Jellyfish

It is the time of year where the rock pools look less attractive (for an example see this old post) and jellyfish appear in the sea beyond. As they are pretty and slow moving, they make for excellent subjects and so I have ventured out over the kelp recently to look for them. I now have a reliable INON D-200 strobe (actually I have two such strobes, it is just that the second arrived 6 weeks ago but not its fibre optic cable…) which makes a huge difference in the types of shots you can take. Photos taken using natural light only can be pretty (see for example here for previous attempts) but a strobe just opens a whole new range of possibilities. I was quite pleased with myself with the shot above of a Compass Jellyfish that seems to float in outer space. Here, the strobe lights up the jelly (which is really close in front of the camera) but it cannot light the ocean behind. Using a fast shutter speed, the ambient light (that would make the water blue) is not let into the camera, resulting in a black background. An exception is the bright sky, which is visible in Snell’s Window, and which looks a bit like a planet against the black background. Of course, even with using a strobe you can choose to let in ambient light, leading to more conventional shots such as the one below (however the jellyfish is a bit further away and not very nicely lit up by the strobe):

By pointing the camera downwards and getting rid of much of the sunlight, the fast shutter speed black background effect is even stronger, even on a sunny day. An example is the Moon Jellyfish below. Btw, I have touched these photos up with the generic Windows photoviewer (a poor man’s Adobe Lightroom) whch performs quite well. It is however tricky to get rid of some of the backscatter (particles in the water that light up because the strobe is incorrectly positioned, illuminating not just the subject but also the water in between subject and lens). This effect can be seen above the jelly in the second photo even after editing in Windows Photo:

It is great fun to practice photography with these jellies. In principle one strobe is enough (and many pro photographers recommend to try shooting with a single strobe). However, there are situations where two strobes are clearly better, namely when a subject needs to be lit up from two sides. The photo below was taken with the camera turned 90 degrees with the strobe to the left side (notice the remaining backscatter after using the clone stamp tools in Windows Photo). Having had another strobe to the right would have avoided the shadows (but probably have added backscatter!):

Some more shots below. The visibility has been poor lately but I hope to be able to practice some more over the weekend.

Nudibranch

Two entries back I posted photos of the Goby egg-eating seaslug Calma gobioophaga. Last week I was lucky enough to spot its cousin, Calma glaucoides, who is a bit less fussy and eats different types of fish eggs, as well as cephalopod eggs. I found it by turning over a rock whilst snorkeling in a very shallow (<50 cm!) pool. Next to a depleted patch of clingfish eggs, it was circling around, busily depositing eggs of its own. A fantastic surprise, and I really need to get on with recording such findings.


Snorkel Adventures

The sun is shining (most days) and the water has warmed up, so ideal conditions for a bit of snorkeling. I have been out at my usual spot in Falmouth (rockpools and kelp forest) and my local beach in Flushing (seagrass) (and yes, I really count myself lucky every time that l live here!). The last couple of times I have brought my son along, as he is now old enough (nine). He is a nature freak just like his dad, actually probably more so! I need to get him fins and a weight belt soon, but he has been doing fine in the water already.

The photos above and below illustrate the state of the rock pools at the moment: quite brownish with the Sargassum and Himanthalia growing everywhere. The red, pink and purple species have largely disappeared (apart from Harpoon weed) and there is quite a bit of green Ulva growing. The water teems with juvenile pollack in the rock pools and schools of sand eels a bit further out. Diving over sandy patches, you can see the latter species shooting out of the sand en masse. It is crazy how such a silvery pelagic fish can also burrow in the sand. I guess it does take its toll, as there are quite some dead ones to be seen too.

The Flushing snorkel site is very different, no (deep) rockpools, only a little bit of kelp but with a very healthy patch of seagrass. No catsharks or thornback rays when we went in, just the odd small sea bass. There are many small Snakelocks anemones on the seagrass. I used to think that it was mostly the purple form that did this but I now noticed that most were the green variety, so the morphs do not seem to differ in this respect after all. One anemone had ‘caught’ a crystal jellyfish (an Aequorea medusa). Not sure if it was in the process of being digested or just ‘stuck’.

I have played around with my new INON strobe, which works a lot better than my old strobe. I have ordered a second one for Wide Angle photos too….(as you can see there is quite some backscatter in the pic of the Shore Crab above). I will need to get back to some shore diving to make optimal use of two strobes, as I am too lousy a freediver to get the lighting and exposure right in one breath!

new strobe

Long time no post! Due to a combination of not-so-good weather and work I have not been in the water much the last few months. I attempted some seaweed photography but most times the viz was bad; the one time the conditions were great, somehow all my photos turned out to be a bit meh and I could not be bothered to post them. (For some older shots on seaweed diversity see here, and many older posts as well.) Anyhow, my exciting news is that I finally bought a new strobe (an INON D-200 for those who are interested) because my old Sea&Sea strobes just proved to be too temperamental. Something I should have done a long time ago, but the thrifty Dutchman in me just never pulled the trigger. I have now taken it out twice this weekend and it works like a charm! Now I just need to practice, as it is actually still very hard to go from an OK photo to a truly good pic. Above a shot of a baby urchin Psammechinus miliaris. The true stars of the weekend however were nudibranchs.

