In my last blog for Sairee Cottage Diving I wrote about some of the various ways that certain marine life defend themselves and the hazards that this could possibly present to divers and, even more so, to underwater photographers. I also wrote about how underwater photographers can take advantage of some of these strange defense techniques to get better photos with out any risks to themselves or the marine life. This time I will be writing about how even the most subtle marine life behavior can give us clues as to when and how we can achieve better underwater photography.
With all wildlife photography we can greatly improve our shots by knowing when something rare or interesting is happening or about to happen, such as hunting or parenting behaviors. This is more important with underwater photography as we are limited on time due to the amount of air in our tanks. At first it will take time and patience to spot some of these subtle movements and actions. Despite being told about these behaviours they will still be difficult to spot by the untrained eye, however, over time and with plenty of practice they get easier and easier to spot.
Many fish and other marine life pick their breeding time based on the lunar cycle. Around the full moon each month the tides are at their strongest so this means that eggs or juveniles will get washed far away very quickly. This is a benefit for many species, as they want to spread out as far as possible so they are not fighting for food supplies and space with their own siblings. Also by all of one species breeding at the same time means that any predators that would eat the young or eggs are now overwhelmed by all of them at once and so could not possibly eat them all. This is often seen around Koh Tao with the Pink Anemone fish (Amphiprion perideraion) every month along with certain coral species.
Other habits of marine life are more common but less predictable. The various species of partner goby that we have around Koh Tao are always amazing to new divers because of the rare symbiotic relationship between the Goby and the shrimp. This on its own makes for an interesting photo but if you wait a while and let the Goby and the Shrimp get used to your presence you will see far more interesting things happen. The longer the goby fish sits there the more t appears to get bored and restless and begins to start to stretch its fins out showing off its most beautiful and usually hidden colors. Let them get even more comfortable with you patiently snapping shots and the goby will get hungry and hover a few inches above its hole in the sand as the shrimp tends to their home. As they hover they face into the current and open their mouth wide as particles float past for an easy meal.
To take an even better photo takes a lot of patience and a correct lens for an SLR camera. If you wait even longer with the goby then you may be lucky and see a Threadfin Dart fish that may also be living with them. These beautiful blue fish, usually in pairs, mirror each other’s movements as they dance about a few inches above the Goby. These extremely skittish fish act like an advanced warning to the Goby. They have the advantage of swimming higher up and constantly dancing with each other they keep a constant keen eye for danger. With just these little bits of knowledge about the goby shrimp partnership you now have three separate photo opportunities that are more interesting and show a more intimate personal side to the lives of these bug eyed sand dwelling fish.
I would also like to discuss the ways in which I would position myself in the water to take photo’s of one of my favorite fish…the Whale Shark. I have had the fortune to have being diving with these amazing creatures and every time I watch in amazement as groups of divers follow behind it as it swims at a fast pace. Divers will not be able to keep up with a whale shark even if its at a relaxed pace. When Whale sharks visit Koh Tao they tend to hang around the larger pinnacles for a while and, more often than not, swim in a large and wide figure of 8 over the top of the pinnacle. If you find yourself stuck behind a whale shark just look at the defined lines that run along the length of its body as these will tell you which way to head. These massive animals take a long time and a wide space to turn or change direction. When you see the lines along its body start to arch to one side stop swimming forward and head out at a 90degree angle to the side that its turning. Head out a bit and keep an eye on the whale shark. You will know when its time to stop and wait for it to swim straight towards you. I do this every time I see a whale shark and no matter how many divers may be in the water I always manage to get shots without any divers in the background.
These tips are specifically for marine life around Koh Tao but should translate to where ever you are. It also goes to show that a little prior knowledge about marine behaviour helps you get far better shots. This is even more important if you are on holiday and have limited time or money to pay for the dives you want to do. In the end knowing marine life behavior will egt you get more out of your dives, understand the underwater environment and best off all help you get far better pictures.