Fish communication

Fish Communication

Fish aren’t traditionally perceived as having personalities, but they’re anything but the dumb automatons that our ancestors would have us believe.

Underwater organisms don’t have the facial musculature that we as primates have evolved. Quite simply they haven’t needed it, therefore they haven’t acquired it through natural selection.  However they have  been evolving and surviving on this planet for over 500 million years.

And they do communicate to each other.

How do fish sense each other?

In a Darwinian world where survival is paramount, the lateral line has become their first defense and sensory organ. This first level of communicating allows the individual to feel what’s around it. The layer of sensory cells that run along the flanks of most fish, detect the pressure changes in the surrounding environment. This system has evolved to the point where fish react with an almost simultaneous motion to an external stimulus.

silver fish

school-silver-fish-evade-predators-footage-007763027_main_xl.mp4

How do fish school in such dense numbers without colliding?

Fish have a sensory barrier around them, a kind of bubble that they can perceive. This bubble is squashed as objects or animals move around the individuals perception. They can sense their immediate surroundings in this fashion.

Some fish such as the freshwater knife-fish even generate electric fields. These fields are influenced by their surroundings, especially other animals, and the knife-fish react to that reflection of their own electric field and use it to locate prey.

Sharks have an extremely sensitive network of electroreceptors that can detect the smallest electric fields from other animals.

Vision is also important in the depths of the ocean especially in the upper Euphotic zone (where photosynthesis can occur). Most of the longer, lower energy wavelengths are lost quickly, absorbed by the water column. Red light disappears first, then orange, then yellow… leaving only blue as you descend to the furthest depths of the Photic zone (The depth that light can penetrate through water).

How do fish display their intentions?

Contrast over actual color makes a big difference at depth and aquatic animals can use that to their advantage to display their intentions. Humbolt squid for example can change their entire body from red to white and back like you can flick a light switch. They do this at depths far beyond red light can be seen (200m-700m) so appear in this twilight world as if they are going from black to white like individual morse code signals. What they are saying to each other is beyond our understanding.

Closer to the surface we have fish species that utilize many more frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum including the ultraviolet wavelengths.

underwater fish
The stripes behind the eyes of this saddleback Toby reflect ultraviolet wavelengths.

On a more day to day scenario, most SCUBA Divers and snorkelers who pay attention will have noticed that some species of reef fish can have drastically different colourations. Take the Big eye crescent tail as an example.

school of silver and red fish
The red phase can bleach out to a silver within seconds

When it’s calm an individual will be a deep red, when stressed it can bleach to a silver. Similarly when fish such as the Big-nose Unicornfish visit cleaning stations they can display complex patterning only for it to fade to black once the fish swims away.

When fish think about sex

During spawning aggregations many fish species undergo drastic color changes that signal their readiness to participate. The bumphead parrotfish are pretty obvious during their aggregation as their heads bleach white from the usual green.

Bumphead Parrotfish spawning coloration
Bumphead Parrotfish spawning coloration

In the Caribbean, Nassau groupers migrate in groups to their annual spawning grounds and are often led by an individual who sports a drastically different body patterning. Once at the spawning site they all adopt an even more extreme color change. For further reading see this article.

Bohar Snappers have a variety of different colorations during their spawning aggregations, sometimes two small white spots appear on their dorsal area, others adopt a bleached blue hue rather than their usual russet red. Others adopt a mixture of the two with a red belly, a white stripe down their flanks and a bluish dorsal area. As I pour over the many spawning rushes I’ve filmed of this species I cannot see any distinguishable pattern in whether a female adopts a certain body color prior to her egg releasing rush.  A pattern may emerge after further observations though.

See this clip of a small group interacting in preparation for spawning. The female with the broken dorsal fin is being nudged by a number of males. Maybe this nudging is meant to initiate her egg releasing rush. Maybe it’s the males trying to ascertain if she is ready or not….?

Bohar snapper spawning aggregation
Bohar snapper spawning aggregation

For a really in depth look at this behavior and other similar color changes seen during spawning, Tony Wu has written an excellent series of articles that are well worth a read.

Additional articles and films of Palau’s spawning aggregations can be found here.

