Steven Smeltzer

My goal is to provide photographs that allow the viewer to "get into the image" to live and experience the moment vicariously through images which highlight the beauty and fragility of our environment I have spent over 30 years traveling globally and creating images of Europe, Africa, South America, North America and Asia and I want to share those images and experiences with others. Sit back, enjoy and soak up the experience and/or visit my Website or Blog and/or follow me on Twitter for more inspiration from around the world.

Homepage: http://www.stevenwsmeltzer.com

Candy Cane Shrimp off the Sheraton reef on Maui.  I shot this photo on a night dive at about 40 feet.  The image was taken with a Nikon D90 using a Sigma 17-70 macro lens on a Nikon D90 zoomed to 70mm.

Candy Cane Shrimp (Steven Smeltzer)

Candy Cane Shrimp, Maui Hawaii, Sheraton reef

I love night dives.  This is the opportunity to see many marine species that you do not encounter during the day.  It is also a chance to see how the reef both sleeps and hunts.

Moray eels prowling the reef.  Turtles wedged between rocks to sleep. Sharks on the prowl.  It is a wonderful experience.

The Candy Cane Shrimp is a colorful shrimp that inhabits the reef and can provide some very interesting photographs.  I like the way the shrimp’s eyes reflect the reef.  They seem to be somewhat curious and alien.  In fact, the eyes of marine life make very interesting studies and provide great subject matter for photographs.

Check out other marine life photographs on my website.

The pool is open…..

All is quiet as the waves gently lap against the hull.  The wind is blowing lightly and we sit in anticipation, watching and waiting.  We know that they are there, beneath the surface, swimming just out of sight.  We see distant plumes of mist as they surface to breath and we wait. There are muted conversations around the boat as we strain to find the light-blue discoloration on the surface of the water that marks their presence. Or look for their tails as they swim on the surface and then dive or search for that plume of mist as they breath.  They are the gentle giants of the ocean.  Magnificent creatures that captivate the imagination.

Humpback Whale breaching, Megaptera novaeangliae. Maui Hawaii (StevenWSmeltzer.com   (949)290-6367)Suddenly just off the port side of the boat, he comes, a magnificent breach, displaying the raw power and agility of this wonderful creature.  He rises swiftly into the air, spins and lands with a thunderous crash.  The boat rocks from the impact of massive body against the surface of the ocean as everyone on the boat loudly exclaims the absolute joy of the moment.  For a brief period of time we are one, sharing a bond, rejoicing together in the day.  It is pure joy. Joy in the day, pleasure in the ability to rise out of the water, to proclaim to the world that I am here and life is worth living.

Seeing a Humpback whale breach almost gives me chills.  There are many theories on why they breach, but the one I subscribe to is that they like it! You can almost see it in the small calf as he tries to rise out of the water or the might adult as he flies out of the water almost screaming with pleasure.  It is definitely a most joyous moment and one I am inclined to believe that these whales really like to breach.  It is fun!

 

 

 

 

The Humpback Whale is one of the most interesting whales to “watch”.  These giants inhabit many of the worlds oceans.

 

It is that time of year……

Manta Ray Gill Slits

Manta Ray view of gill slits

DEMA 2014 is just around the corner in Las Vegas from Nov. 19 – 22.  The Ocean Artist Society will have a large dedicated space for displaying artwork from various members and Wyland is planning to exhibiting the entire permanent fine art collection featuring many of the 262 current members. It is an amazing collection of paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other works of art that reflect our members’ vision and commitment to the conservation of our ocean.

 

According to organizers, the art show will be the largest, most comprehensive gathering of works from top ocean artists in DEMA history. “The idea behind the Ocean Artist Society began at DEMA,” says renowned artist and conservationist Wyland, who founded the OAS with Guy Harvey and Bob Talbot in 2003. “This showcase at DEMA, sponsored by SCUBAPRO, will put a spotlight on the very best work from the world’s most gifted artists.”

“Gill Rakers- Verge of Extinction” will be one of the photographs on display from the Steven W Smeltzer collection, so if you are in Las Vegas at the DEMA show please take the time to review this amazing collection.

Humpback Whale breaching, Megaptera novaeangliae. Maui Hawaii (StevenWSmeltzer.com   (949)290-6367)The Great Whales.  Beautiful, graceful, intelligent, magnificent!! How can you describe these marvelous creatures as they leap high-into the air or perform graceful ballets beneath the waves and on the surface. Great Whales, also known as Rorquals, include: Blue Whales, Gray Whales, Fin Whales, Sperm Whales, Humpback Whales, Right Whales, Bowhead Whales, Bryde’s Whales, Mink Whales, and Sei Whales.   Great Whales hold a unique place in the minds and hearts of people around the world.  They have played and continue to play important roles in many cultures.  Their sheer size captures the imagination of anyone who has been privileged to see or interact with them.  Yet man’s interaction and exploitation of these creatures, especially during the period of commercialized whaling from the late 1700’s to the mid-1950’s  had driven many whale species to the brink of extinction.  However, with the help of the international community and concerned individuals, many of these whales are seeing ongoing patterns of growth.  Yet much still needs to be done to ensure the continued survival of these awesome creatures.

The greatest threats today, to most Great Whale population groups, are vessel strikes and Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus, Dana Point, California (Steven W Smeltzer)entanglement in fishing gear and the nations that still hunt whales commercially.   The endangered Fin whales are targeted by Norway and Iceland while,  Japan, under the guise of “scientific research”, uses two whaling fleets to hunt and kill whales in significant numbers including Minke Whales, Bryde’s Whales, Sei Whales and Sperm Whales.  The whale meat is sold by these “scientific expeditions” in the market or is given away to encourage the continued consumption of whale meat.  Other countries such as Canada, Greenland and Indonesia allow native populations to hunt Great Whales, but in a highly restricted number annually.

