Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Day Two; a complete loss of dignity

The weather was perfect, again. The sky was clear, the water at the Powell River marina glassy smooth, in deep, deep blues, the boats sleek and dazzling white in the sunshine. Beautiful, but our attention was focused downwards, in the shadow of the planks of the wharf. There, the clean lines gave way to straggly algae, dead weeds and oily scum.

Brand-new planking, grungy attachments, some alive, some dead.

Something slimy and bubbly, long fibrous growths (possibly colonies of diatoms), dust, and oil sheen.

Some of this fringe would be alive, and probably host to many tiny animals. I might have pulled some up to look at it more closely, except that the surface was oily. Later, dunking my little underwater camera, I discovered that it was sticky, too; I had to rub hard at the screen in between shots to be able to see it, and my hands ended up all gunky, so that I gummed up the other camera, too.

Still, it would have been interesting to see what's living there. Next time, I'll be more prepared. Gloves and bags and more cleaning rags will be in my kit.

Our destination points were the wells where the pilings anchor the floating dock.

Four barnacled pilings: what is under there?

 This is a difficult spot for photography; the water is about two feet below us, there are spots of deep shadow and stripes of bright sunlight. The oily, dirty water surface reflects the flash, making it unusable. I was glad I had remembered the little underwater camera.

Around the pilings, feeding on the seaweeds, were many small fish; perch and rockfish and others, unidentifiable in the shadows. Most stayed down near the bottom, but there were always a few nibbling at the barnacles near the surface.

There's something big down there, but I can't see it clearly. Higher up, the lumps are purple starfish.

On the underside, and sometimes the sides, of the big supporting beams, the big anemones grow. Last year, they were all opened up, brown and pink and white tentacles waving. This year, most were closed down.

Mostly anemones, mostly sleeping. That white bit of fuzz may be a worm, or a small anemone. The red fan in the background is a worm. Laurie climbed on a pile of rope, and dangled himself down precariously into the well to get this shot.

I have discovered, watching the one large anemone (plumose anemone, like these above) in my aquarium, that it is extremely sensitive to temperature. One or two degrees extra is all that it takes to make it shut itself down to a tiny, flattish, brown lump. I add ice to the tank, and soon the stalk swells upwards and the mouth opens wide. (The smaller anemones, the striped green anemone (the tentacles are cream), are much more tolerant; they feed while their big cousin is sulking.) I wonder what the water temperature was, and what is normal for that dock area.

Large anemone, closed down almost completely, but with an open mouth.

We were disappointed, not finding the photogenic anemones from last year, but we persisted taking photos, almost at random, since we could barely see what we were doing. I held the underwater camera at arm's length, facing this way, then that; I couldn't see the screen from above, but I held the button down halfway for a few seconds, then clicked. The flash went off, I pulled up the camera and looked at the (oily) screen; it worked! I got a fish! So I tried again, and again. Most of the photos were duds. But a few held wonders.

Unhappy anemones, tiny stuff, and a pair of red calcareous tubeworms, one feeding.

The mouth of a tubeworm. Disturbed, it pulls back inside and slams its red trapdoor (operculum). The cauliflower-like structure at upper right is a half-contracted anemone. This species is lobed; each lobe makes a "floret" here.

Dwarf calcareous tubeworms, like tiny, white macaroni stuffed with orange feathers. I think I saw a flatworm somewhere in there, too.

I don't know what these are. They look rather like scallops covered with algae.

Barnacles on a piling. I have seen this before, but never managed a photo: if the light is right, the open mouths show a bright red interior, probably due to their hemoglobin. 

At the end of the float, under the ramps (new and old), Laurie and I sprawl on our bellies, peering down at anemones on a pipe.

What else we saw, I'll show you on Saturday. Meanwhile, on to another town's beach, tomorrow.


  1. Thank you so much for posting these photos. I imagine you and Laurie might have risked life and limb in order to get them! I've often wondered about life on those pilings, under the water. I once spent hours on the dock, watching the barnacles and other fish.

    I'm looking forward to photos from the next beach...

    Have a great holiday!!

  2. Hee. Glad I'm not the only one ogling pier pilings in a desperate quest for rocky intertidal organisms. =) Once a biologist...

    One of my favorite photographs EVER of me is with my cousin (also v. tall and blond and biologist), taken from above us at Morro Bay. She and I had left the Shell Shop (death on display, for us) and escaped to the water, crawling over the rip rap looking for rocky intertidal goodies. Aunt took picture of us from above and we look like twins, both balanced on and staring down at the rocks, long skinny arms reaching out to cool stuff, happy. Immersed in the living. =)

  3. That's why you get so many great shots. You just keep at it. You must have been in the south harbour since they just put the locks on our gates in the north harbour. Wayne is spending the night on the boat tonight rather than the condo. He swears he can't sleep in that bed so now the boat makes a good other choice. - Margy

  4. My guess at those scallop-like things are a type of abalone - I saw them too a few years back, also on a pier, on a visit to the sunshine coast (and that's the only place I've ever seen them). I couldn't get a positive ID on them either, however.
    I saw one of your newer posts on my RSS, but it doesn't seem to be actually posted so I'll comment here; regarding the "splotches" that you photographed: when the flash is close to the lens in underwater photography, small water-borne dust particles will reflect that light readily. They appear round, not because they are round but because they are out of focus which rounds out the edges of the dust. To get around this, you can either turn the flash off, or position the camera as close to the subject as possible. I generally don't bother with the on-camera flash unless the water is very clear, or unless the subject is nearer than 60 cm to the camera.
    My other tip for a land-camera would be to put the camera as close as possible to the surface of the water: the camera itself will cast a sufficient shadow to decrease reflection.
    Great photos, and a lovely holiday.

  5. Tim, Thanks!

    That non-existent post was up for all of 3 minutes. I had clicked the wrong button, and immediately corrected my mistake. It will be up again later on.

    Dust was my first explanation. It wasn't until I saw the structures that I realized that at least some of the "dust particles" were jellies. I can see either the cross or the central blank and the outer rim of rays on them. Others could be dust, or copepods, or other tiny critters, although swimmers more often leave an oval shape.

    After your comment, I went back and looked at all the photos again, looking for what could be dust, and found a jelly I had missed. Nice!

    An off-camera flash would be a nice addition to my equipment.

    I like your tip of using the camera itself as a light shield. I'll try that.

  6. Tim,

    You were right. I experimented. With the same camera, I took flash photos in a large, black bucket of slightly dusty water. (I didn't wash the bucket first.) The photos showed the same round artifacts, some with the doughnut shape and a hint of rays.

    None of the cross structures appeared, though.

    I'm updating my post. Thanks for the help!


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