Communication between species

It has been shown that fish communicate between species. In the case of the Grouper and Moray Eel, the Grouper will shake it’s head next to the Eel to signal an intention to start hunting. The strategy has been shown to be more successful at catching prey. 

fish communication
Grouper, Moray cooperative hunting. Palau
Underwater acoustics in fish

Underwater acoustics is not just the tool of marine mammals, many fish  are also extremely vocal. Have you ever swum over a reef and heard all the clicking noises? This is a medley of fish and crustaceans each with their own message. Usually the message is “this is my territory, keep out”. Sound is an extremely useful form of communication in the aquatic environment as sound travels much further than light. A fish can remain hidden whilst  letting an intruder know that it’s encroaching. Groupers often growl or rumble from within their hiding place. The behavior across a multitude of species was documented here and demonstrates the rich complexity in coral reefs.

Can we talk to fish?

So in conclusion, whilst fish and other aquatic organisms like cephalopods might not be able to convey their intentions through facial cues like we can, they are extremely in tune with and aware of their environment. They are able to send messages that even other species can understand. The fact that we might not be able to understand them is perhaps our failure rather than theirs.

Have you had any interesting interactions with aquatic wildlife? I’ve not begun to get started with the marine mammals here, whole different kettle…..so there’s still a load more to talk about. Feel free to leave a comment in the section below. Do you know the difference between a head nod and a shake in Moray Eels, can you predict when a Stingray is about to lift up and depart from it’s resting place? So many more topics and examples for the future.

For more info on filming underwater  and learning about your subjects this article may well be helpful.

Until next time, Cheers!

Richard

 

References

http://jeb.biologists.org/content/216/13/2515

The evolution and development of vertebrate lateral line electroreceptors

Clare V. H. BakerMelinda S. ModrellJ. Andrew Gillis

Behind the scenes of Marine Sanctuary Enforcement in Palau

Palau Marine Sanctuary enforcement is not a simple task. The EEZ is over 600,000 km2, roughly the size of France. The effort to enforce Palau’s National Marine Sanctuary is stepping up a notch to meet this demand.

The worlds oceans are overfished to the point of species extinction and ecosystem collapse. It becomes increasingly important to prioritize sanctuaries and no take zones. But there are those that will fish illegally regardless of the laws in place. In response to this the Republic of Palau has continued to increase it’s capacity for Policing it’s National Marine Sanctuary.

My Role

In my capacity as a media producer I can help document this effort to raise awareness.

Now with the latest surveillance operation concluded I thought I would share some photos of the aerial component.

The Mission

We fly with Pacific Mission Aviation in a Beech Queen Air Excalibur. Daily sorties go out and conduct searches over vast tracts of ocean within Palau’s EEZ. The patrol boats are in the area but cannot cover such a huge area in the same time. Having a spotter plane greatly increases the effectiveness of the patrol boat.

The hatch in the tail of the aircraft allows an observer to take high resolution photos of suspected illegal fishing boats. The photos of suspected vessels can be used as evidence in court. Each flight lasts about 6-9 hours and does an expanding square pattern out from a central point determined by visibility and altitude. Alternatively a parallel search pattern is employed  along the edge of the EEZ.

All eyes are pealed as we search
Aerial observation from 2000ft

My job apart from being an observer is to provide documentary evidence of these missions. In an attempt to obtain compelling B-Roll  we employed GoPros attached to key parts of the aircraft.

See some examples of footage from that here

Part of this media production is for promotion. For one particular joint exercise the remit was to include the aircraft in a shot with 3 patrol boats in formation. It was proposed that we have a GoPro attached to the wing looking back at the aircraft. The plane would then fly just in front of the boats in formation.

We trialled it first with just the housings attached and found the mounts were not strong enough when the aircraft flew above 150Knots. The result…we lost both the housings. So we took to bolting the cameras directly to the aircraft. This time around they survived and did so with minimal vibration and rolling shutter issues. We are continuing to develop this system to improve imagery with every sortie.

The above video shows how precisely the pilot maneuvered the plane for the shot. Before take off we set up a WiFi link to an iPad inside the plane so the pilot could see in real time the view from the camera. At one point the plane was close to 70 ft above the water doing over 100mph banking at 45 degrees…..quite a rush.

After the promotional flight, the three ships made way to different parts of the EEZ. Two apprehended illegal fishing boats loaded with illegally caught fish found and boarded.

The operations continue into 2018 with further successes and apprehended illegal fishing boats.

Plastic Pollution in Pristine Palau

Reality Check

Even in Palau Plastic Pollution is becoming a serious problem. Whilst filming on location in one of Palau’s most beautiful locations of  Kayangel the other day it was horribly apparent what a enormous issue it is. I put together this short film on what we found there.

