Obituary to my 5 mm wetsuit

With great anguish and constipation do I have to announce that my 5 mm wetsuit today left the ranks of the diving. No longer does it submerge with me. It has ceased.

I bought the wetsuit in 2008, in Sydney, on a visit from my then place of residence in Japan, where the scuba retailers do not stock neoprene fashion for grown men. The friendly people at Plunge Diving sold this beauty to me: black, 5 mm thick neoprene, and at XXL wide enough to fit all my muscles and the occasional fat cell into it.

So many dives have we dived together: Many of them in Sydney, right after the 5 mm purchase in Clifton Gardens. Later, many more in Clifton Gardens. Also, I took it to the monument and the steps in Kurnell, to many night dives in Botany Bay, and to Ship Rock off the Hacking river. Nelson Bay saw a lot of me in this great 5mm.

Together we dived the kelp in La Jolla, Cahli-Fornia, Southwest Rocks in Northern NSW, and the Rapid Bay Jetty in South Australia. In the middle of the Sydney summer I would occasionally ditch it for a 3 mm, and in the coldest winter days for a dry suit. But none of these other suits fit my physique like this 5 mm. It was a special wetsuit for sure.

IMAG0955

But by late 2014 the neoprene had eroded, and many holes let the seawater flow onto my sensitive skin underneath. An especially big hole near the ass region provided an inflow of ocean water, and caused a never ending series of jokes at my cost. And in the Philippines I won’t need such a thick suit anyway, seriously! So the wetsuit had to go. After a brief ceremony it found its final resting place in a rubbish bin in Rockdale.

May my late 5 mm find a worthy warrior in Valhalla (a XXL sized dead dude) who wants to give scuba diving a try!

More Absurd Antiscientific Beliefs

We live in times of unprecedented scientific progress. The workings of distant planets, the most elementary particles, the DNA in our cells and the information processing in our brains are all understood to an astonishing level. Not every scientific question is answered of course, and answers often gave rise to more questions. Scientific theories sometimes get revised, but many of them have supreme predictive power in the 21st century. Science ain’t perfect, but what we know now and what we can do with this knowledge is utterly astonishing in comparison to humanity’s state of knowledge only 10 generations ago.

But unfortunately not all of humanity is participating in this enormous gain in knowledge. Many findings have become difficult to understand, and people want simple answers. Not everybody has the intelligence, education and leisure to acquire advanced knowledge about the workings of the world. And people often vehemently resist believing in facts which are counter to their religious beliefs or would force them to reconsider their life styles.

Denial of anthropogenic climate change, evolution, and the moon landing, and a belief that the condensation trails of airplanes are mind-control tools are well known examples of absurd anti-scientific beliefs. But let me introduce a few more, albeit lesser known anti-science conspiracy theories:

Whale Shark Denialism

Whale shark: whale or shark? Scientists agree that it’s a shark, but an increasingly vocal group of whale shark deniers, with ample support of the corporate media, claim that the issue is not settled and that it might as well be a whale. Whale sharks have gills like sharks, a cartilaginous skeleton like sharks, a shark nervous system and a shark skin. “But this is simply the opinion of the scientific establishment”, said Peter O. Daneben, spokesperson of the whale shark sceptic’s movement and prolific blogger & newspaper columnist. “I am keeping an open mind here” he added.

Whale or shark? Not everyone agrees.

Anti-Toilet Paper Movement

Everyone does it, almost every day: take a shit. Many people then clean their asses with some toilet paper. But: God does not want us to use toilet paper. Two thousand years ago, when god spoke to his people, there was no toilet paper, so it would be blasphemy to use it now. Anyone who uses it will surely go to hell (at least with a clean ass, I might add).

Railroad ESP Conspiracy

Almost every country in this day and age has a network of rail lines. But why? Everyone knows that it’s so much faster and convenient to get to places with your car than by train. The answer is that rail lines act as conductors for extra-sensory perception (ESP) by government specialists who in this way can exert mind-control power even into the most remote corners of a country. ESP power is usually limited to a few hundred meters, but the energy forms involved can travel almost infinitely far along metal rods.

