June, 2010
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 Mexican Sunset

           Mexican Sunset at the Residencias Reef,  by Paul Mila,  Cozumel Mexico

Paul ascending from the wreck of the C-53, Cozumel Mexico

Ascending from the C-53

Welcome to the June issue of Sea-gram, the monthly newsletter for ocean lovers, divers, and "deep-thinkers," from .
I'm writing this issue from Cozumel, watching the blue Caribbean Sea flowing north through the 10-mile wide channel between Cozumel Island and the Yucatan mainland. 
I cannot imagine how it would feel if the pristine water here was coated with the brown gooey oil globs now smothering the U.S. Gulf Coast shore. Hopefully, the consistent northern currents will keep this part of the Caribbean oil-free.
In Story Behind The PhotoThe Big Boy of Palancar Reef we'll take a look at a barracuda encounter I enjoyed several years ago
In this month's Conservation Corner article, The Big Spill Continues, we'll discuss the tragedy unfolding along and below the U.S. Gulf.
  If you have a good photo with an interesting story, or would like to share a good dive yarn, let me know at and I'll be happy to include your story in a future issue. 
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I hope you enjoy Sea-gram !
 Paul J. Mila
The Story Behind The Photo . . .      
                    The Big Boy of Palancar Reef
                                 By Paul Mila, Carle Place, NY 

Great Barracuda at Palancar Reef, Paul Mila photo, Cozumel Mexico .

Example of Japanese Whale Research

Several years ago I was diving with my instructor Alison ( on Cozumel's famous Palancar Reef, located off the southern part of the island. Palancar is actually a reef system composed of several parts: Horseshoe, Bricks, Gardens, and Caves. We were diving the Horseshoe, at about 80 feet. I spotted a silver glint just under a rocky outcropping.  I let myself drift down to 90 feet and there he was: a very large Great Barracuda, I estimated between 4 and 5 feet. He was just hanging out, I suppose waiting for an unsuspecting meal to swim past his toothy jaws.  
I took a quick shot several feet above him, but I wanted a better angle for the photo. He was almost on the bottom, so I couldn't get below to shoot upward.  I descended as far as I could and moved toward his head for a more interesting angle instead of a profile. I saw his eye twitch as he watched me moving in, seemingly unconcerned. I gently kicked once, into a slow glide. I was greedy; I wanted to get just a little closer.
I attached a wide-angle lens, so I was able to get within three feet and still keep the entire fish in the frame. That's when I saw how big he was. When barracuda reach full length they start "rounding out." This one was built like a torpedo. Barracudas' silvery scales are very reflective. Too much light, especially on a direct angle, and their beautiful detaiIs are obscured in an over-exposed silvery flash. 
I was adjusting my camera settings when he began flexing his jaws -- body language saying "you are invading my personal space at your own risk." I took a look at his razor-sharp dentures and got the message: shoot now or forever hold your peace!  
I took the photo and inhaled a deep breath to become more buoyant, floated upward, exhaled and then finned away. But I looked over my shoulder, just to be sure he wasn't following me.
Afterward (this was film, so no digital instant gratification), I was pleased to see that I had captured his details, including  florescent blue markings along his lateral line.
Camera Details: SEA-& SEA 35mm film camera with YS40A strobe and wide-angle lens.
1. When very close to a reflective subject, within three feet, or near a white sandy bottom, turn down flash power to avoid over-exposure. Use a flash diffuser if you have one, to soften the shot and obtain richer colors.
2. To get as close as possible, approach very slowly; no rapid breathing, fast swimming or flailing arms. Good buoyance skills are essential for good photography.
3. A strobe (external flash) is required for obtaining rich colors, especially when deep. Consider investing in a wide angle lens, which will enable you to get very close to your subject and keep it in your field of view.
Conservation Corner:
                                The  Big Spill Continues
I haven't written about the BP oil spill in Sea-gram previously because so much information already appears daily in the media.
However, it is now becoming apparent that the spill may have it's greatest deadly long-term impact on sea-life in the depths, far from the oil-soaked shorelines and the media's pictures. It is definitely a view that BP does NOT want you to see! 
Sea-gram fan Martha Weisberg sent this link to an ABC Good Morning America story about reporter Sam Champion and Phillipe Cousteau (J
acques Cousteau's grandson) diving for a look BENEATH the surface. You have to endure a 30- second commercial first, but be patient. Their dive shows an amazing view few have seen: the growing devastation and danger to the undersea world:
Scientists have detected several toxic plumes are radiating into the depths. One stretches 15 miles long, 5 miles wide, and 300 feet thick. A larger plume extends 22 miles long, 6 miles wide, and 3,000 feet thick.
The Victims:
Leatherback turtles and sperm whales dive into the 3,000-foot depth. Bluefin Tuna (we wrote about the bluefin in  May's Sea-gram) breed only in the Mediteranean and the Gulf. Marine scientist Ellycia Harrould Kolieb says, "This could spell the end to the bluefin."
 Marlin, grouper, and snapper routinely swim hundreds of feet down. Tiny globs of crude oil can suffocate fish by clogging their gills. Deep-sea reefs will be blanketed by the deadly soup, which can impact the food-chain from the bottom up.
The casualty list is endless!
About is your home for exciting dive adventure novels, YouTube videos about ocean creatures, and more.
  Thanks for visiting, and we'll see you next month!
Paul J. Mila 
 Paul in Cozumel
75 Titus Avenue
Carle Place, New York 11514
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In This Issue
The Story Behind The Photo: Barracuda encounter with The Big Boy of Palancar Reef
Conservation Corner: The Big Spill
Featured Article in this month's Conservation Corner:
The Big Spill Continues.
View the video clip in the article, below left column, to learn just how devastating conditions are BELOW the surface! 
Quick Links & Updates
Commercial Whaling Ban: Major Vote Imminent 
The 88 countries who are members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) are meeting IN CLOSED SESSION in Agadir, Morocco, to decide whether to adopt a compromise that would allow Norway, Iceland and Japan to legally hunt whales around Antarctica and elsewhere for 10 years in exchange for a gradual drop in the number of whales killed.
Norway, Iceland and Japan have continued to hunt whales in defiance of the moratorium on commercial whaling ever since the ban was set in place in 1996. Since the moratorium was introduced, at least 33,000 whales have been killed.
The politics are bizarre. Many nations opposed to whaling are actually supporting the compromise, as if these pirate whaling nations could ever be trusted not to exceed quotas.
But the real issue is whether highly intelligent, sensient beings should be slaughtered for our benefit.
Keep your eyes pealed for developments before the end of this month!
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 Cozumel Lionfish Update: Divers Strike Back!
The aquarium lionfish market has just about dried up, and the restaurant market has been slow to evolve.
So divers have been inventing new equipment to safely and efficiently eliminate the spreading lionfish menace. One new item is called The ELF Tool. See it in action:
A Cozumel divemaster named Aristeo designed a similar tool, based on the concept of a Hawaiian Sling.
Encountering lionfish during dives, Cozumel dive operator Alison Dennis does her best imitation of the memorable Tony Perkins & Janet Leigh shower stabbing scene, from the 1960 flick PSYCHO: 
On a recent dive Alison performs "The Monster Mash" on another lionfish:
Although it is a bit uncomfortable  watching little fish being sliced and diced, it is important to remember that even tiny lionfish eat their reef neighbors in huge quantities.
And more importantly, they grow rapidly and reproduce in large numbers.
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 Killer Whale Update:
Additional reasons for re-thinking their captivity.
View some wonderful footage of an Orca pod in Puget Sound, recently  photographed by the local SkyKing news team. 
 These magnificent animals didn't need Sea World trainers to teach them this behavior:
Orca's Revert; Or as the song goes, Doin' a-what comes naturally!
 During a Sea-World show a pelican makes an ill-fated decision to land in the pool. Very Interesting to see how the orcas totally ignore their trainers to enjoy a quick snack:
   Time Out For Pelican Lunch
The above incident perfectly illustrates the point that while captive whales may be conditioned or somewhat tamed, their innate nature remains wild. 
They would likely choose freedom. 
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A fun divesite, where you can rent a beachfront condo, view great dive photos, and more!
 Guest Links
 While in Cozumel last week I had the opportunity to meet Laura Wilkinson, owner/editor of the  informative and upbeat Cozumel newsletter, Cozumel 4 You.  To find out the latest happenings in Margaritaville, and "discover the treasure of Cozumel," just click on:
For more information you can also reach Laura directly, at  
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View great sea life and animal art by Tim Phelps,
 award winning medical illustrator and teacher. 
Click below:
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