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Monday, April 23, 2012

Start of the Week Quotations

I cannot believe it has been nearly a year since I added another set of these.  Here are this week's quotations:

"With five free parameters, a theorist could fit the profile of an elephant." - attributed to George Gamow, Russian-born American physicist, 1904-68

"That kind of patriotism which consists in hating all other nations." - Elizabeth Gaskell, English novelist, 1810-65, in Sylvia;s Lovers

"I've kept political diaries ever since I went into politics... I'd love to do a political memoir, but a lot of people will have to be dead first." - Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, Irish politician and current European Commissioner for Research, Innovation, and Science, 1950-

"Personally I feel happier now that we have no allies to be polite to and to pamper." - George VI, King of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 1936, 1895-1952, spoken to Queen Mary on 27 June, 1940

"O Freedom, what liberties are taken in thy name!" - Daniel George (Bunting), English writer, 1890-1967

"If you can actually count your money, then you are not really a rich man." - J. Paul Getty, American industrialist, 1892-1976

Since it has been so long since I have put any of these up, I think it is worth reiterating that my inclusion of a quotation is not necessarily an endorsement of its content, but rather just means that it is something that I found either amusing, thought-provoking, or otherwise interesting as I (slowly) progress through a copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cayo Largo Part V: Underwater Critters

In Cayo Largo Part IV I described our trip to Iguana Island, which was the first part of our day excursion.  In this post I will describe the second part of that trip: snorkeling and wading in the shallows around virgin islands.

After visiting the Iguana Island, our boat set out for a shallow coral bed for some snorkeling.  Despite the shallowness of the water (I would guess it wasn't deeper than twenty feet anywhere nearby, although depths are notoriously difficult to judge in clear water), we were still a fair ways away from the coast of Cayo Largo.  It was amazing the difference this made; whereas the water directly off the coast, as described in Part II and Part III, was characterized by fine white sand and fish almost the same colour, here the sea was full of fauna in a myriad of colours.

The coral was predominantly yellow-green to yellow-brown, but there were occasional outcroppings of beautiful reds and purples.

A piece of purple coral (click to enlarge)
I should also mention that I found underwater photography to be quite challenging.  Light levels and clarity of the image are much more difficult to control and one is undergoing almost constant motion from the waves and currents.  Even more challenging is the fact that goggles prevent the use of the viewfinder for targeting the camera.  Although, as with most digital cameras, our underwater camera also has a screen which is used more often for aim anyway, the bright sunlight at the surface would generally make the screen unreadable, and thus a large number of our pictures were taken blindly.

Despite photographic difficulties, though, the material we had to work with helped make up for it.  There were (I think) four types of fish who swarmed around the boat to feed off the hull and any scraps which fell in the water (Manuel was making lunch and discarded unwanted bits off the side.  I don't know how healthy that is for the wildlife, but he and the captain seemed to think it was perfectly normal).  Two of the fish were black with blue highlights, and I am only identifying them as separate based on their distinct fin structures.  The other two fish were much lighter in colour.  One species had vertical black stripes and the other a horizontal yellow stripe down its side.  All four seemed perfectly happy to intermix, and you can see them in the two photos I took.  You can also see one of the dark fish species cleaning off the underside of the boat in a video I took, and another video of Sarah swimming amongst the fish schools (sorry for the shakiness of the camera).  If anyone can identify the species of the fish, please let me know (either in the comments or send me an email).
UPDATE: Thanks to studentjohn's comment, I now have an idea as to the identities of three of the four fish.  The big blue and black fellow in the first image appears to be some sort of triggerfish , while the vertically striped fish are sergeant majors (I actually feel kind of silly about not recognizing that), and the fish with a horizontal yellow stripe are yellowtail snappers.

Swarm of schooling fish (click to enlarge)

Another shot of the fish swarm (click to enlarge)

 Although these four fish seemed to be the predominate denizens of the area, there were still many other species of fish to be found.  I have also included a couple of my favourite pictures of these fish.  As with the others, if anyone can help identify the species, let me know.

A really happy looking fish (click to enlarge)

A small multi-coloured fish (click to enlarge)
After snorkeling we were given lunch which consisted of a delicious Cuban lobster dish with rice, buns, and fruit.  The final part of the excursion after lunch was a trip out to a small group of uninhabited virgin islands.  These were quite beautiful and scenic, with many conch and small fish in the shallows around them.  One of the passengers on our boat reported spotting a small crocodile, but Sarah and I were unable to find it.

A view on the beach of the islands (click to enlarge)
There was quite an expansive region of shallows between some of the islands in which the ocean was never much deeper than the knees.  Here we discovered several excellent starfish.  Even more excitingly, several rays were also zipping through the water.  The rays moved quite fast, and so were rather difficult to photograph.  It would seem that whenever I gave the camera to Sarah, the rays would swim tantalizingly close to my legs, only to skitter off to Sarah as soon as she had given the camera back to me.  After numerous failed tries, Sarah finally managed to get a couple photos.  As with the fish above, if anyone can identify the type of ray, please let me know.
Starfish in the shallows (click to enlarge)
The full sting ray swimming away.  Unfortunately the water was a little cloudy, most likely due to us churning up sand as we chased the rays (click to enlarge)
This was the best picture we managed to take of the ray's face (click to enlarge)

After we had our fill of sloshing about in the shallows, we got back on the boat and were taken back to the marina on Cayo Largo.  We were reunited with our shoes, and a bus took us back to our resort.  The next part deals with the many birds we spotted.