By Floor Anthoni (2006)
Underwater photography is not easy, and one could argue that every
successful shot is a lucky one. In this respect the photos of animal behaviour
underwater, belong to the luckiest shots of all. Why? A diver's presence
underwater is quite disturbing for his size and movements and the intermittent
stream of bubbles. It begins when he enters the water with a jump and a
loud splash. Because sounds travel faster under water, while also being
much louder, most creatures are warned in advance, already from quite some
distance away. The 'tame' ones, rather than ignoring us photographers,
and going about their own business, quite to the contrary, come to study
us and in the worst case, come begging for food. In all, natural behaviour
is very difficult to catch on film, but here are some precious cases.
f002608: blue cod do not have swim bladders, so they
sink to the bottom. Here they have to cope with sand and dust swirling
around more so than in the water higher up.
f002610: so they skip-breathe, much like experienced
divers do in order to preserve air. But once in a while they need to catch
up with a yawn-like deep breath, as caught on these images. (a series of
f002613: in the final stage of its yawn, the blue cod shows
all of its teeth on its jaws, and inside on its gill rakers. Its mouth
cavity is huge, as it is in most reef predators, in order that prey can
be stowed away completely.
f030102: a young snapper caught yawning.
f030810: a male Sandagers wrasse caught yawning. In the background
one of his females.
f028705: a male Sandagers wrasse patrolling its territory,
stocked with a harem of females and even more juveniles. (in the background)
f028704: a harem of female Sandagers wrasses, and juveniles.
They ae all active searching the sandy bottom.
f016520: a male leatherjacket (back) courting a female (front).
Because of their similar shapes, it is often difficult to ascertain what
is going on: courting or territorial dispute between males? Here the large
dorsal spine is held down, which is not the case in disputes.
f006000: a leatherjacket has suffered untimely death at the
whim of dolphins. Because of its locked spine, this fish cannot be swallowed,
although it is so easy to catch. Dolphins found out that its stiff body
makes it an ideal frisbee, and use it as such, playing up to ten minutes
with the poor soul, throwing it as one would a real frisbee, above water.
The game is quite sophisticated, but not all pods play it.
f029625: the sharpnosed pufferfish can be quite inquisitive,
if divers want to spend some time waiting patiently. Here the little fella
is reacting to the movements of a diver's finger.
f012528: by day the male demoiselle spends all his time guarding
his nest with the fearlessness of a much larger fish, on open rocks. By
night, however, he seeks shelter somewhere else, and even puts pyjamas
f019816: this mature demoiselle is perhaps five years old,
an enormous feat for a fish hunted so ferociously by so many species. Here
the male is guarding his nest with tiny eggs, thereby enhancing the success
for its brood's survival. Small fish cannot be broadcast spawners like
snapper, because their spawn mass is too small to be successful in the
f019818: when young, the males are dark blue or black, and
their forked tails do not have the white signs of maturity. Females somehow
know this, as they prefer the blue ones instead.
f028824: adult demoiselles and young blue maomao sheltering
near tangled featherweeds. These provide protection from marauding shags
(a diving bird).
f021819: young demoiselles, still light green, have found
protection behind the sturdy spines of a purple urchin.
f028817: a bluefish casts a wary eye on the photographer,
who is only 30cm away, while a school of juvenile koheru is being both
useful and a nuisance at once. Some use the large back for scratching their
own parasites off, which tickles the larger fish, whereas others feed from
the parasites on the skin of the bluefish.
f028818: an idyllic moment in the tranquil shallows. A group
of six bluefish habitually assembles here in the late afternoon, to be
cleaned by young trevally or koheru.
f028802: a school of young blue maomao is huddling together
behind the shelter of a rock and some kelp. This is the safest place against
predation, but marauding shags do pass by now and then.
f029525: very suddenly, the sea can become riddled with jellyfish,
like these Pelagia noctiluca. The medusae are still small, only
some 10cm long, but already they are being consumed by many fish. Demoiselles
know how to eat the nutritious gonads out, while leaving the jelly alone.
Miraculously, the next day, everything has vanished, demolished and eaten
by a night shift of myriad swimming bristleworms.
f029508: demoiselles busy taking jellyfish apart.
f028914: this mature scarlet wrasse spends the night inside
its dorm, a sturdy grey Ancorina sponge. It has perhaps done so
since childhood, keeping the opening commensurate with its size.
f030723: scorpion fishes are such easy subjects for underwater
photographers, but never boring, since they are endearing in all their
ugliness. A scorpionfish never stops hunting and resting at the same time.
Even at night they are active, by the scant light of the moon. Here is
one, well camouflaged among an archway's rich encrustations.
f022901: large orange nipple sponges have become rare, due
to continuing degradation of our coastal reefs. This one shows how it can
contract in reaction to touch. How it does this, remains a mystery, since
sponges have no muscles, nor nerves.
f030623: this red pigfish is utterly fascinated by the sheen
on a photographer's wide angle lens. It shows that many fish species are
also studying us, and they show their interest only when something new
is presented, like a gleaming lens, a bright movie light and so on.