Snailfish Hunting, part 1

Over the years, I’ve seen just a couple photos of snailfish—tiny fish that sit, curled up, at the base of kelp fronds.  Perhaps it’s one of those things that until you know to look for them, you’ll never see them… and once you start seeing them, you’ll see them everywhere?  A buddy of mine recently posted several really nice photos of snailfish and I decided that it was time to start keeping an eye out for them.

Last Saturday morning the conditions looked good, so I got the underwater camera housing all set up and headed out to the La Jolla Submarine Canyon with a friend.  I mentioned to him my desire to find a snailfish, so we were on the lookout for kelp.  Last year there was a really nice stand of kelp near the point at the Main Wall, but it died off and now there’s not much left.  Visibility was good and we meandered the top of the canyon looking for interesting stuff.  Saw several good-sized sheep crabs, a bunch of juvenile horn sharks, one octopus that had a bizarre injury—it was missing most of the head hood and all of its internal organs were showing (you can clearly see the gills and hearts).

There was no giant kelp to be seen at the point, so I’d lost faith in finding any snailfish (where oh where did Tracy find the kelp & snailfish??), but then my buddy Steve called me back to a 6-inch tall piece of understory kelp with an orange spot on it.  That orange spot was a snailfish!  A snailfish about 3/4 of an inch long.  Tiny.  I thought they were bigger than that!  But perhaps this is a juvenile?  Step 1 of the mission accomplished… but now I have to photograph it!  And here’s the problem with that:  it was fairly surgy at that depth on Saturday.  And the fish was tiny.  And it was sitting on a kelp frond.  What do kelp fronds do in surge?  Sway back and forth.  Often rapidly!  What do underwater photographers do in surge?  Sway back and forth.  Often rapidly!  And did I mention that the fish was small??  Try to grab focus on a tiny, tiny fish and hold it long enough to get a shot… all while you and the fish are swaying back and forth, not at exactly the same rhythm!  My buddy tried to hold the kelp frond steady, but it was a difficult task, and the harder we tried, the more silt kicked up… which ruins the shot.  This was understory kelp, and small at that, so it was just inches off the silty bottom.

The best shot I got was the one shown above.  Great framing.  LOUSY focus!  I got a couple with better focus, but bad framing and lighting only marginal.  Urg.

Then we moved on to try to shoot a cute little green shrimp (Heptacarpus franciscanus) on, you guessed it, a small piece of understory kelp… rapidly swaying back and forth!  It was a day of trying to get shots of small, moving subjects in surge!

One Response

  1. daigoumee

    Superb blog post, I have book marked this internet site so ideally I’ll see much more on this subject in the foreseeable future!

    May 22, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *