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January is gone, and I haven’t managed to get in the water this year! I’ve been travelling a lot with work, and fighting a nasty cold — On top of that, one of our ferrets passed last weekend, so the opportunity hasn’t been there.

In the meantime, however, Josh and the local GUE community have been busy with the Britannia Beach Project Baseline. Here’s the official website.

Anton North has a great write-up of a Project Baseline dive they did last weekend.

Anxious to get back in the water soon….

Puget Sound King Crab

A Small Puget Sound King Crab

After a thwarted dive at Britannia Beach in the morning, I made my way down to Whytecliff Park where Paul and Steve were waiting for me to join them on a dive.

We hopped into the cut for a nice dive. Although it was a bit chilly on the surface, it warmed up a bit once we got below the thermocline. The visibility was amazing by Vancouver standards, and I managed to spot a really good diverse number of critters. Unfortunately I didn’t get any shots I love this time out, but I got some good shots of the different critters I saw.

I’m begining to think my perceived decrease in good photos is being caused by getting too close to the subject. I used to zoom in somewhat, and take photos from futher back, casting smoother lighting with my single strong. I think by getting too close it’s making the lighting too sharp. A second strobe to even things out sure would be nice..

Grunt Sculpin

A Grunt Sculpin…

One of the critters was another Grunt Sculpin, which I managed to get some half-decent shots of. One of my favorite local species, and I always struggle to get decent photos. One of the reasons is that I usually see then on a bottom covered in shells, which is really hard to properly expose with the highly-reflective whites. They also don’t like to properly pose, always hopping about on the bottom when you get close…

Plenty of different crabs as well, as evidenced in the top photo, and all the photos in the gallery below.

Not too much else to say about this dive, it was a good way to end off the diving year. Now for a work-induced dry spell, and then back at it again!

The rest of the photos are below:

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The Stern of the Ready

A pano shot stitched together from 8 photos of the Ready.

We went for a dive to kick-off the Project Baseline for Britannia Beach / the Ready. Unfortunately our dive was cut short due to an issue with one of my team-mate’s regs, but I did manage to get a few good shot in, including the 8 photos required to stitch together the above photo.

That was my first good attempt at using Hugin to stitch together photos, and it worked amazingly well, especially considering the fact that the current was pushing me into the wreck and changing my perspective with each successive photo!

Not too much else to note from this dive, and only a few photos in the gallery below. Even though it was short, it was still a good dive and we had fun. The visibility was great, so I’m looking forward to getting back out there before the spring to take some more pano series of the wreck.

After the dive, since I had plenty of gas left in my tanks, and this will be my last chance to dive for potentially over a month, I hi-tailed it down to Whytecliff Park with my drysuit still on and equipment assembled in the back of the Jeep to join up with Paul and Steve for a dive out in the Cut.

Photos below:

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Sponge Residents

Many creatures find home in the deep sponges

Armed with a good tip for where to find a Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker, Josh and I drove out to Kelvin Grove for a dive. Unfortunately, the 4 “Visitor” spots were already taken. (The 10 stalls reserved for Lions Bay residents were all free, naturally. I maintain that all the locals I’ve met while diving there have been very friendly, and we respond by being courteous to the local residents. Unfortunately their town council wants to restrict non-resident access)

Hairy Spined Crab

A Hairy Spined Crab at 30m

Both armed with doubles, we first swam out towards the wall, checking out the larger anemones and sponges that live along that feature, maxing out at a nice 30 meters — I fell the narc while trying to manoeuvre into position for a shot of a Hairy Spined Crab — Back-kicking with a loose bootie, watching my depth gauge, keeping my buoyancy, and trying to line up for a upwards shot (since he was hiding somewhat) proved to be an interesting level of task-loading today. After snapping a few shots, we ascended to a shallower depth. A cool thing about the Sponges is just how much life lives in and around the sponge themselves, usually various crustaceans.

Sculpin

A really cool Sculpin who posed nicely for me

After the wall, we swam back into the rock field, the spot I prefer at Furry Creek. At about 10-15 meters average depth are plenty of boulders, providing ample shelter for many different species of fish and other creatures. Again, there were plenty of Irish Lords guarding egg masses, as well as a really interestingly coloured and patterned Sculpin. Also in the area is the bottle-field, which has lots of interesting old bottles — No cool finds this time around.

One cool find was what I initially thought was  some sort of Tunicate, but I couldn’t match it up in my book. However, it looks pretty spot on for Stubby Squid eggs! Looking up some more references, I’m fairly confident that’s what they are. I can’t wait to get back in after they hatch to try and find some baby squid, in less than 4-9 months… (Quite the long gestation)

English Sole

A rather large English Sole

We spent a large portion of the dive in the super-shallows — Where lots of overlooked little creatures tend to hide out. Although it was ridiculously cold, we ended up with a 110 minute dive time, a new personal record for both of us. The drive home treated us with some sun and nice skies, Howe Sound truly is an amazing place, we’re lucky to live here.

