Monthly Archives: February 2018

Chiaroscuro

One of the highlights of my lackluster undergrad career was a two-semester introduction to art history.  The textbook was Janson’s History of Art, a work near and dear to many of us who attended college in the ’60s and ’70s.  Back then, “art” mostly meant Western art, Egyptians and Greeks through Picasso, and that’s pretty much what the book presented.  Innocent times, ignorant times, chauvinistic times?  Yes.

Anyway, a great word I learned in that course was “chiaroscuro.”  It’s a technique especially favored by Renaissance and Baroque era painters.  Dictionary.com defines it as “an effect of contrasted light and shadow created by light falling unevenly or from a particular direction…”  Brittanica says “[a] technique employed in the visual arts to represent light and shadow as they define three-dimensional objects.”  I could never define it very well, but I can recognize it.  Last week I came upon an unintentional example of chiaroscuro while going over some old photos I’d taken of gargantuan blennies.  Part of my motivation for this post is the chance to use the key words “chiaroscuro” and ” gargantuan blenny” in the same post.  I think the photo is kind of nice, too.

A gargantuan blenny as rendered by Caravaggio or Rembrandt?

One of Rembrandt’s many self-portraits employing chiaroscuro. Looks kinda the same, huh?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Between inconsistent water conditions, various infirmities, travel, sloth, and an array of distractions, we haven’t been in the water all that much since getting back from Bali in November. But even with limited snorkel time, Mahukona continues to provide surprises for this fish geek.

The most interesting sighting this year was the elusive gargantuan blenny. I got a fleeting look at one at Mahukona’s “first point” in early January. It disappeared into a crevice before I could get a photo. The same thing happened on at least two other occasions over the next few weeks until the fish finally held still long enough for a photo a couple of weeks ago.   I’ve only seen a gargantuan twice before this—once at Mahukona in 2013 and once at Richardson Park near Hilo in the same year—and Jeff Hill, who has identified many more fish species than me, has never seen one.  Hawaiian fish authority  John Hoover calls this Hawaiian endemic “uncommon,” while Keoki Stender says it is “rarely seen.”  

Gargantuan blenny, Mahukona, 2018. One reason these fish are rarely seen is that they live in rocky habitats in the shallow surge zone. Scuba divers wisely stay away from these areas for fear of being smashed into the rocks with the surge. It’s a lot easier to negotiate these conditions while snorkeling, unencumbered by all that bulky scuba equipment. Even with just snorkel gear it’s hard to get a good photo while being sloshed around by the waves.

Here’s a male gargantuan blenny displaying nuptial coloration. In 2013 this fish and its presumed mate spent several weeks at Mahukona before disappearing. The pair spent the whole time just a few yards away from where we found this year’s gargantuan..

Some other fish so far this year:

Marla spotted this solitary bigeye scad (akule in Hawaiian) at Mahukona a couple of weeks ago. This is supposed to be a very common fish, but it’s the first Marla or I had ever seen. They’re normally found in large schools. This lonely individual was nervously trying to school with the numerous chubs in the area.

This stout moray was at Mahukona’s first point in early January. We see these occasionally, but far less frequently than whitemouths or yellowmargins. Morays seem to be much more common in Hawaii than in other parts of the Indopacific.

Check out this blue goatfish’s chin barbels. We saw this guy probing for prey among the rocks at—where else?—Mahukona.