Thursday, 31 May 2012

Rain? Time to get the macro lens out!

Well, it’s a rainy grey day out here in the middle of the sea, which actually makes a really nice change from the sunshine (yes I’m Scottish, yes I miss rain!), but as much as I enjoy shooting in the rain, with everyone hiding inside on their laptops and the wildlife pretty subdued it seemed a good time to get out the macro lens and try some specimen shots.

 Even the fulmars looked fed up with the weather

In order to get decent quality images of the animals we’re collecting with the ROV and the boxcores, I brought along a little 10L aquarium tank, a big strip of black cotton to surround it with and a couple of sheets of 2mm plexiglass to act as a sort of clear shelf inside the tank to support the animals (thanks to Millie Sharkey at Bristol Uni for her advice on the setup!). We set it up tonight in one of the outdoor labs and immediately entered into a bitter battle against the constant condensation forming on the glass... Once the cold room empties out a bit I’ll need to try and grab a space in there, but I’ll need to wait for the science to get done first.

I’ve only got one flashgun with me, so unless I can find some other sort of torch or waterproof lamp, I’ll be going for the side-lit look!  Anyway, here’s a few first attempts:

 An antipatharian (black coral)
Close-up of the black coral polyps

The underside and mouth of a pencil urchin

Lophelia coral (polyps retracted)

So it’s an all right start I think! Some of these have had a bit of work done to them in Photoshop to remove reflections from the glass and particles from the water, but otherwise they’ve only had the usual contrast and sharpening. If anyone has any handy tips for improving the lighting on these though I'd be really grateful! Chances are we're only going to have the one light source, but we can probably build more or less anything we need.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Wind, waves and wildlife!

Well, the good weather finally left us and we’ve had a grey and windy day today which has come as a bit of a shock to the system after all the sunshine we’ve been treated to the last week! Still, it’s great news for photographing seabirds though, as they seem to prefer a bit of wind for flying in to help them glide over the waves, or sit in the up draughts alongside our six-storey  ship. I must admit, it’s been great to be outside on the back deck shooting seabirds in flight again! I think the last time I was really able to stop and shoot seabirds was probably back in 2010 when I was working on the fishing boats. I’ve had a few trips in the meantime obviously, but I’ve been mostly shooting coastal birds for a while now and it’s brilliant to be back out with the gannets again.

The mystery of why there are so many birds around has been solved as well and it turns out that they’re all here making the most of the food waste that gets dumped from the kitchens. All our other waste is either recycled or incinerated on board to minimise the environmental impact of the ship while it’s working, so it’s only biodegradable waste that is put over the side. Still, it’s good enough for the fulmars and gulls, though it’s a little strange watching them fight over bits of watermelon

A gull making off with a chip. That’s a good traditional Scottish diet!

A group of fulmars congregating around the food waste

The fulmars are here in one of the largest groups I’ve ever seen around a ship and there are probably at least 100 of them following us around. I love how at home seabirds are in the oceans regardless of what the sea state is like and it’s great watching them shrug off breaking waves and strong winds like it’s nothing at all.

A fulmar splashing through a wave

A group of fulmars looking absolutely unfazed regardless of how tilty they get

And this one was so comfortable it tucked up and went to sleep

For a little while we were also joined by a few gannets which circled the ship for about an hour or so, gliding around the ship and floating in the air by the bows.

A gannet flying below the bows of the ship

More entertainingly, for some reason every time the gannets landed on the sea they would target a fulmar and force them to rush out of the way. I’ve no idea why they were doing this since nothing was feeding at this point, but I don’t know an awful lot about birds so if anyone else has any suggestions I’d love to hear them!

The gannets liked to use the fulmars as landing pads for some reason

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Wildlife over the Rockall Trough

So it’s another beautiful day at Rockall, where we are currently floating on our research ship about 200 miles to the west of the Outer Hebrides. Surprisingly, this area appears to be a far better site for wildlife watching than Mingulay was, and we are seeing large numbers of gannets, fulmars and kittiwakes around the ship. I’m never sure if they follow ships out here, or if we just happen to come across patches of them, but since these are all scavengers I wouldn’t be surprised if they were attracted in to see us.

A young gannet flying by

A fulmar swimming up for a closer look at the ship

 We’ve also had some surprising visitors to the ship as well, and picked up a large group of about 20-30 barn swallows last night which were as tame as anything and spent the entire evening posing for everyone with a camera! We were a bit concerned that they were only here because they’d been knocked off course, but it seems that some swallows will migrate from Africa to Greenland, so it’s possible we’re on their route. Certainly most of them seem to have disappeared this morning so hopefully they’ll be back on their way north for the summer.


