The goings-on of our underwater world is still a mystery to many. From the variety of species to their behavioural patterns, photographers and videographers spend a lifetime trying to capture unique footage. Kaj Maney, otherwise known as the Liquid Guru, has dedicated an online platform to revealing some of the craziest happenings in the ocean. We caught up with him for a quick Q&A, and to showcase the first part of his 12 best never-before-seen underwater videos:
What got you into underwater filming?
Back in 2002 I had just started work as a PADI Instructor/Divemaster in the Commonwealth of Dominica (Eastern Caribbean). I had been an instructor for four years previously and worked in the West End, Roatán. In those days, believe it or not, the Internet was not quite as developed as it is now. This meant that you really didn’t stay in much contact with your family back home (in the United Kingdom for me). So in 2002 my father helped me buy a Sony camcorder – I think it was a Sony TR7000, a Hi8 tape camcorder – and an Ikelite housing. I could then take movies, burn a CD and show my family what I was up to! It rapidly got me hooked on filming and making videos of my guests’ dives in Dominica.
I then made my own website, partly as there was not a lot to do on Dominica once diving had stopped, and partly because I thought it was incredible that I could go out diving, film it, then upload the footage to the Web and that day, anyone in the world could see what I had seen underwater. Right from the beginning I have wanted to share the amazing underwater world with anyone who is interested.
Video fascinates me and it brings a different dimension to media. Photographs are wonderful at capturing the moment, that frozen image. Video can bring something else, movement, a story and a glimpse at behaviour that is near-impossible with photography.
After Dominica I went to Tioman, in Malaysia, then Fiji, another spell in the Caribbean (Belize this time) before getting a job as a dive manager with my partner at Kungkungan Bay Resort (KBR) in Lembeh, Indonesia. At the time I knew nothing about “muck” (macro) diving. Like most I was instantly hooked. The variety of bizarre and incredibly rare critters that live in what looks like a desert is unbelievable. Lembeh has been a mecca for divers and underwater photographers and videographers since KBR opened in 1994. I was incredibly lucky to be able to dive there every day for three years, with my video camera. This enabled me to capture more macro videos than probably anybody before. And this made me become a complete muck addict, so when I got the chance to open my own dive centre, it was an easy choice to want to continue in a muck location, and Ambon 100 percent fits the bill, with uncrowded dive sites and more amazing muck.
Kaj was patiently filming a couple that were close together and his waiting paid off, the first bobbit worm attacks and eats a foolish scorpionfish that wandered in too close. The second went for a long-arm octopus that got too close, but luckily the plucky little octopus was too tough for the bobbit worm and escaped after a few seconds.
Your first underwater video?
My first underwater video was taken in Dominica. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but it probably involved medical students from the States – there is a large US medical school on Dominica, Ross University.
The story behind your most memorable underwater video?
The most memorable and luckiest dive I ever had was in Ambon in 2014. I’ve seen some amazing things underwater (I’ve been diving full time since 1998) and mainly because you just get lucky, some dives are just luckier than others.
When we opened in Ambon, in 2013, the one fish that we (and most critter divers in the world) wanted to see is the psychedelic frogfish. It was properly discovered and identified in 2008/2009, after it was found on a dive site in Laha, Ambon. It is a unique frogfish. Amazing patterns, great colour and only ever seen at one dive site in the world.
After one gave birth, they disappeared and had not been seen again.
So one day in September 2014 we were out diving, on the other side of the bay to where the frogfish had originally been found. It was to be a normal dive; we had a group form the States diving with us. I jumped in last, as usual, got my video camera and finned down. When I got to the bottom, my guide, Fadly, had found an incredible critter, a transparent larval stage moray eel. I had seen one once before (in Lembeh) and always thought, at the time, that this was a once-in-a-lifetime find. This time I felt more prepared: I had, as well as my macro setup, a GoPro as well, so I could take more wide-angle shots.
I had probably spent about 30 minutes filming the transparent eel, very happy and feeling very lucky, when Fadly came over and tried to show me something else. I was not interested. I just wanted to keep filming the eel. What could be better than that? I kept waving Fadly away… Shoo shoo, go away! Fadly was persistent though, and after about another 10 minutes I finally relented and went to go and see what he had found… This time it was the psychedelic frogfish! I wasn’t even sure that it was the frogfish at first. It was so completely unexpected to find it after it hadn’t been seen for four years, and we were so far away from where it had been seen then – and to find it on the same dive as the transparent eel? Wow! I will never ever have another dive like that – although I will keep hoping that the next dive I do will be better! And that’s the wonderful thing about diving; you never know what you will see!
Where is your favourite dive destination?
Wow, what a hard question! Apart from Ambon? I think Sipadan was incredible. I went with a bunch of friends. We dived Sipadan itself every day, all day, for four days. The schooling bumpheads, schooling barracuda, schooling jacks, sharks and turtles everywhere – it was amazing diving.
The site you’d most like to dive, but never have?
Coco Islands, Costa Rica.
The weirdest thing you’ve seen underwater?
An American cruise ship diver – head to fins in orange. Orange wetsuit, gloves, mask, reg, lipstick and nails! Critter-wise, it would have to be the Melibe colemani [an exotic nudibranch first discovered by Neville Coleman].
What camera equipment are you currently using?
Sony XR500 with a Light and Motion Stingray housing, two Keldan 4000 lights, Light and Motion Super Macro Zoom-Through lens, GoPro mounted on the Stingray housing, and an underwater tripod.
“This was shot when I thought I was filming one crab eating another. When looking at it afterwards, I realised that the crab had in fa
ct just shed its skin and was transferring the sponge from its previous exoskeleton onto its new one.
“You can see the crab pick little pieces of red sponge from the old skin, gather them into its mouth to coat it in saliva, then fix it on to its transparent new body. Very fascinating to watch.”
Have you any advice that you’d like to give aspiring underwater videographers?
Steady shots, edit your footage, tell a story. Keep your edit short. No one wants to watch you floating over a reef for 30 minutes… Be brutal when looking at your footage. If it’s not in focus, too shaky, don’t use it. Listen to criticism and advice.
Is there any particular footage that you still want to get?
More of everything! As I usually concentrate on macro critters, I would love to see and film whales. Dugongs are another I would love to film – and anything small I haven’t seen before!
“Everyone who comes to Ambon to dive, not surprisingly, wants to see the psychedelic frogfish, Histiophryne psychedelica. And it’s a critter we would love to show everyone too. The last sighting was at the end of 2014, when we found it in Ambon Bay and before that it had been about four years since one was found. And they have only been found in Ambon Bay.”
Next week, in Part 2, we reveal the remainder of Kaj’s 12 weirdest underwater videos