Saturday, 29 December 2012

Saturday of Interesting News - 29th December

Ok, so I meant for this to go up every Friday, but yesterday I was in Fort William attempting to snowboard at the Nevis Range (sadly the weather had other plans...!) so I'm running a day late on the links. Better late than never though?

Here's the weekly roundup:

National Geographic photograph a shark eating another shark whole!
Not exactly marine, but BBC's new documentary series 'Africa' starts on Wednesday 2nd Jan.

Marine Biology


Got any more news worth sharing? Send me an email at:

Sunday, 23 December 2012

New Zealand Part 4: Kaikoura

Kaikoura (click to enlarge) 

So for the final leg of my short trip, I headed over to Kaikoura for some more wildlife-watching and photography, via a lovely bay called Birdlings Flat.

The beach at Birdlings Flat (yes I got my feet wet).

Terns wheeling in the sunlight under the cliffs

Kaikoura is a little town on the east coast, but what makes it interesting from a marine point of view is the fact that the continental shelf edge lies very close to shore, so it's possible to get out into very deep water without having to travel very far. The consequence for this for wildlife is that you get a lot of oceanic and pelagic species close in to the coast so you can go out and see whales, dolphin and albatross without having to spend a whole day on the sea. Not that I would mind, but short trips are usually better for casual tourists, and the tour operators certainly make the most out of the commercial opportunities...

One of several whale-watching boats operating out of Akaroa.

The sperm whale's tail as it dives into the depths.

The boat trip in Akaroa with the Hector's dolphins was a really good one - the skipper and crew were dead friendly and provided us with a load of information about the dolphins, which were billed as the star attractions really, but then took us further on and told us all stories about the geology, local culture and went out of their way to find us more wildlife to see, pointing out all the seabirds as we passed. In Kaikoura, you have the choice of three tours - one for whales, one for dolphins and one for albatrosses. I went on the whale and albatross boats though the whale trip was a wee bit disappointing.

The sperm whale surfacing to recover itself after its deep dive to hunt.

Sperm whale snot!

We did see a sperm whale though and while the guides were very knowledgeable about the whales and told us a lot about their lifestyle and the habitat, they didn't make any real effort to show us anything else or tell us about the other wildlife in the region, even with loads of birds flying past us while we waited for the whale to resurface. It was certainly ok, but I would argue it probably wasn't worth the money in the winter months. Maybe when the humpbacks etc. come back in the summer they have busier trips, but as it was, it was a long time to sit on a boat waiting for a single whale!

A fairy petrel

A sooty shearwater

A great petrel
Terns nesting on the shore

The 'Albatross Encounter' was better and took us out as a far smaller group (there were only six of us on board). The skipper knew his stuff and kept moving us around to find the different species and made sure to help us get the best photographic opportunities as well which was cool. From my point of view, this was the first time I'd seen an albatross (and yes, they are MASSIVE!) and it was probably one of the best opportunities I've seen to get good images of pelagic birds. Usually to see petrels and shearwaters, you need to be far out at sea, which generally means you're on a big ship and elevated pretty far above the water. To be on a small vessel so really close to the water's surface was great (if a bit rolly!) and was brilliant for the photography.

We even came across a pod of dusky dolphins

Dusky dolphins swimming by the boat

Back on shore, Kaikoura has some gorgeous scenery and a beautiful coastline, where you can find plenty more coastal birds and seals if you spend a little time looking for them:

A dead tree on the shore at Kaikoura

A heron feeding in the rockpools

Sadly, Kaikoura was the last stop on my trip and after another short three days it was time to catch the ferry again and head home. All in all, I only managed to see a tiny part of New Zealand, but it is such a beautiful country I have no doubt I'll be going back again sometime (whenever I feel like I can face that horrendous flight again!) to see some more of the country and do a spot of diving!

Hope you all have an excellent break over Christmas and a brilliant New Year! See you all in 2013!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

New Zealand Part 3: Akaroa

The speed machine!

So after a couple of days in Abel Tasman, I headed down to Christchurch to pick up a hire car and then it was off to Akaroa, which is a small town nestled on the west coast of the South Island in the crater of an extinct volcano. The middle of the crater is well below sea level and is open to the south, which creates a large natural harbour (Akaroa in Maori means 'long harbour') which in turn makes it a great place to see a huge variety of coastal wildlife, even in the town itself.

Canada geese on the shore in the town.

A Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius) in a tree in the town centre. 

One of the attractions of Akaroa as a place to view wildlife is the presence of a pod of 1000 Hector's Dolphins, which are one of the smallest and rarest species of dolphins in the world and are exceptionally cute! So on my day in Akaroa I booked a trip out on a wildlife tour boat to go and see them for myself, and I wasn't disappointed! 

A Hector's Dolphin popping up to breathe.

Three Hector's Dolphins swimming by our boat.

And as well as the dolphins in the main harbour area, further out along the coast there was plenty more to see:

A spotted cormorant making a surface dive

A blue penguin. These little birds are extremely rare and skittish around the boats - we managed to sneak up  on this  one while it was on the surface between dives, but most didn't stay around long!

