Anilao Slugs

Here I am! Anilao, Bantangas, just about 4 hours south of the ultra-epic traffic jam known as Metro Manila, in one of the Philippines’ top critter diving destinations. For many years I have heard other divers rave about the superb critters seen in Anilao, and I am excited to finally have made it to the place. I’m at the wonderful

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perched on the hills just above the mirror-flat ocean.

What did I see so far?

Nudibranchs! And then some more nudibranchs, plus more nudibranchs. In fact, the fish fauna in Anilao is also very interesting but I’ll get to that in the next post. But the sea slugs of Anilao heavily caught my eye on my first underwater adventures here. In three dives with a camera I photographed 15 species of these mollusks, and saw some more which were either too small, or hiding in crevices so that I couldn’t take a shot of them. Several of these species I saw for the first time, among them the incredibly, utterly amazing Ceratosoma alleni:

Ceratosoma alleni

This is a sea slug which pretends to be a soft coral to avoid predation. A true apex of evolution – kind of a similar evolutionary idea to the leafy seadragon, which is a fish pretending to be seaweed:

Leafy seadragon, South Australia

It’s an intellectual and spiritual delight to observe and photograph such an animal. The dive guide pointed out the first to me, but the second alleni I found myself.

We might ask (or at least I ask!): Why are there so many nudibranchs in Anilao, and in the tropical Pacific, in general? One reason is that there are very many marine species in general in the “coral triangle”, the region between the Philippines, eastern Indonesia and PNG. The tropical location and the many little islands with their incredibly long intricate coastlines are one reason for the amazing biodiversity. There are lots of places for reef animals to thrive. Another reason might be that the coral triangle was a refuge for tropical species during the last ice age. This is all detailed in this brilliant, though out-of-print book:

But then on top of a generally high marine biodiversity in the coral triangle, why are there so many sea slugs? I think a number of factors favor speciation (the evolution of new species) amongst the nudis: They are slow-moving animals which lay their eggs on the substrate, which limits dispersal. If the offspring of a slug disperses less, that means less genetic mixing and a higher chance for two separate populations to become more dissimilar and develop into two new species. Also, I have the impression that many nudibranchs are extreme food specialists. One species of nudi typically seems to be feeding on one type of sponge, tunicate or soft coral. So, the great variety of these food animals gives rise to a great variety of nudibranchs.

Let me point out that what I am writing here is speculation, but certainly educated speculation, informed by a grasp of evolutionary biology and my observations on 2000+ dives!

Hypselodoris infucata

And finally, we have to ask, why are there so many nudibranchs specifically in Anilao? Good question. Often, the presence of small marine animals is determined by physical features of the ocean: which currents are present (or absent!), what the water temperature is (relatively cold in Anilao), and how much sunlight is available. I will have to ponder these questions during more dives in Anilao. Any suggestions? I’d like to hear them.

Chromodoris geometrica

Anilao Travel

Pacificklaus the scuba nomad is in a different top diving location now: In Anilao, a macro diving top spot just a few hours by car south of Manila. I’ll be with Aiyanar, perched on a hill above the ocean. Yesterday was my travel day, and what a travel day it was. Travel in the Philippines seems to be always more entertaining and just short of twice as long as expected.

What is actually expected was a delay of the Cebu Pacific flight I took. Yeah, very cheap fares, goddess-pretty flight attendant dolls, but you need an extra hour or two. Which I spent in lovely Dumaguete airport. And the lovely here is nit cynical. There are no useless shiny stores of consumer goods and status symbol-handbags, but a blind dude playing Beatles classics on his guitar. Other than the late John Lennon few people can sing Imagine with so much heart. I also got a back and neck massage and ate some sesame cookies. Airports are also of course a good place for people watching. Dumaguete always has a nice mix of locals and tourists. The tourists usually have the better tattoos.

Finally we made it on the plane and I had a good conversation with a Dumaguetino architect traveling to a convention.

