shot with a passing by Twospot goby almost in focus to give an idea: Some macro shots: again a Twin fan worm Bispira volutacornis and a new one for me, a big bright red Protula tubularia. It would be nice to get some abstract close-ups but these are excellent living motion-detectors so it is difficult. There are some amazing colours under the rock overhangs and I would like to try some more abstract photos such as this Spiny starfish or this Didemnun colonial seasquirt and other encrusting animals (and plants). No diving/snorkelling this weekend because of the wind, but glad I could put a couple of dives in these past weeks, and I will make an effort to go a lot more weather permitting!

Silver Steps Diving IV

A solo dive early evening at the Silver Steps site. It was a couple of weeks I last went, and this time it was already dusk when I entered the water. My intention was to find cup corals and other small creatures growing on rock overhangs below the kelp line. The viz was good and sure enough I found what I was looking for: Devonshire cup coral Caryophyllia smithii, a solitary stony coral which is relatively common. They are very beautiful and the right size for the macro lens. I will definitely go after them again. Other finds were a golfball sponge Tethya aurantium, a baby Longspined seascorpion (this shot had potential, but it swam away unfortunately), a tunicate and a Painted topshell (very common). At the end of the dive unfortunately it was getting too dark to find objects or too properly focus; I need to sort out a dive light!

Silver Steps diving II

Another Silver Steps shore dive with @shannonmoranphoto and her fellow student Chris on Friday. The conditions were not as good as last time: low viz and a bit of a swell. I had set my camera to a longer focal range to try to take pics of cuttles or larger fish but that did not work out (with better conditions it still might not work out!). I could still shoot macro so that is what I did. Above to Devonshire cup corals Caryophyllia smithii. Pretty decent, but I know I can get a better close-up; I will try again Monday! I will have another go at the one resident Cray (or Craw) fish, which lives very shallow. I will also try the Twin fan worm Bispira volutacornis again, as I think a shot filled with just the fans (and not assorted bits of seaweeds etc) could be really nice. I might try free-swimming fish if they come close, as did this Poor cod Trisopterus minutus. Below some before- and after postprocessing. Just the jpegs in Windows Photos, nothing fancy. A bit of cropping, increasing clarity and contrast works wonders. Only when I have a really good photo I will invest time processing raw files in Photoshop. First the best photo of the dive: a Black-faced blenny Tripterygion delaisi (a female or possibly a non-breeding male). Next, a common Edible crab Cancer pagurus and finally a Twospotted goby Gobiusculus flavescens.

Silver Steps Diving

Finally a shore dive yesterday evening, it has been a long time. I partnered up with buddy Shannon via instagram (@shannonmoranphoto). Instagram has been a really nice way to learn about photography from likeminded folks (such as @danboltphoto and @malcolmnnimmo). We dived (dove?) Silver Steps in Falmouth, about which you can find a bunch of old snorkelling and diving posts on the blog if you are interested. Shannon was the ideal buddy: relaxed and really into photography, so we kept the same tempo. It was a very shallow dive (maybe 5 meters), so we were only limited by getting cold, which was after an hour. I chose to use my 60mm lens, but not to use the 1:1 macro setting, but the 0.19-040 focal range to try my hand at slightly larger objects such as fish. I was thus lucky in a sense that I did not encounter any beautiful nudibranchs of which I would not be able to to take a good shot. (Edit: actually, I since learned that 1:1 is still possible using this focal range). It was however unfortunate that I could not get a good shot of a cuttlefish that hovered about two meters away, rapidly changing colour and catching a wrasse! Next time I will perhaps change settings again to try my hand at (cuttle)fish swimming a bit further away. However, I was very happy with sticking to Leopard-spotted gobies Thorogobius ephippiatus. They do not stick their little faces out of nooks as do most blennies, but usually lie on and under ledges. The trick was to approach very slowly, shooting until they swam off. For some reason, I managed to position my strobe right and did not have backscatter issues. I used Windows Photos to postprocess. See below for a before and after example: Two other common organisms below: a Squat lobster Galathea rugosa and a Twin fan worm Bispira volutacornis. And finally an out of focus, but fun photo of a tiny tiny clingfish very aptly clinging to Shannon’s housing. This was one of the most fun dives in ages and I hope to repeat it sometime soon!

St. Michaels Mount

A bit of practice with over under shots two weeks ago when camping near St. Michaels Mount in Marazion. An ancient and beautiful backdrop to a fine sandy beach, with a causeway, rocky outcrops as well as seagrass. I was not alone and did not have much time and importantly no strobe handy, which made the exposure difference between under- and above water tricky. The main problem was however that I could not get up close to the Mount, leaving it quite small in the composition. Still, a great hour in the water. Many two-spot gobies were around and this is a site with lots of egg cases of the Nursehound (or large-spotted dogfish, or greater spotted dogfish or bull huss) Scyliorhinus stellaris.