Atlantic Blue Whales, of which there are approximately 500 individuals, and the Northwest Pacific Gray Whales, of which there are approximately 150 individuals need Gray Whale, Eschrichtius robustus, Eastern North Pacific Gray Whale,Whale Migration (Steven W Smeltzer)substantial support from conservation efforts if they are going to see their populations return to sustainable levels.  The other endangered whale species also need continued intervention or they, too, will become critically endangered and could be lost to us forever. Whether you are a politically conservative or liberal is not the issue for whale conservation.  These mammals are a precious resource to our planet and we must act responsibly to ensure their ongoing viability.

Conservation Status of the Great Whales:

Critically EndangeredEndangeredVulnerableLower risk (conservation dependent)Lower risk (least concern)Data Deficient
Blue whale (Antarctic)Blue whaleBlue whale musculus subspecies - Atlantic populationBlue whale (North Pacific) Bowhead whaleBryde's whale
Gray whale Northwest Pacific populationFin whaleSperm whaleBowhead whaleHumpback whaleAntartic Minke whale
North Pacific right whaleGray whale Northeast Pacific populationGray whale (species)
North Atlantic right whaleSouthern right whaleCommon Minke Whales (stable population)
Sei whale

More information regarding the Great Whales population and conservation effort is available at NOAA Fisheries, the International Whaling Commission, the Animal Diversity Web, and the IUCN websites.

 

Silent……………Graceful……………Powerful……………

Hammerhead shark, MolokaiMany words can be used to describe the Scalloped Hammerhead Shark.  This apex hunter cruses about coastal warm temperate and tropical seas in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans between 46°N and 36°S from the surface to depths of 1,000 meters.  It may enter estuaries or be found in the open ocean, in large groups in the Galapagos, Malpelo, Cocos and Revillagigedo Islands and within the Gulf of California.  In Hawaii, on the island of Molokai, you can find groups of up to 60 or 70 sharks.  However, at Molokai you are more likely to see solitary individuals or perhaps small groups of 4 to 10 sharks.

In March, I was diving with Lahaina Divers on Molokai and had one of the best shark dives ever, interacting with almost 40 sharks over the course of two dives.  This dive site, off of Moku Ho’oniki rock on Molokai, is one of my favorite dive sites anywhere in the world.  I have made dozens of dives on this site and while I thoroughly recommend it, it is not for the average recreational diver.  While on many occasions this site can be reasonably calm (I have seen it where the surface is almost glass) it is one of the most unpredictable dive sites that I know.  In fact, I have been waiting to get Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)picked up by the dive boat, at this site, when I am literally looking down on the boat (a two decker by the way) from the top of a wave.  The seas here can reach 10 feet in height or more and requires the diver to be experienced,  confident, under control and above all willing to adhere to instructions given by the dive master and boat captain.  If you are a novice diver, do not attempt to do this dive.  I have seen inexperienced divers, break ribs and have extreme difficulty reentering the dive boat.  So again, this is not a dive site recommended for anyone other than an advanced diver that has previous experience exiting and entering a dive boat while it is moving.

However, this is an awesome dive site.  The drop off location is called Fish Rain, and has a depth of 30 to 40 feet at the entry point and as you descend and look up you will think it is literally raining fish.  They are everywhere, the Hawaiian Dascyllus, all kinds of Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Moorish Idols, and many, many more.  Dozens of individuals to large schools of Hawaiian Dascyllus, Dascyllus albisella, Rainbow / Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse, Labroides phthirophagus, Randall, 1958, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)schools of many types of fish inhabit this very unique environment.  The site is to a depth of about 120 feet.  The sharks can be found anywhere from a few feet from the surface to cruising about along the bottom.  The site can have severe current, that can cause the inexperienced diver to rapidly consume their air supply. So again, this site is not for inexperienced divers.

When interacting with any shark, the key is patience.  The Hammerhead shark in particular, is a fairly shy species and if you swim rapidly toward the shark you will more than likely not see much more than a brief glimpse.  I have been on this site several times when an over anxious diver swims rapidly after every shadow they see and the rest of the divers do not see any sharks at all.  However, if you are patient and slow in your approach you may be rewarded with a wonderful encounter.

On this particular dive, we entered at Fish Rain, in the “shadow” of Moku Ho’oniki that provides a fairly calm spot to exit the dive boat.  As we descend I tend to stay on the outside shoulder of the dive master and about 30 to 50 feet from the nearest diver in the group.  I am constantly looking out and down, hunting for the elusive Hammerhead.

In the distance is see several shadows coming in towards me at about 80 feet.  I was hovering around 45 feet and dropped down slowly to “intercept” the group.  As I was waiting for the group to get in range I looked Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Sphyrna lewini, Molokai Hawaii, Moku Ho'oniki Rock (StevenWSmeltzer.com   (949)290-6367, Steven W SMeltzer)back to my outside shoulder away from the rest of the divers and got a wonderful shot of this solitary shark coming in to check me out.  I can tell this is going to be a wonderful dive.  This particular individual swam with me at a distance of 10 to 15 feet from me for about 2 minutes and then gradually disappeared in the distance.  I move quickly back up to about 50 feet to conserve my bottom time feeling awesome.  We continued to drift with the current, which was really moving at this point, spotting several groups of 3 to 4 individuals and one group of eight sharks.  I about 35 minutes into the dive, I saw another individual at about 100 feet and quickly dropped down to see if I could get some interesting shots.  The black and white Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Sphyrna lewini, Molokai Hawaii, Moku Ho'oniki Rock (StevenWSmeltzer.com   (949)290-6367, Steven W SMeltzer)image above is of this shark at about 120 feet and while I was descending through about 100 feet.  As I dropped down I kept checking around me and saw that four other individuals had now come fairly close to me from behind.  I was able to get a nice shot of the “school” and when I turned back the other way there were six shots directly in front of me and a couple about 10 feet above me.  Yahoo, what an awesome experience to encounter these marvelous creatures.   I slowly started to ascend, to keep my computer out of deco, and watched as each of these groups faded slowly in the distance.  During our two dives we counted well over 50 individual sights and estimate that we saw at least 35 individuals.  It was an awesome dive and keeps me wanting to go back for more.