A very special find (shown to me by fellow rockpool photography enthusiasts Martin and Greg) were two Goby egg-eating seaslugs Calma gobioophaga. This tiny species can only be found on the goby eggs it eats. With such a ‘niche niche’ and with very good camouflage it is no wonder that reports of this species are rare. A fun fact: its protein-rich diet means it does not have to poo and it therefore does not have an anus…The rock with the eggs and nudis was very shallow and so it was a challenge to get the port of the camera housing under water. Luckily Greg assisted with pointing out the nudi and holding my strobe in place. Freshly hatched goby fry could be seen hovering above the eggs (the fact that a predator was munching through their brothers and sisters might have triggered some of the hatching). The cerata (the fleshy lobes on the nudi’s back) seem to have two goby eyes in them to make them better blend in!

Finally, two other nudibranch species, neither very colourful. Both are predators of anemones: first the largish Grey sea slug Aeolidia papillosa and second the smaller species Aeolidiella alderi. Both adequate shots but I need to practice to make them truly good. I will probably buy a second INON strobe so I can practice wide angle shots as well when diving. I hope to go out a lot more during summer and will make sure to post here about my finds and progress!

Macro

The weather has been horrible lately, with three storms coming in straight after each other. On the upside this means that there is good potential for beachcombing, but alas, the one beach on the North Coast we checked was as clean as a whistle, just sand! So here are some photos from a few weeks back when the weather was good better. On top a Spotted Kaleidoscope Jellyfish (Haliclystus octoradiatus), about 15 mm across, on some Irish Moss seaweed. Please see this site for more information on these beauties; there are several species in our rockpools, but you have to develop a bit of an eye for them! Some other pics below: Blue-rayed Limpets (Patella pellucida) on kelp and a Thicklipped Dogwhelk (Tritia incrassata (when I was young Nassarius incrassatus…). Still need a lot of practice with the strobe, these shots I was very happy with, but most were way off the mark somehow. Looking forward to spring!

Candelabrum cocksii

It was a nice day and a good low tide last Wednesday and so I decided to go for a snorkel; I was glad I did! Last year, I had been trying to take photos of this weird little animal, Candelabrum cocksii, but failed miserably, this time it worked (although it could be improved). It is a hydrozoan that was first described in Victorian times on the exact beach I always go snorkelling here in Falmouth. It is tiny (see last pic) and lives underneath rocks, so it goes mostly unnoticed (and therefore does not have a common name). To take this photo, I had to do some ‘underwater rockpooling, turning over a rock to find them. I am not sure what the deal is with these guys; I know the white bulbous structures at the bottom are reproductive structures, and the reddish bit at the top is for feeding (this bit can be stretched out quite a lot). It is colonial just like the Portuguese Man O’War. Please correct me if I am wrong hydrozoan experts! Shout out to David Fenwick and his ID site aphotomarine.com, which I highly recommend.

Other notable finds were stalked jellyfish Calvadosia cruxmelitensis and my very first Wentletrap (which is a Dutch word: wenteltrap=spiral staircase) Epitonium clathrus. As I had my macrolens on the camera I could not shoot any general impressions but the pools started to look beautiful again. The big Wireweed and Thing weed plants were all gone (new ones emerging) and the red seaweeds (Sphaerococcus, Plocamium, Chylocladia) were already quite big.

It was great to be back in the water today and it is my New Year’s resolution to spend a lot more time underwater than I did in 2021! Who knows I will even learn how to use strobes. A happy 2022 to all blog readers!

Summer Seaweeds

Snorkeling in summer is nice because it is sunny and warm, but the seaweeds are turning a bit manky. That has its charms too though!

Above: Furbelows Saccorhiza polyschides. Middle: Thong Weed Himanthalia elongata covered in epiphytes (Ceramium?). Bottom: seaweed assemblage with Red Rags Dilsea carnosa, Irish Moss Chondrus crispus, Forkweed Dictyota dichotoma, Harpoon Weed Asparagopsis armata, Sea Lettuce Ulva lactuca and other species.

Darwin’s Brain Coral

A brain coral. On land. In Cornwall.

Half hidden under the subtropical shrubs in the Penjerrick ‘jungle garden’, this moss-covered coral is believed to have been a gift from Robert FitzRoy, captain of HMS Beagle, the ship that sailed Charles Darwin around the world for almost five years.

The Beagle landed here in Falmouth the 2nd of October 1836, but Darwin did not bother to stay around and immediately caught the Royal Mail coach back to Shrewsbury.

P.S. A rare occasion I could put my fisheye lens to use on land!

Crystal Jellies

Photography during my last snorkel was a bit frustrating as I could not get my strobes to work. Luckily I was saved by a subject that did not require any extra light: beautiful translucent crystal jellies slowly pulsating near the surface. Crystal jellyfish are not true jellyfish (these belong in the Class Scyphozoa), but hydromedusae (Class Hydrozoa) which have a polyp stage in their lifecycle that bud of these sexual medusae. They are difficult to identify to species level so I keep it to Aequorea sp. I saw a few, around 10 cm in diameter, and had fun diving under them and get them in front of the afternoon sun.

Back in the Water

I had not been in the water for many weeks due to bad weather, work and laziness, but as the sun was shining last Tuesday and there were indications from social media that the plankton bloom had gone, I went back in for a snorkel. The water has warmed up, although the viz was not as good as I had hoped. I swam a bit further than my usual shallow rockpools to explore the kelp forest. Pollack, wrasse, mullet and sandeels swam about. I noticed a line with crabpots starting very close to shore, something I had not seen before. Unlucky spider crabs and some lobsters could be seen in the pots. Below a Spider Crab that was still free….

After exploring the slightly deeper waters I went back into the pools where the viz actually cleared up a bit. Seaweed-wise, things have deteriorated a bit compared to early spring, but it was a very nice swim around all the same!