New Camera, First Two Dives

New Camera, First Two Dives

I was finally back in the water, replacement camera in hand.

Flooding a camera is a terrible experience. I had avoided that feeling for over a decade, but when you dive with a camera in a plastic box under pressure, it is only a matter of time until the inevitable happens. Only a few drops of seawater into all those electronics and everything is fried: camera, lens and battery.

Aaaargh!! I didn’t even know how it happened, exactly, beyond the obvious salt water vs electronics thing.But you pick yourself up after grieving for a suitable period, take a deep breath, spend all those hard-earned dollars it takes to get back on that merry-go-round, get replacement gear (in my case, an Olympus E-PL7 and the 12-50 zoom macro lens), and rejoin the mass obsession / madness known as underwater photography.

I had missed great sightings; hearing of all these cool critter encounters day after day makes you happy for the guests, but I was missing some really special opportunities for great pictures. Once I was sorted and had tested my housing in the pool as well as on the House Reef, I was good to go.

I dragged Jek & Bobby along to Pantai Parigi, where they were seeing a pair of mototi octos along with a bluering. I also wanted to hunt for a larger mototi as well as another bluering at Air Prang. Octopus don’t stay in the same area for long, so I decided to concentrate on them over searches for known harlequin shrimp, frogfish, and other personal favorites in play at that time.

So we swam straight to the proper area and within a minute Bobby found the bluering. The very first shot I took with my new set-up is at the top of the page. Then within another minute or so, Jek spotted a small mototi only a meter or so away. I took some pictures as they both moved around. They even came within reach of each other at one point, but studiously ignored each other. Neither found any suitable prey, but I could not complain as it was a great start.

Next we popped over to Air Prang. I found some C. tenue nudis, Bobby spotted a brown painted frogfish, and there wasn’t much else. The site was already going “cold”. No mototi or bluering that were seen only days earlier. But while circling a bit deeper (10 m.), Jek beckoned me to come check something he found. He had found a pair of small spotfin frogfish and while he watched, one  turned and inhaled the other!

He immediately swam off to find me, but on returning we were presented with an odd sight: the butt-end of a rather round post-feeding frogfish sticking out of the sand, thrashing wildly.We surmised that a snake ell (a wee snake eel) had grabbed it and was dragging it under the sand. Jek gently used his stick to lever it free (we favor frogfish unashamedly). It sat there on the sand and as I took some pictures I noticed something sticking out of its lower jaw. Because of the small size, I wasn’t sure what is was, but on seeing my pictures later it was obvious what had happened.

The frogfish had a spearing appendage (“arm”) from a mantis shrimp stuck into it. A real pain-in-the-neck. Jek had somehow levered the arm off the mantis. The mantis undoubtedly noticed that he had a 2-for-1 opportunity above him and speared the sated frogfish ambitiously. Then we came along and ruined his dinner plans. We hope the crustacean survives. Just as we hope that the small froggie survives. Nature in action.

Tripadvisor Reviews:

What Every Dive Resort Should Strive to Be

"This was a phenomenal dive trip and we will be back here on our next visit to Lembeh. Thanks again to Bruce, Fung, and all of the wonderful staff who made our vacation a fantastic one!"

Scallywag81 on TripAdvisor

Three times is not enough...

"In the 20+ years that we've been diving, in about the same number of different countries, there was only one other place where we went back a second time. But Black Sand? Oh we just couldn't stay away!"

Katrien V on TripAdvisor

Idyllic Resort Set in Middle of Lembeh’s Best Diving

"Bruce was often present at meal time, and he is a wealth of knowledge about all things diving, especially Lembeh and critter identification. We really enjoyed our discussions with him. The dive staff was outstanding."

Doug F on TripAdvisor

Missing it Already and Can't Wait to Return!

"We visited Black Sand for the second time because we could not have imagined having better hosts than Bruce and Fung as well the number and variety of great dive sites."

Brown C on TripAdvisor

Address:

Black Sand Dive Retreat

Kel. Kasawari, Bitung
Lembeh Strait
North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Tel: 62 (0)821-9969-5992
info@blacksanddive.com

Melibe Madness!

Melibe Madness!

We had an noteworthy find recently: something from the genus Melibe, which has some very interesting members.