 

We are killing our environment

Human activities are impacting everywhere on the small fragile planet, from the deepest oceans to the upper atmosphere. By far the biggest cause is the sheer number of people. Population control must be tackled immediately if we are to have any hope of bringing other environmental problems to acceptable or sustainable levels.

plastic pollution

Our species consumes so many natural resources and creates so much pollution, it is literally killing it’s own environment. Just like anything that lives beyond it’s environments ability to support it, we will die off as the environment we need to survive fails.

Our oceans are filling with plastic. So many millions of single use bottles. How many can you see in the above image alone?

Watch the film above and listen to the admittedly windy dialog, but the message here is that we should be aiming to cut down on those single use plastic containers. Bottled water or drinks are one of the biggest contributors. Please think about purchasing reusable bottles and taking them with you. If you think that the above photo is just a couple of square meters of one beach the unbelievable scale of this problem might begin to dawn on you. Please make the effort to cut down on your plastic use. This issue is not going away.

A friend of mine recently wrote a blog post on her efforts to cut down on plastic usage, read it here.

Check out this link for positive thinking companies in Indo who specialize on lowering their impact on the World.

For more information about filming in Palau on location scouting visit our web page or contact us here

Cheers

5D3 and 4K with Magic Lantern…

4K Raw Footage

4K raw footage internally recorded in a camera is usually restricted  to high end cinematic cameras like RED and Arri.

But in this day of firmware hacks and open source programs the realm of Raw is available on cameras that cost  a couple of thousand dollars or less.

I don’t know how many out there are still using this combination, I feel….. I know, on my island, I’m the only one, and that makes me nervous but excited at the same time.

I love the bleeding edge. I don’t have the money to gamble a test on my own $2.5K camera body with new firmware on a regular basis, but will bite the bullet once some guinea pigs have gone first….

What gets me though is the latitude inherent in the 5D3. It seems that Canon put a C700 system in a DSLR body and restricted it, but at the same time left the door open…

That was what I was gambling on when I bought into this system because it does some incredible things to an already impressive camera. I use this combination almost exclusively underwater.

Check out this article I wrote for the dive photo guide.

If you’d like to see more insights into how to become a professional Underwater Cameraman see this article.

Super 35mm 4K comes to Canon 5D Mark III in new Magic Lantern module – IT’S REAL

Full credit to the guys who work the code. Hats off to you A1ex and co.

 

Regards and thanks

 

Richard

 

 

New film project started today in Kayangel

Film Palau

There is one place that I would like to film more than anywhere in Palau.

This is the northern reefs and atolls of Kayangel.

And I just got back from filming up there and wanted to share this with you:

Film PalauThis image is created from 7 photographs stitched together and was shot via a drone during our lunch break on the 2nd closest island. Great conditions prevailed after a stormy night but we went up to Kayangel to do some pre-production scouting and subject tests for a new project based on these northern reefs and islands of Palau.

I could not have asked for a better start.

Watch this space to see how this project develops and this initial film from our discoveries there.

If you’d like to find out more about the work being done by the Ebiil Society see this link

Cheers

Richard

Slow shutter speed using ND filters for Time-lapse

Why use ND filters for Time-lapse?

I’ve been struggling with creating a good panning time-lapse using Circular Polarizers since…well since I started using the combination. The sky is never consistent and the darkening effect uneven.. So I invested in a professional level ND filter system from Lee, a UK based filter company.

It’s not cheap to start but the quality is incredible. There is no colour cast on the image, all the filters do is limit the light. This means I can either open up the iris for really shallow depth of field or keep the shutter open for much longer and still have a properly exposed shot.

This shutter dragging is what I’ve been looking for with Time-lapse sequences and the Lee system allows me to stack multiple filters together to really dial in the effect. The system also allows me to start with say 3 filters then as the sun goes down I can remove them one at a time whilst adjusting the camera’s exposure to transition from day to night.

Yesterday was the first field test so I packed my gear and headed for one of Palau’s secluded waterfalls.

Using a 0.75 filter I could drag the shutter to 1.3 seconds blurring the water nicely.

 

Time-lapse photographyWatch this space for more insights into these freshwater environments or check out this section of my portfolio for creatures I’ve already filmed at other waterfall and freshwater locations in Palau.

This showreel contains Time-lapse footage shot with both the Little and Big Stopper filters from Lee, find their website here.

