The first ever underwater camera I had was a shocking yellow colour and operated with film that had to be developed at a photography shop. This little plastic bit of technology was enough to satisfy my interests as a 13-year-old free diving around Bermuda’s inshore reefs. Eventually, however, I began to want to photograph things in a better resolution, closer up, and with better colour vibrancy. That’s where an Olympus “Tough” camera came in, though the point-and-shoot is still a long way off from the most professional underwater cameras one can buy.
I got the chance to attend a interesting talk by Warren De Klerk and Ron Lucas on underwater photography at BUEI recently. Though both divers are Bermudian, they presented on a wide range of shots, some of which had been taken in the ocean surrounding Bermuda and some which had been taken in the coral triangle or elsewhere.
Lucas took the audience on a journey from largest to smallest in the animals he’d photographed. Beginning with the bumbling whale shark (Rhincodon typus), the largest fish in the sea, and ending with a juvenile fish diminutive enough to stand out against a spiral of nudibranch eggs, the talk was as interesting as it was beautiful.
The most interesting part of Lucas’ talk, for me, was the fact that he had insight in to which animals in his talk, who came from his trip to the coral triangle, could be found in Bermuda. While whale shark sightings are rare, he said that they had been seen before in the far off waters around Bermuda. Wondrous, too, were his reports that manta rays (Manta alfredi) could be found in Bermuda’s waters – even if they were difficult to photograph because of their tendency to hang out in strong currents.
The casual observer may confuse the rays that frequent Harrington sound with the manta, but these are spotted eagle rays (Aetobatus narinari), which, like the whale shark, are protected in Bermuda. The eagle ray can often be seen swimming with the current under Flatts bridge and is a native species to Bermuda. There is still much to be understood about ray behaviour, and a PhD student, Matthew Ajemian is currently studying their movements and diets. Luckily for him, the beautiful spotted markings of the rays are unique and can be used as natural sources to identify individuals. Rays are so beautiful, it is no surprise that all underwater photographers are enamored by them.
The second speaker, Warren De Klerk, is a cave diver who offered stories of his dives and the photographs they yielded. Not being a scientist himself, one of his favourite photos he had ever taken was of a man-o-war fish (Nomeus gronovii), which prompted him to learn more about the animal. These fish, sometimes called shepherd fish, are particularly immune to the venom of the portuguese man-o-war, and stay with the siphonophore for protection and to feed occasionally on its smaller tentacles.
Among his most striking photos were frogfish of different species and patterns. These small fish are anglerfish, and our own sargassum fish is one of the smallest. These fish rely on extensive camouflage to conduct their sit-and-wait predation. However, unlike the stonefish which is made to look like a stone on the sandy bottom, frogfish are often vibrantly coloured and blend in with brightly coloured corals and sponges.
A fan of BBC’s Planet Earth series myself, I never forgot the nerve wracking program they did on caves. They included a short section on “squeezes,” tight spaces a cave diver had to fit through, tank and all, to get to another section of a cave, which made my skin prickle just thinking about them. The best part of this program for me however, was their information about haloclines. The phenomenon is caused by fresh and salt water meeting in an underground cave and sitting on top of eachother in layers. The change in water salinity makes the top layer appear to be air, but when they are swam though the layers mix.
As such, De Klerk’s accounts of swimming through haloclines and pictures of the event were the highlights of the talk for me.