A clear indication for this is also that many rail lines are not private property, but state owned. This almost automatically makes them a communist conspiracy, and hence a mind control tool. What more proof do you need for the rail’s function as ESP conductors?

Ion Channel Denialism

This is a rather sophisticated conspiracy theory: a type of ignorance contingent upon a lot of previous education. All of neuroscience agrees that ion channel proteins in the membranes of nerve cells are responsible for the fast electric activity these cells show. A few Nobel prizes were given for work on ion channel proteins. All of neuroscience agrees on their importance, but for one guy – this is not the most popular conspiracy theory yet. He claims steadily that proteins have nothing to do with nerve cells’ electrical potentials, and that it’s the movement of lipid molecules which does it.

Does one of these movements actually exist? Guess which one, and win a copy of my psychedelic political parody set in a globally warmed future, The Mindpost. The first two correct answers win.

Philippines Trip Report, William S. Boroughs Style

The airport: hungry flying centipedes swallowing innocent (?) travelers by the hundreds. Ultra hot air spewn from its jet engines for 8 hours straight to Singapore. So many status symbol smelly waters electronic gadgets leathery handbags for sale between the terminals: who needs that? Four more hours in the belly of the flying aluminum centipede, and then, Cebu City, pearl of the South, here I am. No diving yet but jiving about diving and Halo Halo and so many smiling tropical beauties.

Malapascua, home of the thresher sharks, getting up at 4 thirty ah-em, sleepwalking to Evolution, climbing on a banka dive boat, out to the famous Monad shoal. A big giant stride into the warm waters, and down to the top of the shoal in twenty five meters. The ocean is still a dark place just after sunrise, but oh-my, there are some big sharks swimming in circles down there: Alopias pelagicus, the thresher shark, enormously long fins, big eyes, elegance in swimming. Damn vertebrate evolution you master of animal complexity! How could you come up with something as amazing like that fish!

Filipino country festa, delicious spit roast pig, too much beer, too much rum, too much heat, too much of that heat in my head. Karaoke. Angie. Smoke on the Water. I can’t sing, even when I’m drunk.

So many things on top of other things in the ocean, every shrimp and fish and seastar plays a part in the life of its neighbor, fish jousting for territories, others feeding on little things in the sand, others doing nothing, yet other fish are mating like the underwater bunny rabbits.

Road trip down all the way along the island of Cebu, good talk, wise words, funny jokes. Country life, then city life, then country life along the road.

Unbelievable critter heaven on display in Dumaguete, flamboyant cuttlefish, legions of garden eels, shrimps, crabs, sea slugs, fish looking like sea weed, gobies symbiotic with shrimps, corals to warm my heart in the warm waters of Apo island, relaxation on the dive boats, really good cookies, fun times.

Oslob: signs saying whale watching and whale shark watching, no whales, but sharks the size of whales here, called whale sharks. The biggest fish which exist on this fantastic Planet Earth, an impressive experience for me who has seen a thousand different fish. My mate gets a shot of a whale shark with a hot bikini chick, I get a picture of the fish with a fat Korean dude. Male belly adipose tissue is almost the density of seawater and it floats like like a sack of spent saline in-between the shark giants of the ocean.

Flight home, good vibrations, crazy movies watched half-awake, back to Australia, but not for long.

Go and Swim with the Whale Sharks of Oslob!

Last week I and my friends Bo and Chang-Le went to see the whale sharks in Oslob, Cebu. This is a unique dive: You suit up on the shore of a little seaside village in the south of Cebu, walk into the water, swim out for about 50 meters and there they are: several individuals of the largest fishes in the world, Rhincodon typus, the whale shark. Whale sharks are pacifistic filter feeders, and that’s why they are there: They are being fed small shrimp by local whale shark feeders, guys in small outrigger row boats who toss shrimp into the water. Originally, the locals started doing that to keep the whale sharks away from other guys who were fishing and who were bothered by the whale sharks. A few years ago they switched to feeding the sharks so that tourists on scuba and snorkel could observe them.