The pool is open.

Manta-Ray-Gill-SlitsFollow the attached link to view the Ocean Artist Society’s new video, Reasons to Dance promoting the conservation of Manta Rays.  There is much work to be done to protect these magnificent creatures.  http://www.oceanartistssociety.org/?page_id=249

As an Ocean Artist Society member, this film and ezine are both important and informative.  We can only protect and help manage our resources if we have knowledge and understanding.  Hopefully this film and ezine provide you with both.  Manta Rays Kona Hawaii, Manta birostris, (Walbaum, 1792), Kona Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

The Oceanic Manta Ray, Manta birostris, can be found in the world’s major oceans from roughly 30 south latitude to Oceanic Manta Ray Rangeapproximately 40 north latitude.  Though these rays are widely distributed their individual population groups are thought to be relatively small, ranging from a 100 or less to as much as 1,000 individuals and the overall population size is unknown.  The IUCN Red List, designates the Oceanic Manta Ray as Vulnerable due mainly to the significant amount over fishing in many areas.  Manta Rays, command a high value in international trade, mainly due to the use of recent introduction of Manta’s gill rakers into Chinese traditional medicine.  This has led to unsustainable fishing activities in many traditional habitats for these beautiful rays.  The rate of reduction appears to be especially high in some regions with as much as an 80% reduction in certain regions and as much as a 30% decline is suspected globally.  Populations in the Philippines, Indonesia and Mexico appear to have been depleted while other populations in Sri Lanka and India are believed to be decreasing.  Manta birostris IUCN Red List

Recent progress has been made with Indonesia in particular creating the world’s largest sanctuary for these wonderful rays, encompassing over 6 million square kilometers.  New Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) rules for sharks and manta rays also went into effect in September of 2014 based upon unprecedented cooperation between member countries.  Also, Scuba diving tourism, a growing industry that has demonstrated significant, sustainable economic value compared to the short-term commercial fishing opportunities, offers the opportunities to generate economic benefit while helping to sustain and grow population groups.  While tourism industries can also negatively impact individual behavior and critical habitat, responsible development activities can provide local economic opportunities while at the same time helping to protect these wonderful creatures.

Manta Ray ballet

Manta Ray ballet

We should take heart that some progress has been made but we must stay vigilant and continue to pressure governments to control and eliminate unsustainable fishing activities and instead focus on how we can co-exist with this wonderful species.

Feel free to contact me or any of the other Ocean Artist Members for more information.  Visit my Manta Ray gallery for more photos of these amazing creatures.

 

 

Please lend your voice of support.

 

Molokini Crater is one of my favorite dive sites in Maui County.  The boat ride from Lahaina Harbor is around 45 minutes and provides spectacular scenery of the islands of Maui and Lanai.  The crater has abundant hard corals on the inside and outside “wall”  White-tip Reef Shark, Triaenodon obesus, (Rüppell, 1837), mano lalakea, Molokini Crater, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)and provides great dive opportunities for both beginner and advanced divers.  If you like a drift dive, then the outer wall dives are for you.  If you like a dive taken at a more leisurely pace with lots of exploration, then the inside crater dives are great.  There is a tremendous amount of marine life at the site, including anything from very small shrimps to a variety of sharks and rays, and, yes, even Humpback whales, which have been seen on Blunt-Slipper-Lobstervery rare occasions.

There are a number of dive sites on the inside of the crater including Reef’s End, Enenui, Middle Reef, and Taco Flats.  There is also a site near Enenui at about 110 feet that use to be referred to as Shark Condos, which as the name implies, is a rocky alcove where Green Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas, (Linnaeus, 1758), Damaged Bill, Maui Hawaii (StevenWSmeltzer.com (949)290-6367)you can usually find 2 to 4 white-tip reef sharks.  Unfortunately, many of the dive boats do not take divers to this depth.  

From late December to early April you can usually hear the Humpback Whales singing throughout the dive, which is just awesome.  I have seen a number of different sharks and rays on this site over the years and it is one of my favorite dive sites in Maui.  Lots of “critters” to photograph and the coral is very healthy all around the crater.

I typically use Lahanina Divers when I go to Molokini Crater and they have always treated us very well.  The captains are very experienced with the channels and conditions around Maui and manage the dives safely and efficiently.  The boats are fairly roomy with ample space for gear  (StevenWSmeltzer.com (949)290-6367)and getting “kitted-up” prior to the dive.  I have tried some of the dive operators off of Kihei, Hawaii, including the guy with the “fastest-boat on Maui”, but I find those boats a good bit smaller (they are launched from a boat ramp by Kihei) and very cramped. If you’re are staying in or near Ka’anapali or Lahaina, I highly recommend not making the drive to Kihei, but using a dive operator out of Lahaina.

Follow this link for other Maui and Hawaiian dive site reviews

 

From December to late April and even early May is the time of the Humpback Whales in Hawaii.  We were excited to be back on Maui, it is definitely one of our favorite places on the planet.

Humpback Whales Welcome

What a wonderful start to the always magical island of Maui, Hawaii.  We arrived in Maui around noon after a very pleasant flight from Los Angeles.  We left the Kahului airport heading south on the Kuihelani Highway heading to our destination in Kaanapali.  Just as we got to the furthest point south at a “scenic lookout” from the bluffs looking toward the island of Lanai,  we saw a Kohola (Humpback  whale) do a full breach in the distance.

Humpback Whales, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Breaching Humpback Whale, Maui Hawaii

We pulled over to the lookout and watched 6 to 10 of these wonderful creatures playing in the waters between Maui, Lanai and Kaho’Olawe.

What a wonderful welcome to the island. We are looking forward to numerous whale-watching excursions and lots of scuba diving – chasing after Hammerhead sharks and other marine life.  But this time of year is always about the Humpback Whales.  They are some of natures truly most inspiring animals.

When we arrived in Ka’anapali, we started getting settled into the room, which faces the islands of Lanai and Molokai, and I had my camera out, as always, just taking in the sights when I saw another whale breach offshore.   A whale breached several times, photo above, making our welcome to the islands complete. The Humpback Whales had bid us a very wonderful welcome and I am looking forward to some extraordinary adventures over the next several weeks.  If you have not been to Hawaii during the season to see the Humpback Whales I would highly encourage you to come.  It is certainly a once in a life-time adventure.  I am both blessed and lucky that I get to do it almost every year.

Time for a great dinner and a little relaxation.

Mahalo nui loa to the great Kohola.

The pool is open….

 

 

 

Getting Ready, Grand Cayman (StevenWSmeltzer.com)When you are diving, especially in new locations, it is great to have a dive guide and especially one that knows the local area well and also understands the diving environment.  When traveling to various locations around our planet, in search of that ever illusive photograph, I actively seek out local dive professionals that can help me get to those “great” spots and who can also help me understand the local conditions and what to expect on the dive.  There are almost always a number of dive operators in every location from which to choose.  So invest a little time to find out about local operators before your trip.

In Maui, there are a number of good companies to choose from when you dive so I thought I would profile a great smaller company that highly tailors your dive based upon your level of experience and your goals for the specific dive and your trip.

In2Scuba provides a little more personal touch as a smaller company, check out their website here – In2Scuba.  This shop is located in Lahaina and is run by Ty Burnett.  Ty has been diving in Maui since 2001 with various dive companies until he decided to branch out on his own.  Ty is both a skilled instructor and dive guide and also an underwater photographer (a man after my own heart).  Ty can provide a highly tailored dive experience and excels at providing excellent shore diving experiences.

Remember dive conditions change very rapidly and constantly so whether you dive with In2Scuba in Maui or not, please at least consult with a local company regarding conditions before you hit the water.  You will certainly benefit and it will help ensure your diving is safe and enjoyable.

Dive Operator Rating Guide:

– Experience: This is the most critical criteria that I look for in a dive operator.  I rate experience not just by numScuba Diving, Safety, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)ber of years diving but also by the attention to safety given by the instructor prior to each and every dive.  I know those “briefings” can get a bit boring but they are extremely important.  So pay attention…you never know when you might have to react to an emergency situation.

– Knowledge: This is another key criteria for me as I want a dive guide to be at least somewhat knowledgeable regarding the marine species that we can potentially see.  They should know the habits of marine creatures in their area and how to best approach these creatures so we can enjoy them but also so we do not cause additional stress to the animal.  For example, I hate being on a night dive and the guide is shining his or her light directly on everything in site and causing tremendous stress on the animals and resulting in a poor experience for the diver and the creatures being observed.  I don’t expect every dive master to be Jacques Cousteau but I do expect at least a minimum level of training. I should not have to lead the dive guide.

– Equipment: If you are renting gear this is also an extremely important criteria.  I carry my regulator and camera gear everywhere.  My BC, Fins, Wetsuit are non-essentials and can be rented reliably and usually fairly cheaply in most dive locations.

– Boat (s): This is an important criteria if you are going for locations that require a boat trip.  There are many sizes of boats used by operators with various capabilities.  I have been diving out of dug-out canoes in Indonesia, to luxury dive boats in Australia and Hawaii, to pontoon boats in the Caribbean.  I had good diving experiences from each (even from the dug-out believe it or not).  A key is the “captain” and crew and their relative experience, the level of maintenance on the boat and their attention to detail, yes it is a good idea to count the number of divers before and after a dive.

Number of divers:  This is also a key criteria as I do not like to dive with “a herd”.  Especially when I am shooting, having to large a group of divers can cause conditions to deteriorate considerably and waste my time.  So if I am diving with larger groups, you want to make sure that they divide the groups into manageable sizes and by level of experience.  Typically the more experienced divers will be in the water first.  This helps to maintain conditions and also makes it more realistic for a guide to effectively manage their group.

There are other considerations that I look at as well when going to a new place to dive and one of the other key requirements would be location.  I need a dive operator that is at least relatively close to where I am going to be staying as I don’t want to spend hours on the road each day just getting to the “shop”.

I hope this helps you in determining with whom you would like to dive and remember if you are heading to a specific location and would like a recommendation, just ask and I will see if I can help.

The Humpback whale season is in fully swing in Hawaii as is the Gray Whale season off the coast of Southern California may you be lucky enough to have one swim by you…

A hui hou kakou, until we meet again…

The pool is open……

Blue Whales, Balaenoptera musculu, are one of few animals in the world that can truly be described as unique.  These beautiful marine mammals grow up to 100 feet (30 meters) in length and can weigh in excess of 150 tons.  They are the largest animals ever known to have lived on earth.  And yet it is truly inspiring to see how graceful and beautiful these creatures are as they swim swiftly through almost all oceans on our planet.

Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus, Dana Point, California (Steven W Smeltzer)Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands and living in all oceans, these amazing animals were  hunted almost to extinction until the Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources on the High Seas was signed in 1966.  At that time the number of Blue Whales was estimated to be around 1,000.  Today the estimated population of Blue Whales is around 4,500 to 5,000, with the population growing at about 8% per year.  The Blue Whale is an endangered species, but the growth rates over the last 10 to 15 years are encouraging and it demonstrates the value of coordinated conservation on a global basis.

Blue Whales

blue whale

The Blue Whale is very long and slender with various shades of bluish-grey on the top or dorsal side and somewhat lighter underneath. There are three known and distinct subspecies: B. m. brevicauda (also known as the pygmy blue whale) found in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific Ocean, B. m. musculus of the North Atlantic and North Pacific and B. m. intermedia of the Southern Ocean . B. m. indica, found in the Indian Ocean, may be another subspecies.

The diet of the blue whale is almost exclusively small crustaceans (krill).  The blue whale may in fact consume up to 40 million or 3,600 kg of krill on a daily basis.  It eats by expanding its throat plates and takes in enormous amounts of water which also contains krill and then pushes the water out through its baleen plates and swallows the krill.  Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus, Dana Point, California (Steven W Smeltzer)

The blue whale is found alone or in small groups in all oceans, but populations in the Southern Hemisphere are much larger. In the Northern Hemisphere, blue whales can be seen regularly in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the coasts of Monterey, California, and Baja California, Mexico.  The blue whales migrate to the colder waters near the poles in the summer to feed and migrates back to equatorial regions to breed in the winter.

References:

Branch TA, et al. 2004. Evidence for increases in Antarctic blue whales based on Bayesian modelling. Mar Mamm Sci 20:726-754.

Branch TA, et al. 2007. Past and present distribution, densities and movements of blue whales Balaenoptera musculus in the Southern Hemisphere and northern Indian Ocean. Mamm Rev 37:116-175.

Calambokidis J et al. 2009. Insights into the population structure of blue whales in the eastern North Pacific from recent sightings and photographic identifications. Mar Mamm Sci 25:816-832.

Calambokidis, J et al. 2008. Insights into the underwater diving, feeding, and calling behavior of blue whales from a suction-cup attached video-imaging tag (CRITTERCAM). Mar Tech Soc J 41:19-29.

Calambokidis, J et al. 1990. Sightings and movements of blue whales off central California 1986-1988 from photo-identification of individuals. Rep Int Whal Commn (Special Issue 12): 343-348.

Croll DA et al. 1998. An integrated approach to the foraging ecology of marine birds and mammals. Deep-sea Res II 45: 1353–1371.

Cummings WC and Thompson PO. 1971. Underwater sounds from the blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus. J Acoust Soc Am 50:1193-1198.

Fiedler PC et al. 1998. Blue whale habitat and prey in the California Channel Islands. Deep-sea Res II 45: 1781–1801.

Gill PC. 2002. A blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) feeding ground in a southern Australia coastal upwelling zone. J Cet Res Manage 4:179-184.

Gilpatrick JW, and WL Perryman. 2008. Geographic variation in external morphology of North Pacific and Southern Hemisphere blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus). J Cet Res Manage 10:9-21.

Leduc RG, et al. 2007. Patterns of genetic variation in southern hemisphere blue whales, and the use of assignment test to detect mixing on the feeding grounds. J Cet Res Manage 9:73-80.

McDonald MA, et al. 2006. Biogeographic characterisation of blue whale song worldwide: using song to identify populations. J Cet Res Manage 8:55-65.

It just goes to show you sometimes “mother nature” can be very funny and somewhat unpredictable.

I was on my second dive at Molokini Crater in Maui, Hawaii and exploring a number of the hard coral searching for octopus or other interesting marine life to get that one interesting shot.  I was swimming a bit away from a small group of fellow divers and my ever trusty dive model when I spotted a Hairy Crabs in amongst the hard corals in the crater (sorry I have a soft spot for these somewhat under appreciated crustaceans).  These crabs get their name from the “hair” on their claws.  Well they were well hidden within the corals and I just could not seem to get the correct angle to get a good photo, so I decided to continue my search for other interesting “prey”.  As I looked up to scan other marine life close by I had a very close encounter with what I can only describe as a somewhat amorous Scrawled Filefish.

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places, Scrawled Filefish. Aluterus scriptusEvidently as I was trying to get my shot at the crabs, the Scrawled Filefish may have seen its image reflecting off of my dome port.  The file fish approached and looked like it was preparing for a kiss or at least a hungry embrace, only to bounce off of my dome port.  I just had time to get a shot of the shocked look of a wounded and shunned lover.

I was rolling underwater.

The pool is open…..

Green Sea Turtle, Mala Pier, Chelonia mydas, Maui HawaiiWe began a two week look at Maui, Lanai and Molokai reefs with a visit to Turtle Reef on Maui which is located outside and to the south of the harbor in Lahaina.  The name of this reef actually refers to a general area of reef on the western side of Maui from just past the harbor in Lahaina to Ukumehama Beach State Park (also know as Thousand Peaks).  This large area of reef has many dive spots and is relatively shallow with most of the dive under 35 to 40 feet.  This is a great spot for chilling and the reef is in very good conditions in most areas.   This site is popular for refresher dives and for completing the basic dives required for scuba certification.

The site can be a bit cloudy if the seas are choppy or you have a large swell, but for the most part visibility is reasonable and it is a good place to see a wide variety of Hawaiian marine life.  This site can be accessed from boat or shore.  The trip fro the harbor is just about 10 minutes so an easy ride and a great way to spend an afternoon.

Up later in the week are dives on Molokini Crater, Lanai, other areas of Maui and Molokai (looking for those Hammerheads).