Next stop: Manila. The airport there is named after Benigno Aquino, Jr., a great man and political activist who worked to oust the dictator Marcos. Wouldn’t his memory be served better by organizing the airport a bit better? It took 90 minutes of lining up in the tropical summer mid-day heat, between a few construction sites, to get a cab. Yeah, there were more nice ladies to look at, but the wait got a bit long in the end. Interestingly, the cab drought seemed to have caught the attention of a local TV station which was shooting a special on it. You might see me on Manila local TV, sweating and looking a bit annoyed.

After I finally sat down in a cherished taxi, I made it through the chaotic traffic over to the bus terminal and boarded an air conditioned liner to Bantangas City. Lots of snack salesboys came through and I stocked up on nice juicy oranges. A movie in Tagalog with lots of beatings and explosions entertained the bus riders. The movies in Tagalog always seem to be these hard assed action flicks. The main protagonist had one of these thin mustaches which only tough guys in movies and 70s porn actors wear. Too many boobie traps and not enough boobies in the flick, for my taste. I had a nice chat with the really interesting young lady on the seat next to me, and within about two more hours I was in Bantangas.

From there I got picked up by the resort van, and it was another hour to Aiyanar. I got to re-watch “Predators” in the van, which is a really cool movie. Bantangas lookedalready pretty rural even though metro Manila isn’t that far away at all. I arrived at the resort just to see the clouds lit by the setting sun reflect in the infinity pool. Good times. More dives coming up soon!

Photo Art

“Alles ist Kunst, jeder ist ein Künstler”
(“Everything is art, everyone is an artist”)
– Joseph Beuys

A few months ago, an image of a sun-flooded desert canyon in Arizona by Australian photographer Peter Lik became the highest selling photograph, ever. I like the shot. It has a certain “wow” effect. It made me want to go to that canyon. But, the high-brow critics were quick to condemn Lik’s shot as “a cliche: easy on the eye, easy on the brain, hackneyed and third-hand.”. The Guardian, ever willing to provide a forum for good intellectual jousting, also let another commenter speak, who at least in principle thought that photography can be art. But even the art critic in favor of photography as art made sure to tell the readership that while there is art photography, nature photography is certainly not a part of it. So, if it’s photographed in nature, then it can’t be art. No matter how it looks. Thanks high-brow art critic boys one & two for the lesson!

A few months after Lik made the big sale, just last week, I took my super macro camera setup underwater. This is my Canon 5DII digital SLR with the Canon 100 mm f2.8 macro lens and an extension ring, which adds some extra magnification. This lets me photograph quite minute things, down to a size of about 2 centimeters to fill the whole photograph’s frame. This is an impressive piece of technology.

The fact that I can bring this setup in a housing underwater to a depth of 80 meters (the deepest shot I have taken was that deep) makes the engineering involved even more impressive. Also, divers without highly specialized training & gear usually die at 80 meters. Not me. There is a certain Nietzschean quality to making photo art under such conditions. But aren’t I mistaken in thinking that I am making art, since I am photographing mere nature?

What I photographed last week was a ribboned sweetlip, Plectorhinchus polytaenia, a beautiful tropical marine fish. It’s a mid-sized fish, though. My ultra macro setup did not allow me to take a shot of the whole animal, so I focused on those beautifully colored patterns on its side. Back on dry land I slightly cropped and then rotated the image and liked the result. The sweetlip has some interesting looking lines on its side!

Here is the shot:

Sweetlip Lines.