As far as I could judge, the whale sharks seemed to be mostly healthy. One had a slightly bent – broken and healed – tail fin, which did not seem to keep it from swimming properly. Another one had a small piece of lip missing. Did that happen during the feeding in Oslob? I don’t know, possibly. The animals seemed to be energetic and in a good nutritional state.

Oslob whale shark by Pacificklaus.

We got a briefing before heading to the sharks which instructed us not to touch the sharks and to not wear sunscreen. With us three were about 5 other divers and maybe 25 snorkelers in the water, with the divers (presumably more competent ocean citizens) very well behaved, and the snorkelers at least not doing anything crass.

The criticism of the situation is that it modifies the behavior of the sharks. Yes, it does, but guess what: we as Homo sapiens have been modifying animal behavior on this planet since we came into existence as a species about 100 000 years ago. Our domesticated animals are prime examples, but a lot of wildlife is equally acting very human-influenced all over the planet. In the national parks around Sydney, crows, sulfur crested cockatoos (large white parrots) and kookaburras (Australian terrestrial kingfishers) are begging for barbecue leftovers. Not natural, but fun to watch.

There are also multiple other sites where shark feeding takes place, but in these cases it’s the feeding of piscivore reef sharks. It’s done in Fiji, Micronesia, the Great Barrier Reef and other locations by respectable diving operators. A tuna head is lowered into the water, and grey reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks and sometimes bull sharks come by to take a bite. It’s a great photo opportunity and a chance to observe these fast swimming animals up-close.

In Kona, Hawaii divers have the chance to do a night dive with giant manta rays. It’s a cool dive, and I have done it a few times. Strong dive lights attract plankton in a bay just north of Kona, and the mantas, connoisseurs of a tasty plankton dinner, visit almost every evening to filter the small organisms out of the water above the lights. These mantas seem outright playful and are very comfortable with divers at this point. A few have cuts and bruises, presumably from collisions during these night encounters with humans, but a population of mantas has been coming back to this event for many years.

Do all of these man-wildlife interactions change animal behavior? Certainly. Do they harm the animals? Possibly, but not necessarily. It’s an empirical question. Providing a supplementary food source is not necessarily a bad thing. The manta ray population in Hawaii has not collapsed as a consequence of the plankton attracted by human dive on so many nights. The whale sharks in Oslob are not dying off, and recently even a 2 meter whale shark baby has appeared on the scene. Don’t get me wrong: I am certainly in favor of a very careful management of the whale shark feeding in Oslob, but I don’t condemn it a priori because it’s “not natural”. Given the horrible things humanity does to the planet’s ocean these days (overfishing, pollution, ocean acidification, …), I can’t get too worked up about the intrusion into shark and ray behavior happening during this and the other aforementioned dives.

Oslob whale shark by Pacificklaus.

And even whale sharks are being fed in other places. In Okinawa, Japan, my former place of residence, juvenile whale sharks are kept in a netted enclosure (unlike in Oslob where the sharks are free to come and go) for divers to swim with. The Japanese are rightfully known as supreme animal abusers, and they don’t disappoint in this case either: the whale sharks are poorly fed and usually don’t make it very long before they “go away” (as it’s dishonestly put over there). This “attraction” used to be advertised in many cabs in Okinawa when I was living there (until 2011 – I suspect it’s still going on?). If you want to do something for the whale sharks, I suggest you protest that cruel situation.

In a recent rather shallow analysis of the Oslob whale shark watching published in the Huffington Post, the author claims that tourists ride on the whale sharks. As noted in the article, that did not happen in Oslob but in a nearby town. Nothing like that happened when I was in Oslob, in fact the Filipino guides were very good at pulling the snorkeling tourist away from the sharks when they got too close. The author also claims that the sharks are “virtually kept captive” by the feeding and are entrapped and encircled by the feeder’s boats. It’s beyond me how a skinny dude in a small row boat on the surface could keep a super massive fish very well capable of diving below the boat “entrapped”. And since the whale sharks usually dive to depths of about 200 meters every afternoon after the feeding sessions (as tagging studies have shown), it’s a bit of a stretch to say that they are “captive”.

