A Small But Savage World
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©Evolution Underwater Imaging LLC 2015; All Rights Reserved
A male Harlequin Shrimp with its prey, a Sea Star. The much larger female harlequin shrimp is directly over-head waiting for its mate to return with its meal (lower left image).
A helpless sea creature makes a valiant attempt of escape to freedom but, the claws of the determined hunter grasp a leg and drag it back to its lair. Here the rapacious predator will continue to tear bits of flesh away and consume the creature little by little being careful not to dispatch it entirely. It must keep its quarry alive so its limb will regrow and provide a continuous and sustainable meal for itself and its mate for many weeks if not months to come. This macabre undertaking may sound like a fictional scene from a John Carpenter film however; it is in fact a small sea star the size of my thumbnail being eaten by an even smaller male harlequin shrimp on a reef in Dumaguete, Philippines. It is just one of the many horror stories that can be found in our natural world; a world that is not just full of majesty and beauty but of savagery. Even though these small critters are innocuous to humans doesn’t make their behavior any less fierce than say a lion tearing the throat out of a zebra. It’s relative.
Dumaguete, Philippines has become one of the premier locations in the world to experience macro marine life encounters such as I just described. The array of tiny critters that can be seen here often making homes in our trash is vast. Critters with an entertaining colorful names such as flamboyant cuttlefish, clown frogfish, ornate pipefish and of course the harlequin shrimp are found in tin cans, glass bottles or boat moorings. The ‘muck diving’ as it is called is world class. Its not a glamorous name but this brand of diving is interesting all the same. Scientists are regularly discovering new species and documenting new behaviors in Dumaguete. It is all very exciting.
A Flamboyant Cuttlefish hunts with its long pair of needles which are projected out from its mouth at lighting speed snagging the unsuspecting prey.
It was for these reasons that my old friend Randy Randazzo of the Hampton Dive Center in Riverhead, New York decided to escort one of his dive groups to Atlantis Resort, Dumaguete in March of 2015. I was honored to accompany Randy and his people as their photo/video pro. As an established wide-angle photographer who occasionally dabbled with macro photography, I was excited at delving in to my first encounter with ‘muck’ diving. Armed with my brand new super macro 105mm Nikkor lens I was ready to get up and close detailed shots of fish species that are often hard to spot with a human eye; at least my human eye. This is where the experienced dive guides of Atlantis Resort shined. Follow the guides and within minutes they are pointing out wee critters with their underwater pointers to us blind tourists. Their highly trained eyes rarely missed a sighting.
Shooting tiny sea creatures is not as easy as one would imagine. The optics of the lens are highly magnified hence making the smallest movement a large movement in the view finder. It is often a struggle to fill your frame with a fish that is the size of a dime without cutting off a head or tail. Flawless buoyancy is critical for this style of photography. Needless to say, I had a blast shooting the critters with additional results at the bottom of this page. I’m already making plans to work with Randy again and conduct a photo workshop at Atlantis Resort in the future. If you think you might be interested in such a trip please contact me.
In closing, I can highly recommend Atlantis Resort Dumaguete for delivering a wide variety of diving with the macro subjects as the highlights. The resort is a finely tuned establishment with top-notch local talent who will make your stay a comfortable and enjoyable one. There is no shortage of underwater subject matter with over 1500 documented fish species found in the Dumaguete area; a list that will keep you happily diving and searching for all of them for a very long time.
The Mantis Shrimp is a hybrid of its name and considered one of the deadliest marine critters in the world due to its high speed talons that will kill its prey before it even knew what hit it. Some say the mantis shrimp can damage camera dome ports.
Waste is often used as refuge for many fish species such as this trunk fish.
Symbiotic relationships are often found in the Muck of Dumaguete. This Goby and its sidekick blind bulldozer shrimp help each other out. The shrimp builds the den while the Goby stands guard and warns the shrimp when danger is present.
Camouflage is often used by reef critters to protect themselves from predation such as this Ornate Ghost Pipefish.
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