Unidentified fishy object

The wonderful thing about diving is that you always come across something strange. A heap of sand with a slivery fish poking its head out, a spurt of sand as a ray darts past you. This however was possibly one of the strangest things I have seen. Out of the 2 meters of visibility on a small inshore wreck in Unawatuna, I spotted a tiny black shape where the sand met the wreck. As I moved in closer to take a look, the shape resolved itself into a small object with what looked like two wings on either side, splayed wide as I came closer.

The shape of whatever it was so odd that I could not figure out what it was, fish or invertebrate. The surge across the wreck made it quite hard to get a good look or take a photo as no sooner had I gotten close to take a look or focused on the creature, the surge swept me past the creature.

Finning furiously and almost standing almost on my head to get as close to it without inadvertently crushing it I noted with some surprise that it looked like an underwater toad, big bulbous eyes and a short snout. To make the creature look a bit more medieval and possibly even more unbelievable on either side were two large pectoral fins, bright white in spots in contrast to the sand and black of the creature. The final touch was a ratty tail that seemed to have been tacked on as an afterthought.

It wasn’t the fleetest footed animal I had seen overland or underwater. It didn’t seem to be able to swim but flip flopped on its ‘wings’ away from me as I endeavored to take a photo, moving only a small distance however before seemingly being exhausted and sinking down in the sand and watching me with its liquid eyes.

We played an odd game of cat and mouse as I tried to get a decent photograph amongst the whirling sand and surge. We must have made an odd site, me finning around furiously standing on my head while the creature waddled along the bottom on its wings going around in circles.

Back on the boat Nishan made an initial identification of the fish being a Sea Moth and after some more research it seems to be Eurypegasus draconis , the short dragonfish though this is yet to be confirmed. Just another dive, just another critter.


Photo of the Week (02/27/2012): The Fallen King

The King

A wildlife photo from the days I spent most of my time above land. King Gemunu walks his terrain in Yala. Sadly Gemunu has been fed by 'pilgrims' visiting Situlpahuwa and now begs for food from visitors to the park. A king transformed to a pauper and an accident waiting to happen. So much for gaining 'merit!'


Humans Behaving Badly

Came across an interesting Tumblr site geared towards documenting the excesses in our parks and wild places, click here to see photos and also submit.

There's been a lot of issues recently with idiotic jeep drivers in Yala injuring passengers and killing animals including leopards while speeding. You can visit Sri Lankan Wildlife on facebook to see some interesting discussions.

The bottom line is that we who visit are those who are responsible for this. I personally was guilty and will be posting about this shortly as well.

What can YOU do?

1) Ask your jeep driver to switch of their phone and not to speed.
2) Keep in mind the closing time for the park and ask your driver to make sure he is near the exit as the safari ends so he does not have to speed to get out of the park.
3) Keep in mind that a photograph is just a photograph and a leopard does not sum up Yala National Park,
4) Ask your friends to the same.
5) Take photographs of anything that is not being done correctly in the park and post to humans behaving badly


Top 10 Memorable Ocean Experiences of 2011: No. 05 – When Everything Goes Right

It was an early start for ADV (the famous whale researcher) and me. 7.45am and the boat was launched smoothly onto a flat sea. There being just the two of us and Uncle Sumathi in the boat we flew out to sea coasting over the calm waters and arriving at the Taprobane East wreck in a record 45 minutes.

I remember that this was one of the first dives where I navigated solo (with a  GPS of course) to the wreck so was a bit nervous about locating the wreck and hooking it. The first time we weren’t lucky so we dutifully pulled it up and tried again. Second time lucky of course and the anchor was firm. As we descended down the line, the shape of the wreck loomed out of the blue, definite success.

The bright sunlight and clear water made for a kaleidoscopic dive, the soft coral shades of pink, orange and red with the glassfish shimmering over them. A giant moray, green and huge lay stretched out on part of the wreck gaping as we passed over it, giving it a respective distance. The white sand sparkled and then clouded as a shoal of trevalley nosed around digging for food. All of a sudden the shoal, about 30 in number gave up digging in the sand and swam around us. They circled us, swimming round and round in a tight circle with their sleek forms glinting. I would have hated to be a bait fish surrounded by them as the lazy power which with they swam gave hints of the acceleration they could be capable off. Finally they got bored of us and moved back to foraging.

As we rounded the side of the wreck an immense thumping sound could be heard. A tug boat nearby had started its engine and the sound reverberated through the water like a giant tribal drum. With this backdrop a shoal of batfish suddenly appeared, silhouetted in the sun and swimming towards us, almost seeming to swim to the tune of the drum. The shoal swims past us, a tiny golden trevalley rather incongruously leading the fish at the front. Truly a magical moment.