Over the past year all the resorts in Lembeh have received an increasing number of a single name on the wish lists: the Melibe colemani. We have found a few, but they are small, delicate and very hard to find, even when you know where to look. One of our guides thought he had found one recently and I went over to have a look.

The M. colemani is white, but this one had brownish markings, so after my initial excitement and a closer look at my photos, I did some research. I’m not 100% sure, but out of the known species, I do believe that this critter is the Melibe rangii, also known as the Melibe engeli. It’s a lovely slug, as you can see. Notice that he’s feeding in each photo… an active individual. I have yet to get snaps of the elusive M. colemani, but I’m not complaining.

Tripadvisor Reviews:

What Every Dive Resort Should Strive to Be

"This was a phenomenal dive trip and we will be back here on our next visit to Lembeh. Thanks again to Bruce, Fung, and all of the wonderful staff who made our vacation a fantastic one!"

Scallywag81 on TripAdvisor

Three times is not enough...

"In the 20+ years that we've been diving, in about the same number of different countries, there was only one other place where we went back a second time. But Black Sand? Oh we just couldn't stay away!"

Katrien V on TripAdvisor

Idyllic Resort Set in Middle of Lembeh’s Best Diving

"Bruce was often present at meal time, and he is a wealth of knowledge about all things diving, especially Lembeh and critter identification. We really enjoyed our discussions with him. The dive staff was outstanding."

Doug F on TripAdvisor

Missing it Already and Can't Wait to Return!

"We visited Black Sand for the second time because we could not have imagined having better hosts than Bruce and Fung as well the number and variety of great dive sites."

Brown C on TripAdvisor

Address:

Black Sand Dive Retreat

Kel. Kasawari, Bitung
Lembeh Strait
North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Tel: 62 (0)821-9969-5992
info@blacksanddive.com

The Spell of the Hunt

The Spell of the Hunt

Our Dive Centre Manager Ben is starting off his blog contribution with something artistic… a poem about one of the most sought-after critters – the Rhinopias.

The Spell of the Hunt

Rhinopias, Rhinopias, Rhinopias: The echo of promise resonated across the world-famous Lembeh Strait this morning! The holy grail of underwater photographers and diving aficionados alike had been spotted again. A momentous occasion had befallen the current residents of Black Sand Dive Retreat – an occasion not to be missed. And we indeed wouldn’t….

Into the boat we speedily climbed

Our intentions primed

With thoughts on our minds

Of a fish so sublime.

The guests, their eyes alit with anticipation

As mine were closed, locked in sweet mediation

That I’d find this Rhinopias, as it is my vocation

While the boat tore through the waves with slick navigation.

On the boat we were five

Guests Giacomo and Christian would surely thrive

With eagle-eyed guide Bobby leading the dive

And sea-sturdy captain Yubel at the drive.

To Nudi Falls we did reach

Over the side, the ocean we would breach

Swimming with a maniacal smooth towards that which we beseech

Already tasting success on our lips, sweet as a peach.

For in front of our eyes

There lay the grand prize

A Rhinopias frondosa did rise

From its coral bed, cleverly disguised.

Oh, such joy a fish should incite

Purplish-red, freckled, and not at all slight

Posing nobly on its perch like a lonesome knight

All parties involved were filled with delight.

Back on the boat, ready to leave

High fives around did all receive

On this morning our wishes did not deceive

Rather the opposite, all was achieved.

This Rhinopias frondosa was a very fortunate find. The geometric patterns and striking colours presented are a testament to their popularity amongst divers. Rhinopias will continue to be the holy grail for those who seek the most beautiful, mysterious, and awe-inspiring marine life on this planet.

Signing off for now – More adventures to come! Happy hunting and stay wet.

Benjamin, Dive Manager @ Black Sand Dive Retreat

Tripadvisor Reviews:

What Every Dive Resort Should Strive to Be

"This was a phenomenal dive trip and we will be back here on our next visit to Lembeh. Thanks again to Bruce, Fung, and all of the wonderful staff who made our vacation a fantastic one!"

Scallywag81 on TripAdvisor

Three times is not enough...

"In the 20+ years that we've been diving, in about the same number of different countries, there was only one other place where we went back a second time. But Black Sand? Oh we just couldn't stay away!"

Katrien V on TripAdvisor

Idyllic Resort Set in Middle of Lembeh’s Best Diving

"Bruce was often present at meal time, and he is a wealth of knowledge about all things diving, especially Lembeh and critter identification. We really enjoyed our discussions with him. The dive staff was outstanding."