A male fur seal, snoozing regally on the rocks.

A mother seal sleeping near her new pup.
After a far-too-short couple of hours on the boat, we headed back to shore and I took the chance to drive around some of the little single-track roads running around the summit of the crater and out to some of the more hidden beaches around the outer coast of the peninsula. The views were absolutely stunning!

Looking out to sea from the summit road around the Akaroa peninsula.

Looking out to sea over Le Bons bay.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Friday of Interesting News: 21st Dec

So in the first edition of what I hope will be a regular occurrence, I welcome you all to the first Friday of Interesting News, where you can find out some of the fun and exciting things that have happened this week in the worlds of photography and marine science.

So without further ado, here we go:

Video of baby being attacked by an eagle was really a college assignment to create a viral hoax.
The storm over Instagram's apparent rights grab continues
Winners from the British Ecological Society's photo competition now online
Nature publish their Images of the Year
The story behind the 'Fish Tornado'

Marine Science
Millport Marine Station will close if they can't find alternative funding. Please show your support!
British efforts to drill into Lake Ellesworth in the Antarctic are on hold
Pygmy Right Whale may be a relic from a supposedly extinct family
The Discovery Channel have videoed a Giant Squid in its natural habitat for the first time! 
Injured coral? Expect less sex.
Humpback whales sing while feeding

And finally...
What do marine biologists wish for at Christmas? Twelve days of these please!
'Twas the Night Before Christmas... Plankton style!
Need a gift for that hard-to-buy-for relative? Maybe don't buy this...

Got any cool news for next week's roundup? Email me the link at

Thursday, 20 December 2012

New Zealand Part 2: Abel Tasman

Looking out to sea over a beautiful turquoise sea

So after arriving at New Zealand's South Island, I met up with one of my old friends from school and we had a bit of a drive out to Nelson and up along the north coast to the Abel Tasman National Park, which at 225 square km is New Zealand's smallest national park. It has some absolutely stunning scenery and beaches though and contains some of the most popular 'tramping' (hiking) trails in New Zealand, and is totally full of kayakers. We only had a day to spend there as we were heading inland later in the afternoon to Hamner Springs, so decided to get up early and get the water taxi from Marahau up to Bark Bay in the north and then walk down to Anchorage to catch the taxi back again.

Abel Tasman Park
Our tramping / water taxi route

There was a bit of wildlife kicking around as well, including a load of cormorants and a few fur seals, but we'll see more of them in later installments of the blog, so for now I'm going to show you some of the scenery instead. Enjoy!

Bark Bay (click to enlarge)

Torrent Bay at low water (click to enlarge)

Suspension bridge over a river

A hidden bay 

We did see a couple of unusual things though, including these stranded siphonophores. These are animals that are a bit like jellyfish but are actually colonial, so they're composed of several connected individuals which all specialise to perform different functions within the animal, much like how a hive of bees works, or an ant colony. Or the Borg I suppose. Anyway, the one we're most familiar with is the Portuguese Man-of-War back here, but I'm not sure what this species is. I know I didn't get stung by anything, so either they're relatively harmless or I got lucky!

A stranded siphonophore

After our whistle-stop tour of the National Park, I was deposited at Christchurch to collect my hire car and was set free to explore the north-east coast for the last few days of my trip, starting in a little town called Akaroa, which is situated in the crater of an extinct volcano...

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

New Zealand Part 1: Leaving Wellington

So that's me back home again after a fantastically fun trip to New Zealand for the Deep-Sea Biology Conference in Wellington and a ten-day holiday travelling around a bit of the south island before heading back home again for jetlag and Christmas! It's been a brilliant trip, with plenty of wildlife and some stunning scenery to photograph so without further ado, here are some of the highlights from the first week.

Week One: Wellington & the Deep-Sea Biology Conference

It was a pretty grey & windy week in Wellington! Click to enlarge.
The Te Papa museum

So my first week in New Zealand was spent in Wellington at the Deep-Sea Biology Symposium which I  wrote a little bit about previously. Most of the week was unfortunately pretty grey and windy which wasn't ideal for photography, even if I'd had the time to escape the conference to explore! By the end of the week, once the conference was over though it began to clear up and I had a quick half-day to run see a bit more of the city in in the sunshine before I had to catch the ferry to the south island to start my holiday!

The Wellington Parliamentary Library
Starting off at the parliamentary buildings, I wanted to find the botanic gardens. It should have been relatively simple, but I ended up wandering in a massive loop around the park before I found the cable car museum and the way in! Still, as hot and steep as the climb was it was certainly worth the effort, and even ticked another couple of Christmas presents off my list.

A blackbird in the botanic gardens

An aloe plant in the botanic gardens
A brief couple of hours later though and it was off on the ferry for a trip across the notorious Cook Strait (which was surprisingly almost flat calm) and off towards the south island to meet up with one of my friends for the next part of my explorations.