Time was up however and we had to ascend. Uncle Sumathi, his wizened kindly face and bright red shirt apparently suspended in gin clear water as he looked down at us over the side of the boat. Starting back to shore things got even better. A flying fish breaks the surface, whizzing over the flat sea as a barracuda breaches after it. The flying fish goes far but the barracuda, unsuccessful flops down into the sea.

The icing on the cake was a pod of feeding dolphins breaking the surface. We quietly slip into the water and move towards them hoping they will swim past us. We can see them at the water level, breaching and breathing as they hunt. But they stay tantalizingly out of sight and we are left to enjoy the warm Indian Ocean, floating carefree kilometers from shore yet still at home.


Photo of the Week (02/20/2012): Blue ring angel fish


The bluering angelfish (Pomacanthus annularis) on Palagala reef. One of the most spectacular fish that are commonly seen on the inshore reefs. Keep an eye out for them in crevasses, hiding in the shadows.


Photo of the Week (02/13/2012): Salt Dunes at Salt Lake City

Salt Lake Sunset

On and off, I do take photographs above land! Sunset image taken at Salt Lake City on a trip there back in 2009.


Top 10 Memorable Ocean Experiences of 2011: No. 04 – A Blue Day at Degalmeda

You tend to associate blue water and crystal clear waters with the outer reefs in Colombo. The bone crunching hour plus long boat rides in the tiny boats and the surface intervals in the blistering sun. All for a few brief snatched moments of bliss in the big blue. You anticipate those days with the seemingly unending miles of visibility but are wary of them at the same time knowing you will suffer, suffer willingly but still suffer.

This day on Degalmeda was different though. As I took the anchor off the rock and moved it to the sand I looked up and the vista was breathtaking. The anchor rope stretched a light blue against the canvas of the ocean waters. In one fell swoop I could see the reef, the two accompanying divers and the boat almost appearing to float magically above us with light shards dancing around us. This just a 20 minute gentle boat ride from the shore without any of the usual punishment and in November nonetheless!

The perfect dive, lots of things to photograph, blue water, zero current and accomplished buddies a hop, step and a jump from Colombo’s shores.


Photo of the Week (02/06/2012): Bait ball action on the Medhafaru

Ok, it's not the best image (by any stretch of the imagination), but this was my 200th dive, I was in intense pain with imploded sinuses and int he middle of a baitball with tuna and seer hitting it. I completely forgot to switch my camera to AV out of Manual but I did get this one shot that showed some recognizable fish.


Top 10 Memorable Ocean Experiences of 2011: No. 03 – Visited by Cousteau

It was the first trip to Gingiri for the season, three old hands, M, DJ and myself. Visibility wasn’t flash, around 10-12 meters which isn’t what we usually expect at the other reefs but this was still decent. We split off to do our own thing, DJ relaxing on the sand communing with the powers that be while I tried to (largely unsuccessfully) do some wide-angle photography.

Fail on wide-angle, mostly because I don't have a wide-angle lens

DJ taking a break

The dive passed quite uneventfully with a huge stingray being the highlight, though a highlight kept at a safe distance and we clambered back on to the boat ready for the interminable surface interval, necessary to ensure we did not die a horrible death due to decompression illness on the next dive. This surface interval was enlivened however by being surrounded by a number of dolphins, sadly none close enough to swim with and take a peek at.

Huge stingray, keep a good distance!

As we geared up for the second time, little did we know that the dive to Taprobane reef was going to be a life changing one. Again we spread out along the reef 20 meters down, M and I distracted by trying to photograph random fish and corals. I was trying to take a portrait of a shy fish model when I noticed DJ waving and pointing like someone possessed. Following the direction of his arm, all I could see was something blurry and white in the distance. This however slowly resolved itself into a pod of dolphins. Obviously the noise of our bubbles had alerted them to something new in the water and they had come to investigate.

The beauty was surreal, the pod moving sleekly through the water, at one with their element like I could never imagine. The pod remained at the outer reaches of our vision, 10-12 meters away but I swear I looked one in the eye as the dolphins gracefully pivoted and left us, their curiosity satisfied. As brief as that moment was, for mystery and the almost supernaturelness of the encounter it was most definitely one of the best moments of 2011.

P.S. Before anyone asks, we were all too gobsmacked to take photographs and visibility was too bad as well. We kept a lookout after our encounter but the messengers of Cousteau did not come back.

Keeping an eye out for a return