The pool is open…

If you are heading to the islands this year for some fun in the sun and places to dive there are several great spots to consider.    There are a number of top Hawaiian Dive sites to visit and some of my favorite spots are on Lanai, Molokai, Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii.

Scuba Diving Fish Rain, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)

If you are an advanced /experienced diver definitely head for Molokai and Fish Rain.  This is the place for Hammerheads and a beautiful pinnacle that literally “rains” fish as you look for the elusive Hammerhead sharks.

On Maui, there are several good places but two of my Mala Pier, Wide Angel, Ambient Light, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)favorites are Molokini Crater and Mala Pier.  You can dive Mala Pier as either a boat dive or a shore dive and it is really a great night dive and one of my favorite spots in Hawaii.  Easy entry (off the boat ramp) and usually great visibility, always sharks and turtles and great for ambient light photography.

Manta Ray in Flight, Manta birostris,  (Walbaum, 1792), Kona Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)On the Big Island you have to do the Manta Dive.  Check out the phases of the moon (seriously) before you head out as it seems that the Mantas can be seen more in the waxing and waning phases of the moon.  You can also check on daily sitings and help determine when it is your best chance at seeing the most Manta Rays.

For information on other dive sites go to my Hawaii Dive Sites page.. and visit my website for images of fish from around the world and reviews of other great dive sites.

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Menjangan Island Soft Tree Coral, Lemnalia cervicornis, Bali Indonesia (Steven W SMeltzer)Bali’s coral reef on Menjangan Island hosts some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world. Menjangan Island has been a marine preserve and protected by the Balinese government for a number of years. The island is also fairly isolated in that once you arrive at the airport you have to travel 4 to 6 hours by car to get to the resorts close to the island. This Menjangan Island Octocoral Dendronephthya spp, Bali Indonesia (Steven W SMeltzer)means their are few divers that explore this marvelous site that is rich with all types of marine species and you can also on special occasions come across large pelagic species such as the whale shark.

Menjangan Island Scuba Diving History

Menjangan Island, in the north-west of Bali, is where diving first really started on the island back in about 1978, under the sponsorship of the Indonesian Navy, when it arranged a get-together of the country’s main diving clubs – Possi, Ganesha, Nusantara & Triskati.

That lead to Menjangan Island establishing itself as the premier dive location in Bali and many of the attendees went on to become the pioneers of commercial dive operations across Indonesia.  About a year later the Liberty wreck was explored for the first time since it had slipped down the slope at Tulamben in March 1963 and Menjangan Island was soon relegated to the background of Bali diving.

Gorgonain-Fan-Bali

Menjangan Island, Gorgonian Fan

Menjangan Island is part of the 19,000 hectare West Bali (Bali Barat) National Park that was first established in 1982.  However, the island was made a game reserve by the Balinese Council of Kings in 1950 and has been fairly well protected ever since.  Both the relative difficulty of getting to the Menjangan Island from the normal tourist spots on Bali plus the fact that the site has been relatively protected since 1950 has resulted in a coral reef that is both vibrant and flourishing around the island.  The Liberty wreck in Tulamben is also still a favorite dive site, but has a very high amount of diver traffic and the site has predictably shown quite a bit of wear and tear.

Getting to Menjangan Island

If you are in the Nusa Dua, Kuta or Sanur area it will normally take you around 3.5 hours assuming no bad “jams” as the locals refer to the often crowded conditions of the roads on Bali. It can take up to six hours if the roads and traffic do not cooperate.  The best alternative is to stay at a local resort while diving on the north side of the island.  The Matahari Beach Resort and Spa in Permuteran is one of my favorites and is located next to the Coral Project in Permuteran Bay.  The hotel is definitely 4 to 5 stars and the largest of the resorts on this side of the island with excellent service, food and access to diving sites. I love the dive operator on the property, a Swiss German expat, who runs a very competent organization.

Getting to the Dive Sites

You can reach the dive sites via boats off the coast of Pemuteran Bay in front of the dive resorts or a boat from Banyuwedang Bay or Spine-cheek Anemonefish, Premnas biaculeatus, Bali Indonesia (Steven W SMeltzer)perhaps the boat service run by the parks service.  If you are staying at one of the resorts around Pemuteran Bay, taking the boat in front of your resort is the way to go.  The boat trip is about 30 to 40 minutes and the seas are usually fairly flat as the area around Menjangan Island is fairly well protected.

Diving is great year round and even in the “rainy winter season” the visibility is normally quite clear.  The island is not large and does not have much fresh water  runoff that will impact visibility.  There can be some current on various sites around the island so you may dive some of the sites as drift dives.  Remember to listen to the instructions of your dive master and enjoy the dive.

Come preview the gallery, the pool is open

New Year's Challenge Maui Paradise (Steven Smeltzer)

Will you take the New Year’s Challenge?  We have been extremely blessed this year and I want to wish you all a Happy New Year and a wonderful start to 2013.  We are traveling in Asia for the next few weeks and hopefully getting in some great dives.

During 2013 there will be many opportunities for each of us to make a difference in the lives of people around us.  Take time to consider what you have to offer and how you can impact different people in your life each and every day.

Vision

I have a vision where we can all work together to restore, preserve and protect our coral reefs.  Take the New Year’s Challenge.  In 2013 I will be focusing on coral reef systems and how individuals, companies and nations can:

    1. Better understand the state of reef systems around the worldFish Rain, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)
    2. Evaluate impacts of over fishing and pollution and coastal development
    3. Identify the reef systems that are in the highest state of danger over the next 5 to 10 years
    4. Review and assess methods being used today to help protect and/or restore and preserve those reef systems
    5. Create a set of tools to help educate students, parents and governments about our coral reefs and the importance of managing this incredible resource for future generations
    6. Partner with local communities to establish one or two long-term projects that will focus on restoring and preserving a specific coral reef systems

Off to Work....

New Year’s Challenge

Share What You Will Do in 2013 to Positively Impact Those Around You. Take the New Year’s Challenge.  If you hear of interesting reef projects or have ideas on reef preservation and restoration please share them and let’s work together to help care for and nurture our reefs.

What reef system concerns you the most?

What are the biggest issues impacting this reef system?

What are you doing to help bring awareness to others about the problems and issues on this reef system?

How could others help directly or indirectly with this reef system?

What is the near and longer term outlook for this reef system?

Remember we are all responsible for the care of our oceans, take the challenge…..the pool is open.

 

Happy New Year 

 

Kelp Forests of California

Diving the Kelp Forests

Magical and almost mystical, the kelp forests of California provide a unique and interesting habitat that stirs and inspires the imagination.  Giant Kelp Forests, Macrocystis pyrifera,  thrive along the western coast of North America, South America, South Africa,  Southern Australia,  and New Zealand

Kelp Forests of California

Kelp forest,  Macrocystis pyrifera, Southern California

where water temperatures typically range from 50° to 60° F (10°–15.5°C).  The Giant Kelp can also thrive in depths up to 30.5 m (100 ft.) depending upon the clarity of the water and the amount of sunlight available at depth.  As the largest kelp species, giant kelp attains heights up to 45.7 m (150 ft.) and in ideal conditions, giant kelp fronds can grow as much as 0.6 m (2 ft.) per day.

Swimming through these magnificent kelp forests is special.  With their tree-like structures swaying gently in the current, the

Kelp Forest, Giant Kelp

Kelp forest photograph, Macrocystis pyrifera, Southern California

Giant Kelp provides a perfect habitat for a wide variety marine creatures.  These life sustaining structures provide a critical foundation habitat to a number of fish, crustaceans,  sea anemones, corals, jellyfishes, sea otters and much more.

Giant Kelp

Giant kelp is golden brown with rootlike holdfasts, long, branched stipes and hundreds of wrinkled blades supported by bulb-shaped pneumatocysts.  It is an awesome experience to swim silently amongst these kelp forests as they gently sway with the current.  The light is subdued and somewhat distorted amongst the “branches” of the Giant Kelp and resident species of fish dart to and fro.  Visibility can range from a few inches to almost 60 feet depending upon the current and waves and whether the bottom is mainly sand or rock/coral.  With colorful Gerabaldi swimming around you along with a number of other species this makes a really interesting dive.

Garibaldi, Hypsypops rubicundus, Profile, Laguna Beach California (Steven W Smeltzer)Although the water temperature is cool to cold and you must wear a 5 to 7 mil wetsuit this is a dive that you should make a least once and if you are lucking enough to live along the California coast or the west coast of Latin America this should be a regular part of your diving.

For more information visit my website or blog or follow me on Twitter @Images2Inspire .  The Pool is Open…

I was doing a little research and behind the scenes work at SeaWorld and while visiting and interacting with the Beluga Whales when I got a very nice greeting. I think I would call it the perfect kiss.

Beluga Whales

Perfect Kiss

Beluga Whales live in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic climates and are exceptionally smart.  They roam under the ice packs must find holes in the ice or air pockets to breath.  They can hold their breadth for up to 12 minutes but must use sonar / echo sounding capabilities to find air  pockets, holes in the ice or thin places in the ice where they can “ram” through in order to breath.  They are quite remarkable creatures.

My perfect kiss was from a whale named Allua.  A beautiful creature who is extremely graceful and friendly.

Beluga Whales are born dark grey and their signature white color is actually a clever camouflage.  Beluga Whales from a conservation perspective are considered “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature; however the sub-population from the Cook Inlet in Alaska is considered critically endangered and is under the protection of the United States’ Endangered Species Act.  Of seven Canadian beluga populations, two are listed as endangered, inhabiting eastern Hudson Bay, and Ungava Bay.

You can find out more information on Beluga whales at the following:

Beluga Whales Seaworld

Beluga Whale | CSI Computerized Scanning and Imaging Facility

Beluga WhalesBeluga Whale Pictures, Beluga Whale Facts – Animals

I am doing some research on several whale species and will hopefully post an article on my findings within the next 3 to 4 months.  Whether you are watching the Blue Whales off the coast of California, admiring the Humpback Whales in Hawaii, Alaska or off the coast of Australia or one of the other many species of whales they are truly remarkable animals.

I encourage you to join me in helping to preserve and protect this treasure for our generation and those to follow.

The pool is open…

Vintage Carthaginian II

Vintage, Carthaginian II Shipwreck

Vintage Carthaginian II Creativity

I had a lot of fun putting these images together and creating some really interesting fine art and vintage photos of the Carthaginian II shipwreck in Maui Hawaii.  When I dive on a particular site a number of times I tend to equate a certain feel or mood for the site.  The Carthaginian II, originally a German cement transport ship, is almost 100 years old and was originally built and launched in 1920.  The ship was purchased by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation and extensive refitted to make the ship resemble a 1800’s period whaling ship.  The ship was

Carthaginian II Whailing Museum

Carthaginian, At the Dock, Maui Hawaii

used as a floating museum in the harbor of Lahaina for over 30 years.  Remembering the ship floating in the harbor and now seeing her laying on the sea floor just outside of the harbor brings up a certain sense of nostalgia.

Age and Mystery

What I wanted to create was a sense of the age of the ship and the purpose that she served in Maui and even in Hawaii more generally.  When I dive on the ship, although she is not large, I sometimes get a sense of the “ghosts” of periods past associated with this aging wreck.  The ship’s main mast collapsed in the summer of 2011 and is now situated on top of the ship.  The hold is buckled significantly but makes a great shot if you lie down on the floor of the cargo hold of the ship.  There are a number of

Carthaginian II In the Hold

In the Hold, Carthaginian II

hard corals that have attached themselves to various portions of the wreck and you can usually find a reasonable variety of marine life on board.