Let me put it this way: I don’t write anything about medieval harp music, since I don’t know anything about the topic. Ms. Sowter, the author of the Huffington Post article, should use the same reasoning when it comes to marine biology. The experience at Oslob might have violated her expectation of a serene nature encounter, but that does not mean it’s detrimental for the whale sharks. I enjoyed the experience, and the chance to spend so much time with these largest living fish. It was more of an experience akin to interacting with a habituated parrot in an Aussie national park than akin to seeing a Jaguar after a two day hike into the jungle, but an enjoyable experience nevertheless.

Given the usual realities of man-ocean interaction in the Philippines I enjoyed seeing country Filipinos take care of a marine animal. The local seafood markets in the Philippines have surprisingly small fish for offer, a sign that the oceans here are drastically overfished in many places. The nice large groupers and parrotfish are typically reserved for tourists with thick wallets these days. In that context, seeing the locals make a living by not killing marine life is positive. For marine live aficionados like me and my two friends last week in Oslob, the place provides a unique chance to observe these imposing fish. For many visitors the sharks might only be a curiosity, but for some it might spark a deeper interest in the ocean. I say, go and see the whale sharks of Oslob!

Malapascua!

As usual, the diving in Malapascua, Philippines, is supreme: I have seen the thresher sharks on two occasions even though I couldn’t take any pictures of them, since the top of Monad shoal was too dark at 25 meters in the early morning on days with bad weather. But I’ll still get some more shots at shooting them! and, the macro diving on the island is simply breathtaking, even with a well serviced regulator. Especially the house reef of Evolution Diving is always a very interesting place to hunt minute marine organisms. Dragonets, ghost pipefish, snake eels, shrimp of all kinds, diverse echinoderms, all is there. One thing which is mostly lacking are corals, though, so I suggest calling the dive site house muck rather than house reef. Muck, as in muck-diving, the king’s discipline in underwater photography.

I wrote a blog post about the dynamics on the house muck a short while ago, and it was interesting to see the place now. In brief, after typhoon Yolanda the house muck was taken over by algae as described in above blog post. Now the original biodiversity is coming back, even though a very dense population of small sea urchins has taken a hold. Some wrasses and the Manila puffer are eating these, so eventually the urchins might be reduced to reasonable numbers again. The seagrass is recovering in patches and the fish life is diverse in spots around the newly sunken boat wreck and some of the bamboo fish attraction devices.

Here are all the shots I took so far in Malapascua. Enjoy.

And these are some goodies from the Evo house muck:

Pacificklaus Enjoying himself when traveling, again

Observations:

Singapore Air is top: Enough space even for someone who goes to the gym regularly, and not just to chat. Tasty food, and gorgeous stewardesses, tall young women in tight-full length uniforms in a traditional pattern. Lovely smiles, ladies with both Chinese, Indian and Malay backgrounds. Also, Singapore Air let me take 33 kgs of check-in luggage, which is great for anyone travelling with as much scuba gear as I do.

The Philippines are just the happiest place I have ever been to. I was hanging out with a mate in one restaurant, and the eatery across from us had two girls employed to stand at the door and show passersbys the menu. After a while they spontaneously started to sing. People here will not fall into the pit of everyday grumpyness nearly as easily as in most other places. They two turned what could have been a pretty boring job into a happy get-together.

Geckos! I love the geckos. There is nothing like having a lizard with superbly evolved surface-adhesion pads on its feet run over the table between beers. I’ve been missing these.

Can’t wait to be underwater again here!

A juvenile fingered dragonet, seen at the Evolution house muck.

A juvenile fingered dragonet, seen at the Evolution house muck.

Malapascua here I come!

In a few more days, I’ll be back in the Philippines! This trip will first lead me back to Malapascua, home of the thresher sharks. I will also do some tech diving with the guys at Evolution on this island.

Then, I’ll be heading to the Dumaguete area on the island of Negros, next to Cebu, for more quality diving. I can’t wait for warm water, great viz, stunning biodiversity and all of my friends in the Philippines!

First Ever Pacificklaus Movie Review: Lucy

On Sunday I watched “Lucy” with friends. An entertaining movie. Scarlett Johansson is hot, in an interesting way, and the cinematography is well done: the cuts keep up the tension of the story very well, and some of the computer graphics are superb. The acting isn’t bad either. The story of the movie is that a naive exchange student (Johansson) is abducted by Korean gangsters and has a bag of drugs implanted into her body to force her to smuggle it to Europe. The drug bag bursts and gives her nervous system superpowers.

What was a bit irksome for me was the supposed neuroscience background for her transformation into the Übermensch. Supposedly, according to a lecture given by supremely authoritatively sounding Morgan Freeman playing a famous professor, regular humans only use 10% of their cerebral capacity. Using successively higher proportions will lead to superb superpowers. “What about using 100% of our cerebral capacity?” asks one audacious student: “He can not even imagine” answers the Professor. Such a high brain usage would be the realm of science fiction.

Uhm, that’s really not quite true.

If you are incapable of using even a small part of your brain you will be in trouble. And that kind of trouble happens all the time: it’s called a stroke. Miss a few percent of your cortex, and you might not be able to speak, see, walk right or recognize your wife even while being able to see her. Using “only 10% of your cerebral capacity” as is claimed in “Lucy” that normal humans do, will certainly leave you as a brain dead vegetable. Ok, ok, I know this movie is not meant to be a documentary, but you could ask for some kind of realism, can’t you? Is the general public really so scientifically illiterate that it can be fed baloney like that without cringing?

After contemplating the issue a bit more, though, I came to the conclusion that the scientific illiteracy in “Lucy” is no worse than what I see in some of academic neuroscience.

“Lucy” is in many ways no less scientific than a promo video for the Blue Brain Project. Both feature fancy computer graphics of flashing neurons, plus a lot of buzzwords. “Building a brain in 10 years”? That claim is only gradually less absurd than the pseudoneuroscience out of “Lucy”. Vacuous pseudophilosophical babble about a conscious universe? You’ll get that both in the movie and in the academic outreach video. Also, the computer-woman fusion at the end of “Lucy” is no more ludicrous than the claims by the folks who stick a lot of well-connected chips onto one circuit board and then claim that’s somehow like the brain (uhm, it’s not). And these are just some of the harshest examples of ludicrous scientific hyperbole aimed at shamelessly garnering research funding and publicity. “Lucy”, while offering nothing scientifically, at least has some really nice shots of Scarlett Johansson’s superbly athletic legs.

via Wikipedia.

Immortal vs. Sex

Adult Actress extraordinaire Annie Cruz asks on Twitter:

Would you rather have sex and die immediately after or never have sex and be completely immortal? Tweet your answers.

As usual, nothing is kinky and weird enough as that it does not happen somewhere in biology:

Have sex and die immediately. Well, not right immediately, but most cephalopods, the octopi and squid, usually die after one mating event. They hatch, eat eat, eat and eat, grow really fast, find a mate, do a few good humps, lay some eggs, and die. In octopi the females at least protect the eggs till they hatch, in most species both males and females wither away after doin’ IT once. Very sad. I like octopi, they make an intelligent impression when I see them underwater.

A dying cephalopod, after having had sex only once.

Never have sex and be completely immortal. Well, it’s not an animal, but actually closer to an animal than a plant: a fungus. If you are a fungus, you can just clone your cells, and be immortal, for all practical purposes. A fungus in Oregon is estimated to be 2400 years old. Well, it gets even better. The fungus is huge: it covers almost 9 km2 and weighs an estimated 600 tons. Immortal and bigger than Ronnie Coleman. Wow. The fungus would feel like a boss, if fungi could feel anything. Negative: all that growth happened asexually. While most fungi can produce reproductive organs (mushrooms), some species don’t.

What would I prefer? Right now I am having a good amount of sex, am pretty huge (not as big as Ronnie or the honey fungus, though) and still have not died yet, so while it’s unlikely, it could possibly still be that I am in fact immortal. I’ll stick with my status quo.