The full gallery is below. Again, a lot of photos here this time around. I struggled to narrow down to 4 highlight photos…

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I don’t think I mentioned this in my write-up about my last dive, but while getting out after my first dive my foot started getting wet. On the second dive, this translated into a fully-flooded leg, to the point where my undergarment was saturated. Luckily I’m having some minor trim issues, otherwise the water may have spread to my core, hah!

Shining a light inside the drysuit to find a leak

Shining a light inside the drysuit to find a leak

I suspect that I nicked my ankle on a barnacle on the exit, which caused the leak. I’m somewhat rough on my drysuit feet and have patched multiple leaks and dealt with other drysuit issues over the years. Here are some notes/tips/tricks/ideas on repairing drysuits, the easy way!

I’ll tweak and update this post as time goes on, perhaps to improve presentation, and to continue putting new tricks as I learn more. At this point, I wrote this late and night and haven’t proof-read it yet, so I apologize if anything doesn’t make sense. As I find time I’ll proof-read and add some photos. I just wanted to hammer a quick post out while I was thinking of it.

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Crimson Anemone

A Crimson Anemone. Note the translucent tentacles with green tips.

30-Nov-13: I’ve improved upon the colours in some of these photos after messing around with the RAW files, and added some new ones. More info below.*

Armed with brand new batteries in my strobe, we hooked up to Furry Creek for a couple of dives. I haven’t dove Furry Creek in over a year, but it was nice to get back to one of my local favourite spots. Thankfully, we were treated with perfect surface conditions, a high slack tide and amazing visibility (for Vancouver, at least).

Having proper batteries in my strobe helped a lot, and I took a lot of photos, many of which were interesting subjects and some that turned out very nicely. Of particular treat was a juvenile GPO which I spotted popping it’s head out from it’s den. Even tucked away in his den, it made an amazing photo subject that was slowly started inching out towards us. A special thanks goes to my dive buddies, putting up with me obsessing over getting photos of this guy!

Octopus

A little octopus.

Other treats were some really interesting Crimson Anemones, with a light pinkish hue and green-tipped tentacles. I got in close for a couple photos, which turned out amazingly well – A lot of details on these anemones.

In the rocky area in the cove were plenty of large sculpins, including a Buffalo Sculpin guarding an egg mass. I struggle at identifying sculpins, as they all look the same to me, but I took a shot at trying to identify some of the different ones I saw.

Interestingly, there were a couple of piles of starfish goo. I also found a few starfish arms scattered around, but I’m unsure if they were related to the starfish wasting syndrome, or a starfish that fell victim to another animal.

Red Irish Lord and Egg Mass

Red Irish Lord guarding an egg mass.

I think I’ve set a record for myself, with 37 photos I considered bloggable. Although many of the photos aren’t the best in terms of focus, composition, exposure, etc, I thought they all showed interesting subjects that I wanted to remember down the road.

*30-Nov-13: After messing around with RAW files in Darktable for the past little while, I’ve come to thoroughly appreciate the in-camera JPEG processing that my camera does. For the most part, I’ve been having trouble getting the RAW photos looking as nice as the JPEGs, especially with the rich reds that Canon cameras add — Very noticeable with the dull colours and lack of contras. 

I’m sure there’s a way to replicate the in-camera processing in Darktable, but I haven’t cracked that nut yet. For the most part, I’ve decided to switch back to just touching up the JPEGs for most of my photos, unless they need more correction than the JPEG files will allows. Interestingly, JPEGs allow a lot of flexibility for decently exposed shots.  I’ve gone ahead and tweaked the JPEGs from this dive, and replaced some of the more interesting pictures I’d previously posted. 

Without further adoo, the rest of the photos are below.

 

 

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Hairy Spined Crab

A Hairy Spined Crab hiding in a Glass Sponge

Only an entire 5 days after the dive, I’ve managed to finally get these photos proccessed and uploaded!

We hopped into the Cut at Whytecliff, to enjoy a nice long dive looking at glass sponges before heading back in towards the bay, in the hopes of finding an octopus. Sadly no such luck finding an octo, but a good dive nonetheless. We made it around through to the giant underwater “ridge” in the bay towards the islet, which was a nice treat. I haven’t dove on that feature in quite a while. I had a bit of trepidation after not finding the leak that caused a fairly large flood in my drysuit last week, but I stayed dry this time. It was probably something stuck in my dump valve, which I’d flushed out with water.

