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Meeting Shaun the Sheep

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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One of our Christmas traditions is to sit down together and watch an Aardman Animations film. Shaun the Sheep has become an instant hit with all of us, and even more so, when images of his namesake nudibranch started to appear online. However, for some years now, we have looked, but never found these tiny, elusive nudis. Until now…

On a recent trip diving in the Philippines with Magic Oceans Dive Resort, our guide seemed perplexed that we had not seen one before. He promised to find us one on the very next dive and, perfectly on-cue, we were both excited to see him signalling to us within minutes of getting in the water. We approached carefully, as we were in a sea-grass area with a sandy bottom, and peered at the portion of greenery that he was aiming his pointer at. Neither of us could see a thing and signalled that we were perplexed. He pointed more carefully at a tiny speck of what looked like fluff, and gave the two-fingered signal for nudibranch. We looked more closely and more carefully – could this be the Shaun the Sheep, that elusive nudibranch? Yes! But, it was tiny and we had no idea that they were that minuscule!

Pointer to demonstrate how small they are

Our guide left us to work out how to go about photographing our new subject, while he looked for more. Soon he was back to say he had found two more. How he found any of them is a complete mystery to us. We also now have even greater respect for anyone who has ever taken a shot of this subject! We are not getting any younger, and the Shaun the Sheep nudibranch is made for young, sharp eyes. We were delighted to get a couple of decent photos from the dive.

There is something amazing about finding a species you have always wanted to see. Especially one that looks so much like an animated character you know and love. So, we were delighted to add this to our amazing list of dives on this trip. These tiny nudibranchs are only around 2mm in size, but along with their cute looks, are also quite amazing in another way: they can photosynthesize! The algae they feed on contains chloroplasts and these are assimilated into their own cells in a process called kleptoplasty. These are truly “solar-powered” nudibranches!

Image courtesy of Aardman Animations

We would like to thank Aardman Animations for allowing us to use one of their images of Shaun the Sheep to show you why the nudibranch has been given this name. The resemblance is uncanny!

Equipment Used:

Nikon D800; Nauticam housing; INON Z-240 strobes

Olympus OMD EM-1 mkII: Nauticam housing; INON Z-240 strobes; Nauticam CMC 2 macro lens


For more information please visit:

www.magicoceans.online

www.itsmorefuninthephilippines.co.uk

www.aardman.com

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Critter Diving in Dumaguete

Atlantis Philippines

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Words and Images by Marty Snyderman

While the term “muck diving” is one that would probably not pass a smell test with the marketing gurus on Madison Avenue, experienced muck divers know exploring the muck to be a featured attraction of diving in the water surrounding our resorts at both Atlantis Puerto Galera and Atlantis Dumaguete.

If you are new to diving or simply have not yet enjoyed the opportunity to muck dive, you might not be familiar with the term muck diving. Don’t let your lack of familiarity or the name turn you away. The term muck diving was first used to describe exploring areas where the bottom consists of black sand, mud and silt in sites that are often influenced by some current flow and a source of freshwater. Over the years the definition has expanded, and today the term muck diving is often used to describe dives over almost any area that has a soft bottom as well as dives around structures such as a pier or dock where the pilings along with discarded tires, bottles and other man-made objects combine to provide habitat and hiding places for all kinds of creatures.

Shrimp goby and shrimp on the sand

But it is not just the nature of the sea floor or number of species that one might see that has made muck diving so popular. It is the fact that many of the encountered creatures are so bizarre, amazing, different, and well adapted for their life style and their chosen habitat that they routinely leave divers in awe of what Mother Nature has to share. Creatures such as ornate, robust, and halimeda ghostpipefishes, shrimpgobies and their partner shrimps, strange-looking scorpionfishes, sea moths, skeleton shrimp, decorator crabs, stargazers, gurnards, frogfishes, cuttlefishes, seahorses, octopuses, and snake eels are daily fare in muck sites.

Paddleflap Rhinopias on the sand

In many muck diving areas, the bottom is not completely barren. Small patch reefs and anemones in the sand provide refuge for additional species of fishes, crabs, shrimps, lobsters, and squids etc. In short, muck diving can be crazy good!

The Muck Diving Experience

Napoleon Snake Eel in the Sand

For many divers the first time they look around after entering the water at some highly acclaimed muck diving site, their heart sinks as the surroundings do not bring the term beauty to mind. Drab is usually more like it, and upon first consideration most muck diving sites look boring. But you’ll be selling muck diving short if you judge this book by its cover. Just trust those that brought you to the site and go see what there is to see. Odds are you’ll be absolutely amazed.

Muck Diving Technique

A Hairy Frogfish uses its lure to attract prey on the muck substrate in Dumaguete

In many muck sites it is extremely easy to stir up the bottom and reduce the visibility with a single kick of a fin or the loss of buoyancy that causes a diver to crash into the sea floor. It is best to keep kicking and all other movements to an absolute minimum, and to achieve and maintain neutral buoyancy.

After that, it is “get low, go slow, be curious, and look closely” as you scour the bottom and any structure whether a soft coral, sponge, or debris such as a dead leaf or piece of driftwood on the sea floor. Take two looks at the slightest aberration. See something that looks just slightly different than its surroundings, and the odds are that you will be looking at some mind-blowing animal.

A Box Crab scurries before burying itself in the sand again

Be patient with yourself as you learn “how to look”. Divers that are new to muck diving almost always swim past subject after subject without spotting them during their first several muck dives. And they are almost universally amazed by the animals their dive guides spot. It is like the guides and new divers are diving in different oceans.

The key to the guides’ success is that they know where, how to look, and who they are looking for. Of course, gaining that expertise takes time. No doubt, their experience is a huge help. When you ask them how they do what they do, they are usually quick to tell you they “get low, go slow, remain curious, and look closely”.  And I’ll throw in a “have fun and allow yourself to be amazed by Mother Nature”.


Visit www.atlantishotel.com to find out more!

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Introducing Thresher Shark Indonesia

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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Thresher Shark Indonesia was founded in 2018. Their work aims to protect endangered pelagic thresher shark (Alopias pelagicus) in Alor Island, Indonesia through investigating the critical habitat, socio-economic importance of the species for the community and conservation outreach to local schools. They combine research and community engagement to inform policy decision for local protection of the species.

Thresher Shark Indonesia first documented thresher shark sighting around Alor diving sites, they began collecting movement information through satellite tagging studies, and also gained the perceptions about the fisheries dependency of thresher shark fishing. Thresher shark fishing in Alor was previously unknown to local government institutions. Their outreach activities have successfully been delivered to more than 500 Alor communities through radio, community events, and other engagements. This has shifted the perception of the local communities to the importance of conserving thresher sharks and valuing them as a local tourism asset in Alor.

Over the coming weeks we will look into the current projects of Thresher Shark Indonesia in more detail.

To learn more right now, visit their website by clicking here

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