Interestingly, British painter Ian Davenport has been making art with lines for quite a while. His wall-covering paintings are produced by “pouring gloss paint from heavy-duty syringes spaced along the top of the working surface, and then tilting it, or simply allowing the paint to overflow and ooze into concentric puddles.”. His paintings have been shown internationally and he was commissioned to create artwork for prestigious locations. He is a man working with the appeal of lines.

by Emiliano via Flickr

Things get even more interesting. On Flickr I found this piece of line art which was generated by a computer program. The programmer (who also uploaded the image on Flickr) wrote the initial program code and then let the program decide on the specifics of the patterns. He made the artist, but at least not directly the art. The artist’s programmer notes himself that the resulting image reminds him of Davenport’s work.

by Forrest O. via Flickr

So, since my lines stem from work in nature photography, they are not art, but Davenport’s lines since they were made with the blessing of the art world, are art? The computer generated work, since no human artist was directly involved, is completely out of the question, I assume?

Don’t get my wrong: I am not a “these are just fricking lines, how is that art?”-type ignoramus. I certainly see the aesthetic appeal. I like Davenport’s paintings very much. Especially on their large scale, these are appealing and creative works. I also like the algorithmic art. But I also like my sweetlip-side lines! The effects which looking at either Davenport’s painting, the computer-generated lines or my sweetlip photograph will have on the human visual system are probably fairly similar. Similar high-level brain neurons will light up when looking at the expensive Davenport painting or the Creative-Commons Pacificklaus photograph. Both images need to be thought about with similar concepts in mind, then! Similar abstract art, no matter how it was generated, will do similar things to our brains and minds. Aforementioned art critic boy one says that it is a “fantasy that taking a picture is the same thing as making a work of art.“. Ah-ha. So while trippy looking lines are art when made by pouring paint, they are not when photographed off the side of a fish, or generated by a computer?

There is some seriously inconsequential arguing going on here. The mistake is to ignore that visual art criticism should be foremostly informed by an understanding of human vision. But that’s hard. Hence, it is much easier to give off semi-vacuous gallery-opening name-droppy small-talk about the meaning and the impressively thoughtful message of a photograph. Remember high-brow art critic boy two (who probably has never seen a beautiful sweetlip in nature himself) mentions in his lesson to us that “… art critic Jonathan Jones went to see the wildlife photographer of the year show […] Did he think they were art photography exhibitions?“. I guess to him it does not matter so much how a work of visual art looks, but more where some gallery curator hangs it. And that’s the art critic boy who is in favor of photography being art. (Yes, I know that these are super highly respected senior art critics, not boys. Who am I to call them that? I am an artist! Joseph Beuys told me that I am one!).

The approach to the criticism of photography which is not primarily based on understanding human vision is a dead end road for anyone other than those merely trying to impress good-looking art-school students of the gender of their choice. Reviewing a photograph primarily via its social commentary & place in art history and only secondarily in regards to its visual qualities hints at a deep misunderstanding.

The question should be “what does this image do to the image processing (visual) parts of our brains” and not, as so often “what message about identity, gender, capitalism, migration and/or poverty could the artist have wanted to convey with the photograph? What previous images does it relate to and which genre do we put it in?”. Again, I am not an ignorant and all for discussing identity, gender, capitalism, migration and/or poverty, but not when trying to understand the aesthetic qualities of a photograph! Hence, for anyone really trying to get to the core of how photography works, I recommend studying the psychology and neuroscience of visual perception. Only treating visual art as a human expression playing with the visual systems of other humans will let us intellectually approach photography.

My new book (which by the way is still looking for a good literary agent or publisher) provides such an introduction to visual perception for the photographer – and there is lots of material to cover. We have good insights into many levels of perception. As almost always in science, good answers led to more open questions, but the scientific progress in understanding visual perception during the last half century was impressive. We learned that the largest brain region responsible for parsing vision is the cortex, the walnut-ish, layered structure giving the human brain its unique appearance. Specifically, the what we see is processed in the visual cortex in the back of the head.

One finding (honored with a 1981 Nobel Prize) is that the visual cortex is organized very systematically. Brain cells stacked on top of each other respond to the same things in the visual world. In one spot brain cells will only become active when we see a vertical line. When we move across the surface of the cortex laterally, brain cells become responsive to slightly tilted lines, and eventually to horizontal lines. Each stack of brain cells responding to the same type of line is called an orientation column.