Glass sponges are interesting to see, since not only are they an intricately shaped themselves, they harbour a lot of different critters, especially many, many different types of crab and shrimp. This dive did not disappoint in that respect, and we found several Hairy Spined Crabs, Squat Lobsters and Hermits hiding around the sponges. I even found a Butterfly crab, which was an nice treat although not in or near any sponges. I’ve got some interesting photos of things hiding in sponges below.

Giant Nudibranch

A Giant Nudibranch, illuminated with my canister light.

Heading back into the bay, my strobe began to act up, again. I’ve been putting off getting new batteries for far too long and finally paid for it — My strobe died, and I was greeted by many various nudibranchs, including Giant Nudibranchs, and my favourite local fish, a Grunt Sculpin posing nicely. I tried illuminating with my can light, and got some okay pictures out of it. Long story short, I bought some new batteries this week. I don’t want to get caught without a strobe on a good dive, for the nth time.

The cool thing about the Giant Nudibranchs was the variation in the colour/highlights on them. Seeing many in a small area really allowed for a nice comparison. Also spotted was what appeared to be some sort of Nudibranch egg ribbon.

Cucumber

Some sort of Sea Cucumber?

An interesting, unidentified, critter we found is the one on the left. The best suggestion so far is that it’s a Red Sea Cucumber, which tends to hide within crevices and feed with it’s arms/frills. The interesting thing is that Red Sea Cucumbers are typically VERY red, whereas this critter has a white body with orange “frills”. I’m not sure if there is that much colour variation within the species, or if this is a related species of cucumber. If anyone has an answer, let me know!

I think I’m getting the hang of using Darktable for photo editing, this batch turned out much nicer than the previous ones. I think I’ll have to go back and try to fix up some of the old photos as well.

More photos below:

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Juvenile Giant Pacific Octopus

Juvenile Giant Pacific Octopus and Friend

30-Nov-13: I’m part way through re-editing some of these photos to improve the colours and contrast. 

Every time I step away from diving for a while, I need the first part of a dive to shake out both my dive skills, as well as my photography skills. So, after having spent a month out of the water due to a busy work scheduled (which seemed much longer than a month!), I was excited to get back into the water and getting back into the groove. As luck would have it, the first warm-up photos I took were of an Octopus, out in the middle of the bay at Whytecliff!

Juvenile Giant Pacific Octopus

Having had enough of my shenanigans, the Octopus is trying to blend in with some seaweed.

This little guy was definitely a treat to see as we were starting our dive. I initially thought (and posted) that it was a Red Octopus, but due to the lack of distinct papillae, it may acrually have been a juvenile Giant Pacific Octopus — I’m not entirely sure. With a bit of excessive finning and fiddling with camera settings (Definitely wasn’t in the zone at the start of the dive at that point), I managed to snap some photos. In retrospect, I have a list of different settings I would have liked to tried, but the photos turned out well regardless.

The cool thing about this little guy was how he was changing his colour and texture to blend in with the background a bit better. As I snapped a batch of photos, it started to wrap itself in seaweed to hide better, and we decided to leave him/her alone and carry on with our dive.

The rest of the dive was fun, but eventually I found myself drawn back to the Octo. We got back up to the depth where we hit the wall face, and just before swimming back out into the bay to see if the Octopus was still there, my arm got cold. And wet. Very fast. Catastrophic suit failure! I thumbed the dive, signaling an ascent up the slope and we proceeded into the bay for a nice slow end to the dive. Luckily only my arm got wet, but it was saturated. I haven’t found the leak yet, it was definitely in from the dry-glove ring, as my hand stayed dry.

Swimming Anemone

A Swimming Anemone, conveniently NOT swimming.

As a side note, I’ve been playing with Darktable again for editing photos. I’m running it on my Linux laptop, which has a really, really nice display. I’m finding photos don’t look quite as nice on other displays, sometimes the colours are rather dull. I have to dial it in to get my post-processing right, something to work on.

I now have to find my drysuit leak before diving again, hopefully it’ll be an easy find and fix. I’ve got a patch kit and spare seals so I’m fairly confident I’ll be back in the water soon. While I think about it, I need to rebuild one of my second stages as well.. It never ends!

 

 

Starfish Die-Off Update

Starfish

A healthy looking starfish

It was a bit eerie not seeing the usual wall of starfish due to the die-off, however I did see some healthy starfish sporadically through the dive, as evidenced in the photos below. Only one starfish in late-stage disintegration, which was unidentifiable. Hopefully the population will recover from this, one of the theories is that it’s a Malthusian check on the over-population of the starfish in the past few years.