Leaving Wellington on the BlueBridge ferry

Looking across the north coast of the South Island

Friday, 7 December 2012

New Zealand and the 13th International Deep-Sea Biology Symposium

This has probably been one of the coolest and geekiest weeks of my entire professional life. Actually, possibly just of my entire life (star trek conventions don't count do they?). Anyway, before I forget too much of the last week in the whirlwind of jetlag, coffee, science, beer and giant squid that it's been, I thought I'd better do a wee recap of the last week in Wellington, New Zealand and of some of the highlights of the 13th International Deep-Sea Biology Symposium.

A long flight for science!

As any of you who've made the trip before will know, the direct flights from the UK to New Zealand are epic. Mine went from Glasgow - (1.5 hours) - Heathrow - (15 hours) - Singapore - (7 hours) - Melbourne - (2.5 hours) - Wellington with a couple of breaks, adding up to a glorious total of 30 hours in transit and which I'm pretty sure landed me well and truly in tomorrow. It was confusing. I'm not sure if it's the best way to start a meeting with a load of new-found colleagues and potential future employers either, but at least most people were in the same boat! Still, attempting to stay awake all day until a reasonable bedtime meant I got to see a fair chunk of the city the day before the conference started (if you're walking near traffic you're probably not going to be sleeping!).

A blurry 36 hours after landing, on what was apparently Monday morning, the symposium began with an address from the Wellington Mayor (who is cool) and a Maori (sing-along) blessing before launching straight into the science. And man was it awesome!

Some of my highlights (in no particular order):

James Cameron presenting his one-man submersible at the plenary session on Tuesday. 

  • I gave my my very first presentation as a deep-sea fish ecologist on the work we've been doing on the DELOS project! Go me!
  • James Cameron (yes, the guy who directed The Abyss and some other less-cool films) gave a plenary talk on Tuesday about his solo dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in Deepsea Challenger
  • Hadal research (>6000m) is all set to move forward with a brand new three-year project (HADES) to compare trenches to surrounding abyssal and bathyal regions to see just how different they really are. 
  • A new iPad app (iDeep) is in development through the INDEEP project to aid identification of deep-sea species.
  • Drs. Bhavani Narayanaswamy and Craig McLean are proposing the establishment of a brand new Deep Sea Society! Please contact them directly if you're interested in becoming part of the steering committee.
  • Thanks to my meeting Dr. Craig McLean I discovered that I'm only two degrees of freedom away from Joss Wheedon (via his Deep-Sea News connection)!
  • Work by Dr. Melanie Bergmann at the HAUSGARDEN arctic observatory suggests that the deep-sea may be a sink for litter as the amount of human garbage and plastics continues to rapidly increase at the seabed.
  • The value of predictive modelling in assessing species distribution patterns and figuring out how different populations may connect together over large distances was highlighted by several fascinating talks including by Dr. Kerry Howell and Dr. Ana Hilario.
  • According to Dr. Chuck Fisher's plenary presentation, the impacts of the DeepWater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2009 has impacted coral communities at least 11km away from the well, and possibly up to 25km, which is further than they thought the oil would reach...
  • Deep-water phosphate mining is a real and somewhat terrifying thing which involves dredging up the top c. 3m (1-6m) of seabed and taking it back to shore for processing.
  • According to modelling work presented by Dr. Dan Jones (NOC), the NE Atlantic (all around the UK coasts) could face massive declines in biomass of most taxa by the end of the century if global warming continues at predicted rates.
  • However, on the positive side, many countries and organisations are making real progress in establishing areas of ecological interest as a first step leading towards marine protected areas (MPAs) in the high seas.

And finally: An underwater volcano erupting around a survey ROV

There was loads more going on that I can't possibly hope to cover, but these were some of the things that I thought were particularly interesting. I'm sure I'll probably add to that list as all the information I've absorbed slowly filters into my brain! Anyway, I've got to repack all the stuff that has exploded out my suitcase before I check out and head to the South Island tomorrow for some wildlife spotting and a bit of relaxation before I have to face the flight home again for Christmas. Proper photographic updates will resume soon I promise!

Finally, thanks to everyone at the Deep-Sea Conference who made it such a good laugh, and I look forward to meeting all of you again in Portugal at DSBS 2015 if not before.

Friday, 23 November 2012

2013 Calendars: Last chance to pre-order

Each year for the last few years, I've put together a Wild Ocean Photography calendar for sale in time for Christmas, and this year is no exception. Unlike previous years though, next week I'm heading to New Zealand for a conference and a couple of weeks holiday so the deadline for pre-ordering calendars has been brought forward to this weekend. So if you're looking for a Scottish-wildlife themed Christmas present for the bargainous price of just £10 (+P&P) then you'd better get your orders in quick because I'll be placing the order with the printers on Sunday evening. There will be a few extras which you can pick up later if you miss the pre-ordering deadline, but there won't be many and once they're gone, they're gone!

The calendars are all A3 size and printed double-sided on high quality card with a silk finish. The proof copy looks really nice this year with the new design so I'm sure you'll not be disappointed!

For more information and to order yours, check out the calendars page on the WOP website at:

The designs for this year are:

Back cover