What Davenport’s or the sweetlip’s or the algorithm’s lines do to our brains is to activate only one type of orientation column, very strongly. Now, we are not consciously aware of the activity in the cortex-area containing the orientation columns. But this type of cortex sends its signals to other, higher cortical areas. In many cases, we know that these connections are spatially very orderly: neighboring brain cells often project to neighboring targets. And after a few steps of sending the signals further on, there are areas in the cortex where the brain activity triggered by seeing the lines and the contents of our consciousness correlate. These high order brain areas must be amused by registering that all brain cells responsive to only one orientation are vigorously active at once. Besides this knowledge about brain anatomy there is also a lot of insight from perceptual psychology about perceiving lines – lots of things for the photographer or photography critic to read up on!

And then we can start to answer: Does a photograph – or a painting, or the outcome of a computer algorithm – tickle these high-level brain areas right? THAT is the question we should be asking as true connoisseurs of visual art.

More cool abstract ocean art.

Hooligan Fish

One way to loose all credibility and intellectual respect from me is to call a damselfish symbiotically associated with an anemone a “Nemo”. It works like that:

Pacificklaus: How are you?

Diver whom Pacificklaus takes seriously: Good, I just came back from a dive!

Pacificklaus: What did you see during your dive?

Bimbo-Diver: Nemo!

Pacificklaus (rolls eyes)

“Nemo” is a character in a cheesy commercial cartoon movie for kids. It’s not the name of a fish, or group of fishes. What Bimbo-diver means is a damsel fish – or pomacentrid – living in symbiosis with an anemone. Damselfishes (Pomacentridae) are a rather big family of small bony fishes, some of which tend to algae gardens which they graze on, and others live in the aforementioned anemones for protection. Many damselfishes also tend to their eggs and some even to their fry. These are all behaviors which make them very territorial marine animals.

One of the hooligans!

Why do I write Damselfishes (Pomacentridae)? “Pomacentridae” is the scientific, universally accepted name for this fish family. “Damselfishes” is the common name in English. Every language from a place where people know about the Pomacentridae has a local word for them. This word often describes the nature of the animal: a woodpecker is a bird which pecks away at wood. An earthworm is a worm crawling trough the earth. Ect! That brings us to the “damsel” fish. A damsel is a “young unmarried woman”. A delicate creature. Maybe given to poetry and romantic walks, but not to violent aggression. The fishes belonging to the pomacentridae do not act like damsels. They are super aggressive, territorial and combative. I have been bitten by pomacentridae, head butted, and chased over the reef. They are especially aggressive when divers swim near their anemones or algae-gardens, which they consider their property, without any discussion possible. Naturally, they are even more amped up when they are breeding and have eggs to defend. Last week a damselfish saw me and swam over a good 5 meters from its anemone just to threateningly swim back and forth in front of me.

The only good thing is that they are small fishes. A 90 cm “damsel” fish would be something to hide behind a rock from! A 2 meter damselfish I would not want to be in the water with!

Now, who else starts unprovoked fights, headbutts and bites? The European soccer hooligan (Assholis europaeicus). Wikipedia writes of “norms that tolerate great levels of violence and territoriality”. The parallels are too strong to ignore, hence I propose to change the common name for the family of the Pomacentridae to “hooligan fish” (and certainly not nemo).

The Sheep’s Obituary to the Shepherd

Make no mistake, the Shepherd was a great man. He is no longer with us. But his spirit lives on within us. Our sheep herd grew to such lovely large proportions under the Shepherd’s watch that our wooly chests swell with pride. The meadow we graze on is the envy of grazers all over the world. We stand shoulder to shoulder and no calf is trampled by a thousand sheep feet like in some other meadow the Shepherd told us about.

Right now we have some small piece of mind since the son of the Shepherd tends to all our needs. And even so, if something is very bad, the Shepherd had assured us: “And even from my sick bed, and even when you lower me into the grave, if I feel that something is going wrong, I will get up.”