To get the feel I was looking for in Vintage Carthaginian II, I choose to take a number of wide angle shots where I can see the entire ship and also a few photos where I would have interesting features that would lend themselves to a sense of age and provide a certain forlorn aspect to the photo.  As many of you can appreciate, getting a great photo to work with is the first part of the endeavor and I then went to work in Photoshop to give the images the exact look

Carthaginian II Discovery

Discovery, Carthaginian II

and feel that I wanted.  As I began to work

with the images I kept coming back to black and white images with good contrast with interesting textures and/or features to bring out the moodiness of the dive site.  These photos will go well with whale song form the Humpbacks that you can typically hear if you dive the site from late December up to late April or May.

Fine Art

I hope will agree the final images for Vintage Carthaginian II provide a sense of mystery and intrigue as well as a sense of discovery.  Though the ship continues to age and various parts continue to deteriorate the wreck still continue to be a

Carthaginian II

Carthaginian II Study in Abstract

great dive for a long time.  The key on this dive as most dives is to go very slow.  This is a small sight and while she lies at about 80 feet you still have plenty of bottom time to explore.  Let you imagination run away with you and imagine the life of the whaler and the importance of whaling in the development of  the Hawaiian Islands.

Go to my website and see the Carthaginian II Gallery for a complete photo review of the ship.

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Manta Ray diving can be an unforgettable experience.  These gentle giants are both graceful and magnificent Manta Ray Divingreminders of the wonders in our oceans.  Come dive with us off the coast of Hawaii and enjoy these magnificent creatures.

This Manta Ray video was shot off the coast of Kona in Hawaii. It was a marvelous dive. We saw 54 Manta Rays on two dives. 17 on a later afternoon dive and another 37 on the night dive. It was quite an experience.

Manta Ray diving can be an awesome experience.  The magnificent Giant Oceanic Manta Ray, Manta birostris, is something special to experience.  The largest recorded Oceanic Manta Rays was more than 25 ft (7.6m) across from wing-tip to wing-tip and weighed over 5,300 pounds (2,400 kg).  Manta Rays have a short tail and no stinging spine.

Manta Rays are very acrobatic and on this dive you will be able to see them perform aerobatic flips and rolls as they glide through the water all about you.

Manta Rays were first described by Dondorff in 1798 and named Manta birostris. Other synonyms for Manta Rays include Cephalopterus vampyrus Mithchell 1824, Cepahalopterus manta Bancroft 1829, Manta americana Bancroft 1829, Ceratoptera johnii Müller & Henle 1841, Ceratoptera alfredi Krefft 1868, Brachioptilon hamiltoni Hamilton & Newman 1849, Raja manatia Bloch & Schneider 1801, Manta hamiltoni Hamilton & Newman 1849, and Manta alfredi Krefft 1868.

The Manta Ray is one of the largest fishes, and has been know to reach 9 m (29.5 ft) and weigh as much as 1,350 k (3,000 lb).  The Manta Ray’s lifespan is thought to be about 20 years.  They are close relatives of sharks, which are also one of their main predators along with certain types of whales.  They are a close relative to the stingray, but they do not have a stinging tail.

View other underwater photography on my website or vist my post – Diving with Manta Rays

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What do you think of when you hear the term “Coral Reefs” or when someone asks “What are coral reefs”?. Some may think of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia while others may think of the reefs

Coral Reefs (Steven W Smeltzer)

Spiny Flower Coral. Mussa angulosa. Grand Cayman

surrounding the Caribbean islands or yet someone else may think of aqua-blue water and long sandy beaches surrounding their favorite island or tropical get away.

Coral reefs are definitely related to each of these but they are much, much more.

Coral Reefs (Steven W Smeltzer)

Bluestripe Snapper, Lutjanus kasmira, Molokai Hawaii

While Coral reefs cover less than one tenth of one percent of the earth’s oceans these same reefs are estimated to contain one quarter of known marine fish species (Smithsonian Institute).

Corals are tiny animals which belong to the group cnidaria (the “c” is silent). Other cnidarians include hydras, jellyfish, and sea anemones. Corals are sessile animals, meaning they are not mobile but stay fixed in one place. As corals grow and expand, they will form one three reef types:

  • Fringing
  • Barrier or
  • Atoll
Coral Reefs (Steven W Smeltzer)

Bubble-tip Anemone, Grand Cayman

All three reef types of coral reefs—fringing, barrier and atoll—share similarities in their bio-geographic profiles.

This series of articles we will answer the following questions:

What are Coral Reefs?
Where are they located and How were they formed?
What are the different types of Coral Reefs?
What types of creatures inhabit them?
What are the threats to Coral Reefs?
What are the potential impacts of these threats on us from the impacts to our economy, to food supplies, to medicines and more?
What if anything should we be doing to help the reefs?
How can you help?

So come join in the discovery of our coral reefs and the underwater world that is so amazing and important to each and everyone one of us.

Be sure to follow on our continuing series of articles as we explore the amazing world of coral reefs.

Marine Species Galleries:

Coral Reefs (Steven W Smeltzer)

Ridged Cactus Coral, Mycetophyllia lamarckiana, Grand Cayman

Coral Reef Images
Pictures of Fish
Sea Turtles
Crustaceans and Echinoderms
Moray Eels

Detailed Information on select Marine Species:
Caribbean Fish
Hawaiian Fish
Sponges
Crustaceans, Invertebrates, Mollusks, Echinoderms

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