 

Cheers

 

Richard

Winged Ambassadors of Palau

Protecting Migratory Shorebirds in Palau

Many thousands of migratory shorebirds stop-over in Palau to rest and feed, one of them is the Whimbrel. In Palau it is called the Okak. The Okak has a larger much rarer cousin, the Far Eastern Curlew, so rare only around 5 birds get spotted here each year. This is the largest species of Curlew and is also know in Palauan tradition as the money bird. The story goes that it visits these shores and leaves gifts behind. It swallowed traditional money and flew to parts of Palau, where if it was left to settle and not disturbed it would eventually defecate out the money and the residents would become rich.

You can find the symbols all over traditional meeting housings and Government buildings.

The Delerok or Far Eastern Curlew or Money Bird in Palau
The money bird as depicted on the Capital Building, Melekeok.
Camera gear for filming birds

Today I utilized my new canon 70-300 lens coupled to a 2x teleconverter and managed to get some nice stable footage of this Whimbrel even at full zoom. The Image stabilization of the canon lens is amazing!

migratory shorebirds palau
The Whimbrel also known as the Okak
Wildlife conservation in Palau

The NGO spearheading this initiative to raise awareness about the plight of these birds is the Palau Conservation Society but this is far from the only work they do. See their website for more information and how to help them achieve their goals.

Palau Conservation Society commissioned me to make a film highlighting the status of Palau’s migratory shorebirds and for about 9 months we collaborated with local bird and conservation experts to create this film which is being shown across Palau:

10 things I’ve learnt from 10 years of Media Production in Palau

Media Production Palau

I’ve been a Media Producer in various guises in Palau for 10 years now, initially as an underwater cameraman with a little bit of topside work thrown in, then diversifying into Time-lapse, run n’ gun, aerials (drone and aircraft), interviews etc.

Palau has changed a lot in those 10 years and this has made me change with it.

Here are 10 things (actually 11) I’ve learned about Media Production in that time:

So many cameras
  1. Now more than ever people have cameras, as a dedicated cameraman I’m being squeezed by the ready availability of cameras. Everyone over the age of 5 seems to have one (gross over generalization, I know). So now more than ever I have to be inventive with my imaging, flexibility and the old cliche of thinking outside the box are more important than ever before. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques, think about a sequence or image you want to acquire, no matter how crazy or impossible it first appears to be, then work out how to do it. Dare to be different.
aerial media production
Go Pro sticky pads are very sticky….I’m in the cabin with a WiFi feed to my iPad directing the pilot for good framing…..
Underwater Time-lapse
Underwater Time-lapse of Coral Bleaching using a firmware hack to provide my Canon with an intervalometer, repeat visits over a 4 month period.

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Why you should dive Balicasag Island

Should you find yourself in the Bohol/Panglau region of the Philippines and you’re a diver, there is a place I can thoroughly recommend. Even if you’re not a diver, this place could possibly persuade you to be one.
Every dive shop in the area offers trips there, because it is so good, it’s unavoidable in fact I would say. As soon as the weather is good enough they said, “we’ll go”.
So, with a recommendation like that and a shop like Philippine Fun Divers providing me with good rental gear, a great boat taking me there and expert guides I couldn’t really refuse.
Good thing I didn’t, because even though the weather was still a bit….”marginal” the diving was anything but that.
Once the Banka boat had approached the low lying sand fringed island, myself and the 2 other divers got geared up, had a briefing from our DM Greg and we got in. Almost immediately I’m seeing stuff I’d not seen before or multitudes of critters I see rarely. One of my favorites is the little Tobies or Pufferfish.

The little Tobies and Pufferfish often have highly reflective markings that when hit by your lights really shine.

Continue reading “Why you should dive Balicasag Island”

Palau’s Extreme Reefs

Expedition Palau

Palau’s northernmost island Ngurangel and it’s southernmost Helen Reef are separated by little over 400 miles of island peppered ocean but are remarkably similar. Both are low lying sandy features surrounded by huge atoll reefs which makes them a haven for both marine and bird life. Their isolation is what makes them so special.

Helen Reef

Helen reef  is a long thin spit of land, sparsely vegetated. It has a resident population of 4 rangers, 3 dogs and about 5000 sea birds.  The rangers have their own accommodations and  keep an eye out for illegal fishing activities. It lies closer to Indonesia than it does Palau’s capital Koror.

Continue reading “Palau’s Extreme Reefs”