The few herd members who disappear once in a blue moon or maybe in a silver moon, half or full, don’t matter that much when we gaze at the herd as one, unified to serve all but at least the shepherd. No, you cant’ say Meeeehhhh around here, but who would want to say Meeeehhhh anyway, we all say Meeeeh and if you say Meeeeh like you should then you will have no problems here. The good sheep have no problems here and the Shepherd knows who is good. And there is a small corner anyway where you can say Meeeehhhh.

Our brains, shrunk from thousands of generations of domestication don’t register these injustices, rather we need all our mental gifts to concentrate on the grass in front of us; and that grass is green. At least our evolutionary dilemma relieves us from all responsibility and guilt, because we can’t know any better. It’s not so bad like that. It would be much worse if we still could see the wrongness, but through weak values (money!) are incapable of protesting what must be protested by anyone with decency: the criminalization of protest.

Long live the spirit of George Orwell!!!

Photographing Dauin

Ok, so now I have been living and diving in Dauin since November, and what have I learned about underwater photography here? What would I tell a visiting photographer to look out for? Quite a few things! Firstly, the place is rightfully famous as a spot to find unusual, fascinating and rare small critters! On top of that the dark volcanic sand, makes for a very good photographic background, since its less likely to blow out images than white coral sand. You might actually have to increase your ISO value to achieve the same exposure as in a more typical white-sand area. The visibility in Dauin varies between a moderate 10 meters and lovely 30 meters, and the aforementioned sand settles fairly quickly; it is still, however, a very good idea to hover and not to lay on the sand, and to use a careful frog kick in order to not stir up the ground so much. As usual! The whole setting, with the superb macro and the dark volcanic sand is really quite similar to another famous macro site, the Liberty wreck In Tulamben, Bali. We don’t have a WWII wreck here, but the marine life is quite comparable.

So, where is Dauin? On the Philippine island of Negros:

What’s there to shoot? Charge your strobe batteries before you get started, because there is lots! I always think that knowing what to look for is a key ingredient in taking good photographs, and in picking the right lens for the job. Often there is a little trick for photographing each species, and these tricks I want to share now.

A family of fishes I particularly like are the ghost pipefish, the Solenostomidae. These are superbly fascinating apexes (api?) of vertebrate evolution! Seahorse-relatives which look like crinoids or algae, animals which have departed unusually far from the general fish body shape. Trippy fish! There are several species of these in Dauin, the harlequin ghost pipefish, the robust and the Halimeda one. These are rare in other places, but here we see so many of them that a dive without them is almost the exception. Last week I spotted five harlequin ghost pipefish together in a group around one crinoid. These are surprisingly hard to photograph with a macro lens, since they always turn and twist, so that there is always one part of the ghost pipefish out of focus. One option is to take a detail shot of the head or the beautiful tail only. For shots like that I had good success with my Canon 100 mm f2.8 macro lens (on a Canon 5DII camera). This lens generally is a great water buffalo (the Filipino equivalent to a workhorse) for macro photography in Dauin.

When trying to get shots of the whole ghost pipefish, or maybe even a couple of them together, I am using my Canon 50 mm compact macro lens. This lens allows me to capture a larger scene, and because it captures more light than the 100 mm lens I can use a larger f-stop. Hence I achieve a deeper depth of field, and one whole ghost pipefish, or even Mr. and Ms. ghost pipefish (the female is the larger animal) are in focus.

To go into the other direction, to even greater magnification, I am quite happy with my 1.25x extension ring. This ring adds 25% magnification to my 100 mm macro lens, at the price of not being able to focus at infinity anymore. But of course no one needs to focus on infinity when shooting macro! Such a super-macro setup is useful for shooting tiny wildlife like this pigmy pipehorse, Acentronura sp.:

Besides ghost pipefish and pygmy pipehorses there are also “regular” seahorses abound, mostly Hippocampus histrix. These usually hide among the sponges in sandy regions, and on sunken pieces of wood. And, yes, we also have frogfish, although none as mighty as Battlecat. Still, Antennarius commersoni and A. pictus live in Dauin, and a few rarer species more. Right now a big burst of tiny A. pictus is living in the sand is seen.