Migrating barn swallows en route to the north. They all looked exhausted and were no doubt pleased for the short break.

More surprising than the swallows though was the appearance of a second pigeon (how do you get a pigeon 300 miles offshore?). Both birds are ringed racing pigeons and are (I believe) being fed and watered by the crew since it’s unlikely they’ll be leaving the ship now before we go home. If anyone knows what to do with them, I’ve managed to get partial numbers off their rings which seem to be:

Pigeon 1: (Green) SU10 3660L

Pigeon 2: (Blue) N273 

Anyway, if anyone knows how to contact the birds’ owners they might be interested to know their pigeons are currently enjoying a brief holiday.

Minke whale surfacing beside our ship

Finally, not to be outshone by a group of birds, we had our first whale sighting of the trip when a Minke whale surfaced right alongside the boat yesterday afternoon! I’ve seen a few Minke whales over the years, but I’ve never managed to get a single shot of one, so you can imagine I’m a bit pleased with how these came out!

Anyway, better get back to work watching the ROV dives. Catch you soon!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

New home for the Wild Ocean Photography blog

Welcome to my new blogspace!

After much debating, I've finally decided to make the move over to a dedicated blog hosting site to continue posting the news for Wild Ocean Photography since the functionality of the website template is great for photos, but not so great for sharing news and interesting updates. I'd also like to make this a bit more of a general blog where I can post about interesting bits of marine science and photography news and keep you more updated on the various outings I have with my camera. The old blog never felt like a great place to do that, so I'm hoping the move will help!

I'm intending to migrate all the existing (interesting) news stories over there in due course, but since that will take a little time to sort out you can still access the news archive for the Wild Ocean Photography posts via the news archive.

Hope you like the new setup and I'm looking forward to seeing what you all think!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Deep-Sea Science at the Outer Hebrides

So, after spending two years of my life working on the Isle of Lewis looking at fisheries bycatch I’m back in the Hebrides again doing deep-sea research. This time around we’re here for one week of a four week cruise investigating the effects of global climate change and ocean acidification on the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa (yes, Scotland has its very own coral reefs!). Or at least, that’s what everyone else is studying – my interest in this cruise is to collect video transect data from the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and use that to look at how fish use the reefs and surrounding areas as habitat.

The James Cook docked in Glasgow

Looking out from the JC bridge deck down the Clyde

Sunset over the Hebrides

So far things have been going pretty well, and it's been crazy busy with collecting samples, hosting a BBC film crew and school group from Benecula and dealing with the constant stream of video files coming out of the ROV! We had a few teething problems with the ROV during the first couple of days of the cruise, but they seem to have been more or less sorted out and we’ve been able to conduct some good long dives for sample collection and filming plenty of video footage for me to go through when we’re all back on land! I can’t put up any of the underwater images as yet since they belong to the cruise, but we should be putting a few up on the official cruise blog some time soon. In the meantime, I can share some of the surface shots of the gear we’re using.

This is our ROV and the most important (and expensive) piece of gear we have. With this we're able to collect precise samples, film everything we see underwater and even conduct experiments on the seabed.

Recovering the box corer. This piece of kit goes down on a winch cable and activates when it hits the bottom forcing the scoops closed and (hopefully) bringing us back up a big box of mud!

We did some maintenance work today as well for one of the long-term monitoring stations out here. This is the team preparing to put everything back.

As far as the wildlife goes, it’s been fairly quiet around the ship so far with relatively few sightings (which is a bit surprising considering that the perfectly calm weather we’ve been having is ideal for whale and dolphin spotting). Still, we have seen a few common dolphins and were visited by a basking shark a couple of evenings ago which was very cool!

Basking shark off Mingulay

I’ve been experimenting with taking some video footage with the 7D too, and I’ve got a few nice clips which I’ll get up online when I get home. Sadly the internet connection out here is far too limited to allow any kind of video upload, but to be honest we’re pretty lucky to get anything at all so I’m not complaining. We’ve also got a new mascot on board which doesn’t seem to want to leave the ship and has been here for about 3 days...

Anyone recognise this pigeon? It's still on board...

Anyway, we’re heading offshore now so the next update will be from the middle of the Rockall Trough (that’s about 200 miles west of Scotland).

The last land we'll see for 3 weeks. Could definitely be worse!