MCZ update

The MCZ project has now got twitter, Facebook and tumblr pages!
If you’re on any of these please do support the project and give us a follow or like.

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I’ve recently been on my first shoot for the project, which was a seasearch survey dive in Mounts bay. There’s now a blog post on the new tumblr page with more information and images from this shoot, but here’s a couple of images as a bit of a taster…

_DSC2311 (St Michael’s Mount, Penzance, this was the topside view of our dive site)

_DSC2351(Female cuckoo wrasse, and spiny starfish in the bottom of the frame too)

 

Thanks to everyone for all the support for the project so far, I really do appreciate it!

 

 

 

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Surveying & the Isles of Scilly

Yesterday I had a wonderful time, surveying on the Isles of Scilly steamship for ORCA. This involves a team of three of us volunteers standing out on the bridge for the duration of the crossing, surveying for marine life and rotating through various roles. I got up at 5am and we took the 7am ferry from Penzance, and left on the 5.30pm one, meaning a fairly long day but also lots of free time on the islands! If you want to find out more about ORCA and what they do click here.

The sea was so beautifully flat, and was ideal conditions for any sightings. The journey over was a little busier than the one back, but the total sightings of the day was as follows: 30+ barrel jellyfish (localised to the area nearer to Penzance), 1 sunfish (mola mola), 3 rissos dolphins (i was on the other side for these), a few grey seals, common dolphins (also missed these!), and plenty of various seabirds (Gannets, gulls, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars etc).

Note – please click on any of the images featured below to view them at larger size. 

Barrel Jellyfish from the ferry. I think this gives an idea of how calm the water was, no white crests in sight at all, wonderful! These jellyfish have been documented all over Cornwall recently in their masses, I’m hoping to see one whilst in the water next to photograph it in it’s environment and at eye level.

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Mola mola. Probably around the area because of the multitude of jellyfish, a brief but pretty awesome sighting. Sunfish are utterly strange looking fish, and this image just about shows their large flat body close to the water surface with the fin poking out, leaving behind gentle ripples. _DSC6537

 

So, the other half of the day was spent adventuring round the Isles of scilly, firstly by taking one of the wildlife watching boat trips to the western rocks (obviously we couldn’t get enough of being on boats looking for wildlife). This trip apparently only goes on extremely calm waters and is quite uncommon so was definitely worth it to see a different aspect of the islands.

Puffins ahoy! These little birds have begun to arrive on the islands now, was very good to see a few of the sea parrots about.

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A pair of  shags, carrying nesting material across the waters.

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Trying to get a bit of movement into the image; guillemots taking off from their perch.

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Guillemot & shag silhouetted.

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I also met up with photographer Ed Marshall on the island, (you should check out his work here) and he very kindly got in front of my lens whilst I was photographing this razorbill…but you can still see the razorbill, and they are really quite attractive birds. We were quite lucky to see them from such a close distance.

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Razorbills in monochrome. The sun had come out by this point and the light was quite harsh as it was nearing midday, so I found this image looked much better in black & white, simple colours to compliment the simple composition.

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This next blob is another sunfish, maybe not believable photo evidence but it’s true! To see two in one day was very cool. This was also followed by the appearance of some harbour porpoises, I chose not to include these images though as they were just a load of fin shots. But yes for some reason I still included this evidentially fantastic image of a mola mola.

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Back on St Mary’s, we explored a little more around the coastline, and came across some amazing rock formations. These boulders tsacked on top of one another had created a kind of a ledge with an overhang, looking straight out to the ocean – beautiful! It also made a kind of a frame around this scene, I promise it’s not just a bad panoramic.

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So all in all a really beautiful day, and thanks to Dan, Hazel & Ed for sharing it. I didn’t spend as much time photographing as I’d planned, but enjoyed simply being outside and walking around the island, and wanted to share that in this post. Hopefully I shall return to the Scillies some time soon for some underwater image making!

Rockpools

Now that I’ve finished my degree, and my latest project, I wanted to have a bit of a play with some different underwater/marine photography before I start the next one. Rockpool photography is something that I haven’t done enough of, it’s the kind of thing that seems like it’s easy until you actually try it. It’s not easy, you find yourself contorting into strange positions to try and angle the camera and strobes, and half the time you’re blind shooting because you can’t see the LCD screen or through the viewfinder. I may even go so far to say underwater photography whilst diving is easier, (sometimes).

Having said this, it’s also really fun. You get to paddle around in water and find fish and crustaceans and simply spend time at the coast. So, I spent a little while doing just this.

I’ll admit it wasn’t the greatest day for species sightings, my eyes weren’t on it today, but I was more enjoying just being there than looking for small creatures.