The aforementioned crinoids are generally a good place to stop at and start scaning with your eyes. Between the tentacles and on the mouth disc lives a whole fauna of minute animals, shrimps, squat lobsters and clingfish. There are a few crinoid species which are typically well occupied, and others which barely ever have any residents. Once you dive with me, ask me to point out the shrimp positive crinoids.

You certainly didn’t think that I am forgetting about the bestest fishes ever, the gobies, in my photo guide to Dauin, didn’t you? There are fantastic gobies in Daui, tiny jewels of the ocean. A brilliantly colored small goby is Lubricogobius exiguus, which lives preferentially in disposed pieces of cloth or bottles at depths of more than 25 meters. These are exceptionally skittish fish, and only the slowest, calmest approach will get you within photo distance!

Dauin also has really nice shrimp gobies, at least ten species of them. I love watching the symbiosis between the watchman goby, and the digging shrimp constantly maintaining teh burrow used by both parnters. These are also rather nervous citizens of the ocean, and only a very careful approach will allow you to take a quality photograph of the pair. Shrimp gobies & shrimps might be good candidates for macro videography, with a camera placed in the sand in front of the shared burrow.

This leads us to the topic of shrimps …. for which Dauin is a top spot. A real shrimp watcher’s heaven. Sometimes you need to descend to go to heaven! Right now the sand in some dive sites is buzzing with skeleton shrimp, those tiny crustaceans looking like hectic match stick men.

There are also cleaner shrimp abound in Dauin, and most anemones have a few resident tiny translucent shrimps, often more than one species. Night dives are an excellent opportunity to shoot more shrimp and crab species, like the marble shrimp, decorator crabs, and several species of spider crabs.

Nudibranchs of course also crawl along their way too in Dauin. The dive sites with artificial reef structures are  a good place to look for them. Once in a while you’ll see a shrimp hitching a ride on the body of a larger nudibranch. The fauna in  that regard is pretty typical for the Philippines, with Chromodoris magnifica and Phyllidia pustulosa being the most common nudis.

At the end of the dive,on your way up from the dive to safety stop range at about 6 meters you’ll be able to observe and shoot sand divers – elongated fish which are named for their tendency to dive under the sand when they feel threatened. Sometimes the sand divers hover together in groups of tens just a few centimeters above the sand and feed on plankton; then the larger males spread their dorsal fins to show that they are the boss. At other times the sand divers rest on the sandy slopes, with their whole bodies exposed. A clumsy approach will make them disappear  quickly into the sand, with sometimes the head still sticking out. All of these different modes of sand diver behavior are worth photographing! Look at the proportionally large eyes on this small fish, these are definitely visual animals.

I think wide-angle macro would be something working very well in Dauin. I don’t quite have the lenses and the gear for that kind of photography, but it would be a good approach to show some of the smaller marine animals in the context of their environment, for instance last week’s group of ghost pipe fish plus their home crinoid. Or, shooting a group of sand divers hovering together would also be a nice wide-angle macro shot.

All I have written about so far you can see within a 20 minute boat ride along the Dauin coast, under the towering volcanoes of Negros island. But there are also some really cool dive sites a bit further away, within day-trip distance from Dauin. These are Apo Island, Siquijur and Oslob, and these are all wide-angle kinda places.

Apo Island is one of the success stories of marine protection in the Philippines, with parts of it protected since the 70s. And it shows underwater, with a fantastic coral cover composed of many different species. Of course where there are corals there are coral fishes, and it’s especially the damselfishes which are present in large numbers and many species in Apo.