Doug F on TripAdvisor

Missing it Already and Can't Wait to Return!

"We visited Black Sand for the second time because we could not have imagined having better hosts than Bruce and Fung as well the number and variety of great dive sites."

Brown C on TripAdvisor

Address:

Black Sand Dive Retreat

Kel. Kasawari, Bitung
Lembeh Strait
North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Tel: 62 (0)821-9969-5992
info@blacksanddive.com

Monkey business with Dr. Gerry Allen

Monkey business with Dr. Gerry Allen

Gerry & I had a fabulous afternoon in the Tangkoko National Park. No fish, but plenty of fun…. and sweat.

Tangkoko is a popular sidetrip from Lembeh for nature lovers. I hadn’t been there in years and with Gerry visiting on his own, I decided to tag along to the forest. We walked a lot, got sweaty, saw some cool animals, stepped over a lot of tree roots and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Most of these shots are of the endemic celebes macaque. Since visitors aren’t allowed to feed them, they aren’t bothersome pests as some species are in SE Asia.

This young male came up and sat, literally, at my knee (lower left), playing it cool and showing some interest in this big goofy human with a camera. We had luck in finding six tarsiers in a single huge tree, offering plenty of photo ops.

Tripadvisor Reviews:

What Every Dive Resort Should Strive to Be

"This was a phenomenal dive trip and we will be back here on our next visit to Lembeh. Thanks again to Bruce, Fung, and all of the wonderful staff who made our vacation a fantastic one!"

Scallywag81 on TripAdvisor

Three times is not enough...

"In the 20+ years that we've been diving, in about the same number of different countries, there was only one other place where we went back a second time. But Black Sand? Oh we just couldn't stay away!"

Katrien V on TripAdvisor

Idyllic Resort Set in Middle of Lembeh’s Best Diving

"Bruce was often present at meal time, and he is a wealth of knowledge about all things diving, especially Lembeh and critter identification. We really enjoyed our discussions with him. The dive staff was outstanding."

Doug F on TripAdvisor

Missing it Already and Can't Wait to Return!

"We visited Black Sand for the second time because we could not have imagined having better hosts than Bruce and Fung as well the number and variety of great dive sites."

Brown C on TripAdvisor

Address:

Black Sand Dive Retreat

Kel. Kasawari, Bitung
Lembeh Strait
North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Tel: 62 (0)821-9969-5992
info@blacksanddive.com

Getting older in style

Getting older in style

As my annual Age Counter clicked over another year on May 22, I decided to celebrate simply. I spent my weekend shirking my responsibilities and getting a load of dives in. The visibility was great, the seas calm and the currents co-operative. I managed to go out for six dives and here are some of our finds…

At this time, frogfish are abundant, as are heaps of nudis and ghost pipefish in numerous forms. Seahorse numbers are high as well. It is only Cephalopods that are absent. In my six jumps I found three juvenile broadclub cuttlefish on my final dive, but that was it. No octos at all.

In the past month our guests have seen a single tiny flamboyant cuttlefish along with a smattering of bluerings, and coconut octos along with only one or two wonderpus and crinoid cuttlefish. That’s it. Strange days. But a plethora of virtually everything else makes up for it. I had excellent dives, as the pictures should confirm.

Seeing three pairs of harlequin shrimp and a rare filamented rhinopias over three dives on my birthday was very special. The rest was icing…. excellent icing.

With dives like this, I don’t mind getting older.

Tripadvisor Reviews:

What Every Dive Resort Should Strive to Be

"This was a phenomenal dive trip and we will be back here on our next visit to Lembeh. Thanks again to Bruce, Fung, and all of the wonderful staff who made our vacation a fantastic one!"

Scallywag81 on TripAdvisor

Three times is not enough...

"In the 20+ years that we've been diving, in about the same number of different countries, there was only one other place where we went back a second time. But Black Sand? Oh we just couldn't stay away!"

Katrien V on TripAdvisor

Idyllic Resort Set in Middle of Lembeh’s Best Diving

"Bruce was often present at meal time, and he is a wealth of knowledge about all things diving, especially Lembeh and critter identification. We really enjoyed our discussions with him. The dive staff was outstanding."

Doug F on TripAdvisor

Missing it Already and Can't Wait to Return!

"We visited Black Sand for the second time because we could not have imagined having better hosts than Bruce and Fung as well the number and variety of great dive sites."

Brown C on TripAdvisor

Address:

Black Sand Dive Retreat

Kel. Kasawari, Bitung
Lembeh Strait
North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Tel: 62 (0)821-9969-5992
info@blacksanddive.com

To Mimic or Not to Mimic

To Mimic or Not to Mimic

So now that we are all clear on telling the difference between the wonderpus and the mimic octopus, I’d like to delve further into the realm of the mimic.

There are actually three species in the mimic family: the mimic, the brown mimic and the white-v octopus. The latter two look very alike and don’t put on much of a show, so it is the mimic that grabs most of the attention. All three species have white dots going down the length of each arm as well as a white v-shaped marking on the body towards the rear.

The behavioral trait that has brought the mimic octopus so much attention is the ability to copycat other marine creatures. I don’t dispute that they do this, but in my opinion, this attention is overblown. All octopus species can change their colour and shape in incredible ways and many, if not most, species mimic other creatures as a means of defense.

Above is a brown mimic, a white-v (also called long-arm octopus), and then the last two shots are of a mimic showing different hues.

The best episode of mimicry I have witnessed by an octopus was actually done by a coconut octopus, copying a hermit crab, complete with the shell entrance being off-centre and the shell being larger at one end. It certainly fooled me until I got too close and the octo realized that his “walking on tip-toes hermit crab” impression wasn’t working, so it abandoned the valiant and memorable effort, “breaking character” and instantly reverting to being a coconut octopus sitting on the substrate in a lump. I had been fooled, but was simply swimming in that direction, otherwise I would never have thought otherwise. I recounted the experience to Crissy Huffard, a friend who is an octopus researcher from Berkeley and she one-upped me, reporting seeing an octopus in Fiji doing the same, but adding stripes on the legs to enhance the disguise. So perhaps the mimic just has a better press agent than his bretheren.

Personally, I feel that a wonderpus puts on a better show than a mimic as they are usually less shy. But the mimic does copy specific creatures more clearly. I have seen a mimic, all alone and not under any attention or threat, sit atop a sand mound with the outer half of each arm pointed to the surface, possibly copying a sand anemone. A sea snake impression is more obvious and understandable. Bobbing a head from a hole like a mantis shrimp along with looking like a small cuttlefish, or “being” a jellyfish up in the water column are other obvious impressions. It is natural for many creatures under threat to puff themselves up and splay their arms in order to appear larger than they are.

For this reason, the supposed lionfish impression is one I take with a grain of salt because it is simply far too big to be confused with a lionfish, but that is just my opinion. The popular flatfish impression is one I feel is simply hydrodynamics – the fastest way across the bottom while conserving the most valuable energy. Flounders often attack octos and often tag along with them in order to try and steal a meal from them. I don’t see the benefit in looking like one. All sand octopus “fly” in the same manner over the substrate if threatened or in a hurry. That is how I feel, but I’ve seen mimics do very strange things that I can’t explain, so much remains in the eye of the beholder.

Tripadvisor Reviews:

What Every Dive Resort Should Strive to Be

"This was a phenomenal dive trip and we will be back here on our next visit to Lembeh. Thanks again to Bruce, Fung, and all of the wonderful staff who made our vacation a fantastic one!"

Scallywag81 on TripAdvisor

Three times is not enough...

"In the 20+ years that we've been diving, in about the same number of different countries, there was only one other place where we went back a second time. But Black Sand? Oh we just couldn't stay away!"

Katrien V on TripAdvisor

Idyllic Resort Set in Middle of Lembeh’s Best Diving

"Bruce was often present at meal time, and he is a wealth of knowledge about all things diving, especially Lembeh and critter identification. We really enjoyed our discussions with him. The dive staff was outstanding."

Doug F on TripAdvisor

Missing it Already and Can't Wait to Return!

"We visited Black Sand for the second time because we could not have imagined having better hosts than Bruce and Fung as well the number and variety of great dive sites."

Brown C on TripAdvisor

Address:

Black Sand Dive Retreat

Kel. Kasawari, Bitung
Lembeh Strait
North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Tel: 62 (0)821-9969-5992
info@blacksanddive.com