 

I absolutely love the colours in this first image; the yellow appearing almost golden. This images are all proof of the fantastic colours in British seas, and the importance of using strobes to highlight these amazing natural colours!

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A strawberry anemone, Actinia fragacea, here clings to an underside of the rock. I enjoy using the water surface as a mirror, creating more colour within the images. Strawberry anemones are very common, and I saw plenty of them today, they are usually bigger than beadlet anemones and on this particular site, located nearer to the sea than some of the other anemone species which were more prevalent further up the intertidal zone.

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I found a dead edible crab, Cancer pagurus. It was actually floating on the water like this, I promise I didn’t put it there! But I was very grateful that it was still fresh enough to float, because it allowed me to experiment even more with reflections.

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I often lean towards creating darker images (see above as an example), but I did want to convey how bright and beautiful the seaweeds were in these images too, and the yellows blend pleasingly with the touch of green-blue water here.

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So I may not have found many animals today, but lots of species of seaweed! A fish or a mollusc may have added a bit more to these photographs, and I’ll work on that in the future, I think the simplicity of this composition still works well.

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Floating crab #2. A little more colour in this one by using a wider aperture, and a rather cross eyed looking crab in my opinion.

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This image was my attempt to convey the lovely curls of the underwater seaweed, and kind of my interpretation of the pool. It shows a good comparison between the topside and underwater worlds. Personally I think the underwater side looks much more appealing!

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Continuing this marine theme

Here’s some discoveries from the latest dive at the same site as the previous post, including 2 more species of nudibranch and a sea slug that I had requested a sighting of earlier in the week – what are the chances! I was definitely feeling very happy and privileged after this dive.

The first creature I saw actually provided some of the best shots, a new nudibranch for me, Polycera quadrilineata. These two shots vary to focus on the rhinophores, and then the branches upon it’s back. This was a little larger than most of the other nudibranchs sighted, probably around 3cm long, but the 105mm macro lens works wonderfully for highlighting this minute detail. This beautiful animal was fairly shallow and close to the shore, its amazing to think we have these creatures so close to home. 

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This nudibranch I believe is the same one featured in the last post, on a much smaller scale, as I’d estimate this one was just around 5mm long! I mistakenly intentifieded this nudibranch as a juvenile of a different species, but it was pointed out to me that the species is Ancula gibbosa, another new one for me. I particualrly like the green colours in the background. This nudi was actually floating around for a bit midwater until I took this shot, and as you can see it’s just about hanging onto the tendril of seaweed. _DSC9483

More sea hares! There was an area of about 1m squared which had a few within it, but unfortuntaley they all kept hiding behind this sea lettuce and weren’t the best photographic subject. However, I did manage to see one which was really tiny, as small as the nudibranchs, which was pretty cool. The one below I think was about 2cm long. _DSC9485

Another new species for me! Favorinus branchialis, a very prettily shaped nudibranch. We saw a few of these scattered around the site throughout the dive, but this was the best subject as was a little larger and on some more open seaweed. Though not as colourful as some, I like these types of nudibranchs with the cerata upon their backs. Other British species can look very similar to this shape but much brighter colours as well. _DSC9494

We also came across a Red Gurnard on the seabed, they actually almost crawl and feel they way along the sea floor, but generally are pretty static fish. This was no exception so I decided to take a few images to highlight the detail of it’s scales and the pattern near it’s mouth. These images haven’t had any lighting adjustments, and the fish are actually this fantastic bright red/orange colour, which, incidentally contrasts quite nicely against their blue eyes. _DSC9503 _DSC9499

I was swimming over some kelp and this thing causght my eye. It looked like a hydroid of sorts but was something I’d never seen at this dive site so swam down for  closer look. It was between lots of roots of kelp and I had fun trying to see through the seaweed fronds but this ‘thing’ really interested me, because it had started to move of its own accord, kind of like contracting each tentacle/branch slowly. So, I took a few images of it, in the hope of identifying it later. Later, I discovered it was a burrowing sea cucumber, Neothyonidium magnum, which was not what I expected, but very cool! I was battling with my surroundings and not getting the strobe arms tangled too much at this point so didn’t take many images but here’s one-

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And this next find was quite special. When reading an ID book a few days ago I came across the green sea slug, Elysia viridis. Despite having a fairly conventional form, I thought I’d would be awesome to see because it has iridescent spots along it’s body. On our way inwards from the dive I saw this slug upon some kelp, another tiny creature, about 2cm long. I took one shot, but before I could take another it let go of the kelp and started floating, not even free swimming, in the water. This resulted in me floating upside down for a few minutes, trying to circle this little slug that was gently moving around, and trying to focus on it with the camera too. I was very happy when I imported my images that I succeeded in taking some in focus! Also, in this instance I think the particles in the water work against the back background, and they look slightly like snowflakes. Though arguably, some people would have probably preferred I cloned them all out, I generally like to stick to as minimal editing as possible.

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(I know it’s called a green sea slug and this one isn’t totally green, but the colour can vary and I’m pretty sure I’ve identified it correctly)

One parting shot. In the shallows, just as I was beginning to get myself out the water, my buddy waved me over to the rocks nearby. I turned my camera and strobes back on, and there about 2m deep (if that), right next to the shore, was Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita, camouflaged on the rock. Most blenny’s have two little branched tentacles coming of their head, but this one only has one, similar to a crest. And, not to anthropomorphise, but the face on shot does make it look like it’s smiling.

monatgus

Isn’t the ocean awesome!?

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More amazing marine life

A quick bit of backstory… Before the last dive/shoot that I posted about, I had been (repeatedly) saying how I was requesting sightings of nudibranchs, sea hares and stalked jellyfish, purely because these are all quite awesome species in my opinion. If you read the previous post, you’ll see that we didn’t see any of these on my ‘wish list’, which was understandable, I thought it would be quite unusual to see them all in one dive, and still had fun anyway. So this dive, I wasn’t expecting any of those above species, just the more common sightings of wrasse and crabs etc.

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Therefore, after being underwater for about 5 minutes, when my dive buddy pointed out a nudibranch to me I was very excited. Especially because it was so big (for a nudibranch)! It was positioned in a particularly awkward place, meaning taking good photos was hard, and I’m aware this isn’t the greatest shot but I’m only using it for reference/ID here. This species is a sea lemon, Archidoris pseudoargus, and was about 3 inches long. 

_DSC07281We floated on a little further, and then happened across another nudibranch! More excitement! This one was much much smaller, about 2/3 cm long. It’s not the most creative image, but from it the species was identified as Acanthodoris pilosa. There were a few of these around at other spots, all very tiny and awkwardly positioned, but lovely to see so many. 

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Next came a pair of tompot blennies, hiding down a crevice between some rocks. (I know there’s only one in this photo but the other one is hiding just out of sight) These are a common fish to see, especially in this kind of habitat as they tend to like hiding out between rocks like this.

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When diving you tend to swim really slowly, and when I have a macro lens I naturally slow down even more because of the nature of the photography, and after the sightings of nudibranch previously I had my eyes geared up. So managed to spot a third species of nudibranch! Even smaller than the last ones there was a group of 3 or so, ranging from just under 1 cm to just under 2 cm (I think), which is the one I have images of here. Much prettier than the two previous species, this is Limacia clavigera, an orange-clubbed nudibranch. 

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After the nudibranch crawled away to spot where I couldn’t photograph it, we swam on, and out of the kelp alongside appears a sea hare! (Aplysia punctata) A smaller one than I’ve seen before, I guessed it was about 1.5 inches, and once illuminated properly by the strobes, the colour against the kelp was fantastic. This was the best subject to work with, being in an accessible place, and so I spent more time with it than anything else, allowing me the opportunity to try out some different techniques, and get a number of shots I was happy with.

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And if you were wondering…”These animals have been called ‘Sea Hares’ since classical times because of their resemblance – at least in European species – to a sitting hare.”

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By this point, I was extremely happy with all our sightings, though beginning to get more than a little uncomfortably cold. (70minute dive in 10 degrees water & a wetsuit – divers will be able to relate!) We turned back and after a few more minutes, my buddy waved me over, and what do you know.. there was a stalked jellyfish! (Lucernariopsis campunulata) It was getting a little ridiculous at this point, I honestly barely expected to see one of the species from my wish-list, let alone all 3 of them! I only managed a few shots of the stalked jellyfish before cold took over and I was struggling to work the camera, but here it is. Doesn’t look your typical jellyfish right…arguably almost like a minute squid in appearance. These creatures are about 1 inch long and act like an upside down jellyfish, attaching to kelp and seaweeds, and then having it’s tentacles facing upwards.

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Also, massive thanks to Matthew Thurlow for being my buddy on this dive and spotting some really cool creatures! I know this post has been more anecdotal than usual, but I just wanted to share my excitement for the whole dive rather than talking about the images as much. My next post shall be different. I plan on visiting this site again for another dive later this week, so fingers crossed for some more amazing marine life.

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April cornish marine life

So this is the first Cornish dive I’ve had this year, due to the storms creating little to none visibility up til recently. And the cold water was a bit of a shock at first, but I was determined to stick it out and get back into the swing of underwater photography.

Just a local shore dive out of Falmouth, the site often provides us with sights of dogfish and  rays, fairly large species that we surprisingly saw nothing of this dive. Nonetheless there is always something interesting to see underwater, so I had plenty of subjects to practice my photography on.

There are hundreds of anemones around this area, of varying species too, and their colours are absolutely amazing! The variation between them and the bright colours & patterns are really lovely; you could quite easily spend a whole dive focusing on photographing anemones.

I never do these triptych things, but in this instance it helps show a few different images all together, and you can see what I mean about the colours! These species are Dahlia anemones, Urticina felina.

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Painted topshells, Calliostoma zizyphinum, are often found washed up on beaches. They range a lot in colouration, and why I chose to include this shot was the fact that the foot is particularly visible and actually kind of matches the shell here. As you can see from the shot this one was clinging onto a piece of kelp, which is very common to see underwater. _DSC0664Along with sightings of a few shore crabs, an edible crab, and a very angry velvet swimming crab, we also happened across this spider crab, Maja squinado, who appeared to be feeding on something, it wasn’t clear what. The first shot here illustrates the fact that it’s feeding on something, and the second image I wanted to highlight the body of the crab more than anything, focusing on the leg here. Similar to decorator crabs, they have life actually growing and living upon them, you can see the flecks of sponges in these shots.

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Next is this snake pipefish, Entelurus aequoreus. I actually came across a juvenile of these in a rock pool the other day, and was confused for a while on the species as it’s visually quite different to the greater pipefish we often see around these parts, being much smoother and, unsurprisingly, snake-like. This first image shows how I very almost swam right past it, due to the camouflage within this particular seaweed. Spot the pipefish! The second shot simply shows what amazing and beautiful eyes they have.

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_DSC0675Finally is an image of one of the absolutely tiny prawn juveniles that we came across. The image doesn’t show perspective but you’ll have to believe me that this was only about 1.5 cm long. They were darting around like crazy, so this was one of only I think two shots that actually captured it in focus. With the dark background here the transparency of the body is visible, which as it ages will become ore opaque. From the patterns I’m pretty sure these were common prawn young, which will  develop into pretty purple and yellow striped crustaceans as they grow.

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So that’s all the images from this dive, all commonly sighted species, which could in fact be found either rock pooling or snorkelling should you fancy it in these lovely warm waters of 12 degrees!

Cetacean autopsy photos

Yes, I know, I’ve been awful at writing posts recently. Third year of my degree and an unwillingness to refuse any opportunity is the cause. But I’m actively making an effort now! I do tend to update my facebook page a little more frequently, so if you wish to follow that, this is the link here!

So lots of exciting things have been going on recently, but I’m going to talk about this week as it’s fresh in my mind. On monday and tuesday of this week, myself and a team of 3 others were filming a seal and porpoise autopsy, for Exeter university, who share a campus with us studying at Falmouth university. The autopsy was conducted by scientists from the Exeter Environment and Sustainability Institute (also based on the same campus), including external scientists and assistants.

This was a fantastic experience, not only to be able to sit in and watch purely from an interest point of view, but also to be able to help set-up the live streaming, the audio, and then also filming for an edit was a lot of fun.

Collectively, the team is going to work on an edit which we will aim to produce in the near future, but for now I’m just going to share a few stills, though I didn’t actually take many over the two days. Be warned.. these may look a little gory..

Autopsy on day 1 – the porpoise was actually found to have died due to bottlenose dolphin attack. This can often happen, just a random act of aggression on the dolphins part – they aren’t always a lovely smiling animal!

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The harbour porpoise on day 1 was also found to be pregnant! This is a baby harbour porpoise, probably about 30cm in length, taken out of the uterus. It does make the dolphin attack seem a little more harsh knowing that this tiny porpoise also died for no reason. _DSC4763

Autopsy day 2 – A new porpoise and seal, though due to the angle I have very few shots of the seal. The scientists assess the body and take measurements; this harbour porpoise was much smaller than the first. _DSC4781

Mid autopsy – samples of blood and organs were collected for further analysing. This porpoise was discovered to have died from fishing; bycatch or similar. Another massive shame, and hopefully in the future we can prevent so many unnatural cetacean deaths. _DSC4818That’s it, just a brief blog, apologies for the sombre tone. It really was a fascinating couple of days and not all about death!

Thanks to all the scientists, assistants and everyone involved, and for letting us be a part of it. The short film shall appear online in the near future so watch this space!

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