Apo also has many sea snakes, at least 3 species, which are fun to photograph. They are not exactly shy, but don’t hold still for a shot either. And to many marine turtles Apo is home as well. They seem like supremely chilled out animals, and sometimes take naps laying on the soft corals. The turtles of Apo are somewhat used to divers, and if you approach them from the side (not from above), not too quickly and not within less than a meter you will be rewarded with as much turtle watching time  as you wish.

Siquijur, the island of black magic, about an hour by boat from Dauin offers fantastic walls and marine protected areas with a good population of larger fish such as gropers and parrot fish. The corals of Siquijiur are also quite impressive. I have only been to Siquijur twice, once for an advanced open water course, and once when the vis was quite bad, but this island has a lot of photographic potential.

Oslob, of course is the place with the whale sharks. These are big big fish. The biggest in existence on planet Earth right now, in fact. The whale sharks are fed to lure them to Oslob bay every morning, and this gives us underwater photographers the chance to come really close to these amazing fish. They are mostly near the water surface, and at that depth there is ample of sunlight in the Philippine summer for good ambient light shots even at 8 am. For the sake of the whale sharks which get photographed hundreds of times per day it’s not allowed to use flash photography in Oslob. On a flat day you can get the play of light from the ripples of the water surface onto the body of the whale shark in your shots, or you can capture a reflection of the animal on the ocean surface.

For photographing Rhincodon typus I mostly used my Tokina 10-17 mm fish eye zoom lens. This lens is originally meant for cropped sensor cameras, and to avoid the metal ring showing up on my shots I can only use it at the 17 mm end – that’s still a wide wide lens, though. I have also used the Canon 17-40 mm lens for the whale sharks, mostly at the 17 mm end as well. The visibility in Oslob can be mediocre, but when getting close enough with a really wide lens, then the viewers of your shots will not notice!

Spring Reading

Spring is nearing and the extra energy from the extra sunlight will probably give you extra drive to read. Of course if you live in the Philippines, like I do, it’s always sunny and that’s one of the reasons why it’s more fun in the Philippines, but I am such a considerate person that I write my blog also with the cold climate crowd in mind, too. So what could you read?

Somewhat of an oldie at this point, but a goodie, is my book on popular science marine biology, fish sex, looking at corals when high, and the history of the Pacific Ocean. Yep, that covers a lot of submarine ground. And there are pictures in it, too.

Published last year and basically the psychedelic novel of the 21st century – yet to be discovered! – is my story about Australia in the 26th century. It’s political, too, and funny.

What am I reading at the moment? The scientific literature about the effects of shark feeding for tourism purposes. Interesting stuff! I am planning to write a review on this important topic in the next months.

Diving on Ganymede!

So, NASA tells us that Jupiter’s moon Ganymede has massive oceans full of liquid water beneath its ice crust. This moon is the largest moon in the solar system, with a diameter about half of earth’s. This sounds like a gnarley dive site for the advanced diver to me. Let’s look at the “practicalities”:

How to get there: Prospective divers will have to bear space flight for many months. No, there is no such spaceship in existence yet which can transport living humans that far, but it’s something at least remotely feasible (in contrast to interstellar travel). The distance can be bridged in significantly less that a human life-time, and we have both sent spaceships (sans humans) to Jupiter, and we have kept humans alive in space for many months. I don’t expect such spaceships to exist in the next few years, but if all industrialized countries collaborated to build one, it could be done within decades.

Equipment to bring: The gravity on Ganymede is about 1/8th of Earth’s. We hence can do dives 8 times as deep with the same deco requirements as on earth. But the ice moon’s oceans are so deep – 100 kilometers, about 10 times the deepest depth reached on Earth – that the pressures will still be enormous if we want to reach the ocean floor. I have not seen detailed measurements of the Ganymede ocean topologies, so maybe there are also shallower parts? In any case, the ice plateau on top of the oceans might be interesting to watch as well. We’ll dive there, for starters. Bring a dry suit.