More photos in the full article:

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octopus2

Octopus in it’s Den

With weather warnings for heavy rains and heavy winds for the afternoon, I found my way to Porteau cove in the morning for some diving before the weather set in. It was raining, but I managed to get changed into my drysuit without getting too soaked with the exception of my left foot as I hadn’t properly drained my drysuit after giving it a rinse after the previous week’s dives.

Luckily there as little wind, so we popped in for a long, shallow dive hitting most of the major highlights at Porteau. The visibility was still far from great, however I was surprised to find that the particulate in the water was much smaller. Instead of large suspended particles which are a back-scatter nightmare, it seemed to be more of a haze in the water. Good news for taking photos!

sculpin3

A Rather Brave Sculpin, Looking Up.

One of the highlights of the dive was coming out of the front of the Granthal, and coming face to face with a seal. Unfortunately the little guy bolted pretty quick, and didn’t come back for the rest of the dive. A shame given the improving vis for non-macro photos. I have a running theory that as long as I dive with a camera, I’m more or less guaranteed not have a seal spend any significant amount of time with me. Just as well that it was afraid of people, however.

Another highlight was finding a giant octopus (reminder: harvesting any marine wildlife at Porteau Cove is illegal, and Conservation Officers do watch). It was tucked into it’s den making it hard to line up the camera, but a couple of photos turned out.

blue-lingcod

A Vividly Coloured Lingcod

Seeing both a seal close up and finding an octopus on the same dive truly made it amazing, but I suppose when you spend 106 minutes underwater, it increases the odds of seeing things! Luckily the water was still “warm”, so I didn’t get too cold at the end of the dive. In the end the severe weather warnings didn’t seem to really materialize, and we had a fantastic dive.  I’m happy with the photos I got on this dive, and it’s hard to select a few to highlight in the post.

 

 

Starfish Die-Off Update

carnage2

Giant Pink Starfish in Early Stages of Dissintegration

Interesting to note, last week I saw what looked to be a disintegrating Giant Pink Starfish. For the past month and a half we’ve been seeing Sunflower Starfish and Morning Sun Stars dying off en-mase, however this was the first I’d seen of another species. Today I saw plenty more of the 5-armed stars in various states of decay, confirming that another species appears to be dying off at Porteau Cove now. The Vancouver Aquarium’s AquaBlog has some thoughts on the earlier die-off, however it’s curious to see another species now dying away. Again, this could be a perfectly natural and regular occurrence, I simply don’t know. I’ve put up some photos in the gallery at the bottom of this post.

(If there’s no gallery, click the “View Full Article” link below)

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Blue Lingcod

I can’t say I’ve ever seen a greenish-blue Lingcod before…

Josh and I set out on this dive with a bit of a mission. I really enjoy wide-angle photography of wrecks, but given the bad visibility and the limitations of my camera (It’s not a DSLR, so I can’t slap a fisheye lens on it) I haven’t taken too much. Enter Hugin Panorama Photo Stitcher. Using that utility, I can snap a series of photos and stitch them together into a wide-angle-like photo!

The catch is that the photos need to be taken from the same spot. On the surface there’s a bit of leeway, but given the poor visibility underwater, photos need to be taken very close together so that each shot doesn’t have differing visibility. Likewise, the difference between dark on the bottom and the sun coming from the surface means a high-dynamic-range exposure shot.

Moon Jelly

A Moon Jelly. I did a blur of the water around it to get rid of the backscatter, and got a cool glowing effect.

To tackle the challenge getting a solid reference point for photos in a mild current, we experimented with deploying and anchoring an SMB a few meters above the bottom. The reference concept went well, the execution of anchoring it was a leaning experience. The photos themselves didn’t turn out good enough to stitch together (we chose a bland part of the Nakaya, more to try making a reference than get actual photos). Regardless, we came away with some really good data-points and I’m confident that I’ll be able use this method to make some interesting photos in the future.

After half an hour on the Nakaya, we headed in shallower and explored the other usual suspects at Porteau. I noticed a dead starfish, of a different species than we’d observed at Whytecliff in the previous weeks. This one I believe was a Giant Pink Starfish. Interestingly, I saw another one maybe 10-20 meters away that appeared to be normal. I’m unsure if it’s related to the mass die-off of other species or not, as one a statistic does not make. (See the next post for a greater discussion of what we observed on a dive a week later)

There were also several dead salmon scattered around the dive site as well, as it’s spawning season right now. Luckily it wasn’t littered with them!

Dead Starfish

A “dissolving” starfish. (Giant Pink Starfish)

Not too much else to say about the dive, other than the fact that we ended up staying under for 92 minutes! I’m not sure if I’ll be able to manage such long exposures in the winter when the water cools down a bit.

All in all, it was a great, well-executed dive where we tried something new and learned a lot in the process. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Some random photos in the gallery below.

 

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