So, that brings us to the ice crust issue. You will have to drill through that first, ideally with some kind of nuclear powered heat-drill. Nothing else will contain enough energy in a reasonable sized piece of gear. Since the crust might freeze over very fast again – there is not so much heat from the sun around Jupiter anymore – you might want to come with a drill in which you can sit in – on top of the nuclear melting device. Some led will do for radiation insulation. Safety at least 3rd!

by Pacificklaus

Bacterial mats fed by geothermal energy in Jupiter’s moon Ganymede? Nope, corals from the Philippines subjected to some psychedelic color distortions in GIMP.

What you will see: Creeeeeeezy shit, certainly. Interesting submarine geological activity for sure. Life forms? Maybe! Trippy multicolored bacterial mats would be the most likely thing to expect – although no such thing has been proven to exist, it is not completely unlikely either. The energy for these life forms could come from the geological activity. The thrill of searching for these alien organism, however simple, would be a big part of the thrill. Could higher, multi-cellular organisms exist on Ganymede, too? It’s very hard to say how likely they would be on planets with at least bacteria; we simply have so far only observed one example of planetary scale evolution. Do bacteria on a planet always give rise to more complex grazers? IF we find bacteria on Ganymede, can we also expect some slugs grazing on them? There is only one way to find out, and that’s to do the dive.

Ganymede Fun Divers offer the PADI ice moon diver specialty course, with equipment rental for only 436 million Australian Dollars.

MILF sues Google

Zamboanga City/San Francisco – the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) filed a lawsuit against Google of Palo Alto, claiming that Google’s search results for the group’s acronym (warning: NSFW!) distorted the public view of the southern Philippines’ Islamist rebel group.

“Getting all these lewd images is not in the interest of our corporate identity” MILF spokesman Abu Lobot said in a statement sent to the international media this Monday. “We are a serious secessionist group and have nothing to do with promiscuous women in their 30s and 40s.” Lobot further elaborated on some of the technicalities of the lawsuit and stated that “we are not the kind of MILF to fuck with!”.

The preliminary hearing for the lawsuit is expected to go underway in April in the 17th US circuit court in San Francisco, where Google is registered. It is unclear if the MILF will send a representative to the hearing, and whom, since in the current political climate anyone even remotely associated with an Islamist extremist group would have serious difficulties obtaining a US visa.

Pacificklaus media could not find a staff member capable of the sustained sobriety necessary to connect with serious Islamists for a planned interview. For this we apologize, so all reporting in this story depended on our network of Filipino informants and local expats claiming to be “very familiar with all kinds of MILF”. We are, however, slightly troubled by their own admission that they had never been to south-western Mindanao (the only location in the country where the MILF and related Islamist groups are active), but had always stayed in the completely safe remainder of the Philippines.

I really don’t have a good image of a MILF -either – so here is a nice sunset.

Video

I am usually more of a still photographer – I hope that you as an occasional reader of my blog and appreciator of my Flickr photostream know that. But I also got myself a “Intova action cam” last year in Ozland, a camera similar to the popular small-but-powerful “GoPros” cameras. The Intova Sport HD is a bit behind the GoPro Hero3 in the tech specs, but not much. It also comes with a screen, which is quite handy for proper framing, and its battery life is very good.

Sometimes I take it along instead of my still camera and shot some footage underwater. I can’t compete with the folks with pro level equipment in terms of image quality and low light performance, and without video lights the colors fade.

Hence my creative spirits have to make up for the technological lag:

How many of you have seen footage of bubbles being exhaled into the water, from the mouth cavity outwards? See.

Then was I lucky enough to film a really unusual fish, the devil walker, a type of stone fish.

Also, underwater videos usually either have lame “water music” or uninspiring island tunes from wherever they were shot. Not mine. I put some edgy electronica with the footage. Thanks to Pepin Lachance for putting his work online as creative commons.

Enough jiving. Enjoy the video: