Category: Gatama Atoll


3/30/11

…And we’re back.

After a power nap, I’ve changed into a new orange and blue wetsuit and rounded up the gang to take the Minow II out on a refresher excursion to Gatama Atoll. We’re going to find the rest of those creatures, damme, and there are no less than three right in our own backyard. My yellowed notes tell me that two small fry can be found in the “F” column of the map. I take Oceana with me and dive at sunset.

Oh man, now I’m beginning to regret coming back. This is tedious work, combing the sand for shiny spots, scanning side to side looking for something I haven’t seen before. Yet I’m still amazed at how gorgeous and detailed everything is, and I’ve picked up a few coins along the way, so it’s not a total waste of time. Finally, after going in circles just south of Donut Reef, hiding inside a clump of magenta elkhorn coral, I find a pair of oblong gobies.

The unostentatious oblong goby

Next we turn south, making a detour around Gatama Gatawa’s Island (and getting lost–shameful how rusty my compass skills have gotten on dry land) to grid F6 at the northern edge of the Cabbage Patch. This search is even more frustrating, as I keep revisiting the same coral nests over and over again only to find the same clownfish, keeping house in the same dusty anemones. The sand flats are no less fruitful, as all I find are all-you-can-eat baskets of pistol shrimp and their watchman gobies. Out of sheer boredom and disbelief, I click on one of the watchmen. Ah-hah! Sparkles! Question marks! It appears I’ve just found the monster shrimp goby, which far from monsterous is virtually indistinguishable from a regular old watchman goby.

The not-so-monstrous monster shrimp goby

Next on our list is something in the Deep Hole region, somewhere around A2, B3 or B4. It’s notoriously hard finding things in the Deep Hole because it’s, well, so deep. Those coordinates can be on any level of the hole, from 20 feet to 100. After nearly an hour of useless searching and much harassment from Sluggo, the insomniac tiger shark, we go topside. Waking refreshed at dawn, we make another go at it. Dawn over the Deep Hole is always a welcome sight, with its squadrons of Japanese eagle rays sweeping across the brightly lit coliseum. Ah well, back to work. Following every shiny glint, turning over every inch of moss and sponge, cursing every familiar anglefish and baby grouper. Really, I’d given up trying to find things with my eyes anymore, now I’m just sweeping the cursor back and forth until an “A” button tells me I’ve hit on something living. That’s just how I found this:

The unmistakable orange and black sea slug (obviously)

Do you see that there? Not the blurry clownfish, to the left, lower, just beyond the tip of its nose. That! Right in the center there. See? That is the orange and black sea slug. That is how small and inconspicuous it is. That is what I’ve been up two hours past my bedtime trying to find.

Is it too late to go back to Legend of Zelda again?

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Gatama Atoll, Row 6

7/24

Now it’s time to hunt down all those fish I’ve been missing. As of now, there are still about 40 species left to discover, at least a third of which are located somewhere in Gatama Atoll. I really hadn’t been back to the placid waters of Gatama Atoll for quite awhile, and then it was in my “hurry up and finish the map” days when I didn’t take my time to explore carefully.

On my first attempt I tried bringing Hayako along, starting at square A1 and going left to right, north to south. Didn’t work. I don’t know what kind of range Hayako’s fish-dar’s got, but it isn’t much. We wound up hopping from coral head to coral head with the map spread out in front of us, scrolling through each species until we found the triple question marks we sought. It was like trying to tour your vacation spot with a road atlas open on the steering wheel—frustrating and no fun atoll (heh heh). After about five minutes I was ready to quit, so I did.

Clearly a new strategy was in order. Luckily at some point in the game the Marine Encyclopedia began revealing where each undiscovered species can be found—you just have to click on the magnifying glass icon and flip through the maps. Paging through the encyclopedia, I drew up a list of every creature I hadn’t found, noting the map coordinates where it could be located, so that it looked something like this:

Coral Reef Life 46/48

  1. Gatama Atoll E4, F4, F6
  2. Ciceros Strait A1, D1, E5

And so on. You may ask yourself, how is this funner than roving from square to square, left to right, top to bottom? I can only answer that I’m a compulsive list maker. When my wife saw me on the couch with my clipboard and printed-out list of coordinates, she really knew I’d gone off the deep end.

Judging from my list, I could see that most of the Gatama creatures I sought were concentrated on the southern portion of the map. So I would start at Row 6, Column G and work my way right to left; when I got into a target square, I’d keep my eyes open. It helped to take Oceana along, with her ability to find small creatures. This turned out to be just the ticket: within minutes I was crossing fish off my list like crazy.

I also encountered a lot of really cool stuff.  Just falling out of the boat, we blundered straight into a cuttlefish breeding frenzy. We were treated to some fascinating facts about cuttlefish, and invited to return in a few weeks when the eggs hatch.

Next we went on shore at G7 to discover the diminutive little penguin.

Little penguin mistakes my gear for a big penguin.

Back under water and a short swim to the west we find the charmingly named Randall’s pistol shrimp, sharing a foxhole with his faithful watchman goby.

Randall and his attack goby.

Then the psychedelically attired warty frogfish.

Closer to the blue cliff, we find a bluelashed butterflyfish, guarding another suprise.

Wandering around a bit more, Oceana and I found razorfish, rippled rockskippers, bluespotted jawfish, and finally, after much meticulous  searching, the weedy seadragon.

Overall, not a bad start to an animal safari.

7/2

I made it! Monaymonaymonay! One million pelagos, baby!!! For a few seconds there, I was a millionaire. And the best thing was, it was those cheapskates at the aquarium that put me over!

First things first—I returned fr0m a long vacation in the Southwest and needed a few days to get settled back home. The first thing I wanted to do when I got back to Nineball Island was paddle around Gatama Atoll awhile saying hello to some old friends. Then I had to finish recruiting Violet, the Pacific white-sided dolphin. I really wish there was another way to get to the Deep Hole, because I’m sick of crawling through the Kelp Tunnel—three weeks off did nothing to change that. It took two more dives for Jean-Eric to break his silence and announce that Violet was a companion. We had a very nice play date together, then I brought her back to her new home in Nineball Lagoon.

Next I took a nattily-dressed fellow named Matthew down to the Zahhab Region Depths so he could see popeyed grenadiers. These are especially good tour fish, because they glow, and as you know, when it comes to client payoffs, glow means dough. We toured the depths, did some salvaging, spotted the oarfish and the giant squid, swam all the way back to the surface and topped it off with a grey whale ride for dessert. Matthew paid out 3956  P for the tour. The salvage yield was poor, but it still brought me within a few thousand pelagos of the million.

That was enough for me to call it a night, but over the vacation, the fam and I visited a nice little aquarium at the Albuquerque Zoo, and I wanted to compare it briefly to EO’s. Really, the biggest drawback of the Tokyo Aquarium is that the main tank is far too big. There’s so much room, even with a couple of fully grown whales in it, that it seems stark and uninteresting. And there isn’t enough junk on the bottom—fake coral, rocks, pirate skeletons, to liven it up or make it look natural. The fish seem lost and depressed, and I can’t blame them. Honestly, when I have  ‘real’ oceans to swim in, why would I want to waste my time in what amounts to a city-block-sized holding tank?

Well, the word from the visitors wasn’t very positive either, as Hayako wearily informed me. On the other hand, receipts were steady if not spectacular, and so far no one had taken to relieving themselves in the tanks or dropping fishhooks over the sides, so so what? I was about to breeze out the door again when Hayako reminded me that I got paid for this gig, whether I put in any work or not. She presented me with a grudge-check for 2,400 P and with a tip of the hat and a smirk I was gone.

Back on Nineball Island, Jean-Eric immediately comes up to compliment me on my money management skillls. He wishes Oceana could be so frugal, spending all her dough on sea pig purses and fancy fins and whatnot. While I’m expecting this to lead to a not-so-subtle hint that she needs a man to help keep her in line, he suprises me by saying that we’ve got a big salvage job waiting for us…in the Cavern of the Gods!

I guess the paycheck from the aquarium put me just over the 1 million pelago mark—the irony! Oh, and we get a 50% discount from somebody for some reason, so that 1 million pelagos? Didn’t need it—we can keep 500,000 of it. The Cavern of the Gods is open whenever we want to return to it.

And that was that. No fireworks. No streamers. No cakes or balloons. Just another job waiting.

Time to get back to work.

6/10

Gatama Atoll—I’m about 25,000 shy of 1 million Pelagos. Now that I’m this close to opening the Chamber of the Gods, it’s tempting to indulge in nonstop treasure orgies to gobble up money as fast as possible. But frankly, I’m tired of salvaging, and I wouldn’t mind if I never set fin in Valka Castle again. So I’ve decided to put the multisensor away and try to earn honest money by any other means.

In fact, today I’m not looking for money at all—I’m just trying to get the Pacific white-sided dolphin to be my friend.  The trouble is, this dolphin—whom I’ve already named Violet—is pathologically shy. You have to approach it  “Red Pony” style,  slowly earning its trust. This actually makes it one of the more realistic quests, because it doesn’t rely on any tricks. No whistles, no rescue efforts—just old-fashioned perseverance.

Of course, this means I have to make multiple trips back to its habitat around the Deep Hole in Gatama Atoll. So we’ve basically set up camp on the boat, sleeping on deck and returning to Nineball Island only to develop pictures. It’s been tremendously relaxing in  a way, like setting up a tent in your backyard for a sleepover, and it’s given me a chance to do one of my around-the-clock ecological surveys that I love so well.

Sunset—The water takes on a hazy glow as bigfin reef squid dart through the kelp leaves like shuttles in a loom.  Pee Wee, the pygmy sperm whale, comes out of the Deep Hole for an evening swim around the Colosseum.

Pee Wee out for an evening swim

Unfortunately, so does Sluggo, the tiger shark. 

Sluggo

I’ve tried to draw up a “Know Thine Enemy” about Sluggo, but he’s too unpredictable. After a daytime appearance early in the game, he now only emerges at sundown, and he never seems to attack as long as you keep your eyes on him. The moment you turn your back and try to move away, he starts to close in, but when he’ll strike is hard to predict. I’ve known him to leave me alone throughout an entire dive; other times he’ll strike two or three times, even with frantic pulsing. It’s almost as if he has moods, and if you catch him in a bad one, he’ll make sure you know about it.

Did I mention that Sluggo is rather large?

Then there’s the pod of five or six Pacific white-sided dolphins that fly all over Deep Hole. I suspect that they’re the real terrors on this reef, scaring the smaller fish away until only a few lost-looking moorish idols are left. And damn, they’re fast—it took me a long time just to single out Violet by her white, hook-shaped dorsal fin. Somehow, Pee Wee, Sluggo and the dolphins are all able to stay constantly in motion around each other without colliding.

Violet

Midnight—The midnight shift is very much like sunset, although Sluggo appears more sedate—perhaps, contrary to popular belief, sharks do sleep now and then. The dolphins, on the other hand, are still bouncing on their beds.

I’ve taken Hayako with me, and her fish-finder indicates an undiscovered creature moving slowly around the Mouth of Truth. I look carefully for it without success. The only thing I see in that range is the ocean sunfish, and it couldn’t be ol’ Sol, could it? I click on him, and magically crusty ol’ Sol transforms into the resplendant Apollo, a golden-hued legendary creature that the native Paolians think is the personification of the sun. Why Sol, you old sea dog, you!

Apollo

Dawn—At dawn, a squadron of Japanese eagle rays take up their formation, circling over slow-moving unicorn fish blanched pale green by the morning sunlight. The light is so strong that I can see directly down the Deep Hole all the way to the bottom. It’s too hard to resist—I take out my multisensor and scan for a few treasures (that didn’t last long). Later, I try to keep up with the dolphins—they’re too fast for me. Using the whistle, I’m able to draw Violet close enough to click on her, but she’s not ready to swim with me yet.

Morning rays

Noon—At noon, the light is more diffuse, the blues so saturated that I’d almost think the sky above the water must be overcast, if that were only possible. Sol is his old self again, shrunken, doddering, nothing at all like the sun. I pursue Violet one more time, but she’s still playing hard to get. I’ll have to come back to Deep Hole another day. Ah well!

Back on Nineball Island, Jean Eric tells me that I’ve got an e-mail from the magazine I sent my photos to. (BTW, how does he know what’s in my  inbox? I guess since he’s the point man, the magazines cc him, but it’s still kind of creepy.) Anyway, Maritime Weekly liked my photo of a leafy seadragon—it rated an “A” and a cover! I tried something different this time, and if it works again, I may be on to something.

Next I had Nancy appraise the whopping two items we found in the Deep Hole. Before she left, she passed along a note from ML, of all people! I thought we’d never hear from him again, but here he is asking for a photo of a whale shark in Gatama Atoll. “Oh wow!” shouts Oceana, “I can’t believe a professional photographer wants our photographs!” Yeah, I can’t believe it, either—better get a copyright watermark on that photo, pronto!

Cliff Notes

5/3

Gatama Atoll—After a brief visit to Deep Hole to pick up a salvage request, I headed over to Blue Cliff to swim around and do some photography for its own sake. This is one of my favorite spots in the Blue World.

4/22

Gatama Atoll—In honor or Earth Day, I’ve been concentrating on healing the most critical (purple and red) fish as I go about my business. Frankly, I’m exhausted. I haven’t used the pulsar as anything but a defensive weapon since the “Help Me” quest ended abruptly, and even then I used it mainly on large fish and mammals. It’s quite a different thing when you swim up to a coral head to pulse a cloud of tangs. The screen turns into a kaleidoscope of ill fish with targets around their necks, clamoring to be healed. Remember that scene in Jesus Christ Superstar where Ted Neeley is healing lepers and they start to surround him and he like, totally freaks? It’s like that. Not that I’m comparing myself to the Man from Galilee—I’m just sayin’, it’s hard to be a miracle worker. And what makes it tougher is that, as the fish you’re pulsing get better, they also get friskier and try to dart away from you. Sometimes you have to chase them around the reef, like a mom with a spoonful of cough medicine after her suddenly “all better” children.  

Anyway, I pulsed about 150 fish today and received a 3,300-Pelago bonus from the Conservation Society. I also managed to get in a little treasure hunting. FF came in with his unidentified map scrap. Once again, my technique of redrawing the map on a piece of paper paid off, and I located the Golden Shield Treasure almost immediately. FF handed us 12,500 P at the dock,  then just left—no name-calling, no snarks, nothing.  GG’s heartbroken.

Next I took a  guy named Gabriel on a quick guided tour to Twilight Temple. Disappointingly, the giant catfish has shed her golden scales and King Gigide was nowhere to be seen. While we were there, I pulsed some more fish, then whipped out the multisensor for a little last-minute treasuring. Lucky I did, as I turned up the Incan Treasure, worth 12,000 P.

All told, I made off with a cool 30,000 P tonight. Not bad considering I wasn’t even trying.

By the way, in case you didn’t know, Disney’s Oceans opens in theatres today. I’m working on convincing my son to get over his nature-documentary fears to join me this weekend. Here’s a link: http://disney.go.com/disneynature/oceans/

4/6

Gatama Atoll, sunrise—Today I’ve decided to spend the day shuttling tourists from Nineball Island to the Deep Hole in Gatama Atoll. This is what I imagine giving real dive tours is like—repetitive. There are four trips lined up today, so let’s get started.

First up is Lisa, who wants to see Japanese Eagle Rays. She’s only mildly impressed with them, as all they do is swim around and look pretty. But she really goes wild for the pinecone fish, who have bioluminescent organisms living on their chins. These little beards light up in the dark recesses of Deep Dome. You can tell when a client is happy, because a little jingle goes off as you feed the fish. Lisa was jingling off the hook, and I collected 3,612 for our little trip.

Next, I’m off to find the Ruby Telescope for some guy. I’ve learned from past mistakes that you can’t squeeze a treasure hunt in on a guided tour, so this is strictly sensor work. For the Ruby Telescope I get 1,200 P. No tip, but hey—it only took five minutes.

Third up is Dirk, who I think is the guy who’s never impressed with my dolphin shows. He wants to see Goldeye Rockfish, and I’m determined not to disappoint him. We dive at sunset.

By now the community around the Deep Hole are so familiar that I’ve given most of them names. There’s Sol, the sunfish who hangs over the Mouth of Truth; Sluggo, the tiger shark who harrasses us in the Coliseum; Big Gus, the giant grouper; Cecil, the ribbon moray eel; and Pee Wee, the pygmy sperm whale, who at sunset likes to shyly crawl out of the hole for a little exploring.

Sol

Sluggo

Big Gus

Pee Wee

 We feed them all and I even get in a little scavanging, filling my bag with loot.  This time, Dirk is impressed—he hands me 3,000 P for the tour, which is fortunate, because the salvage bag was full of relatively worthless junk.

Last up is Gabriel, who wants to see Big Gus. While I’m taking him around, I discover that there’s second giant grouper in the Deep Dome. I always assumed that was just Big Gus  following me around, but now I guess we’ve got Little Gus. Gabby also goes gaga over the pinecone fish, and hands me 3,656 P at the dock.

Little Gus

All tallied up, that brings my day’s wage to roughly 13,000 P. 

By now it’s dark, and I go over to the Hayako to ask her about something, but I’m not listening because there’s a sparkle on the shore behind her. Following it, I find it’s a carving of something called the Ancient Mother. Suddenly, Jean-Eric is at my side (I hate when he does that!) to explain cryptically that it’s some kind of whale that he doubts even exists, but allegedly lives at the North Pole, or is it the South? So great, another legendary creature quest.

Well, it’s been a long day, so I settle down in the beach chair and watch the fireworks display, then to bed.

3/29

Gatama Atoll, daybreak—I get a regular series of photo requests via Nancy from a mystery man. All we know about this guy is that he’s a former diver who had some kind of accident that caused him to lose his memory, and he wants certain photographs to help cure his amnesia. The latest request is for an orange sea slug. I’ve put this task off for a while because I had no idea where to find one. I have many flavors of sea slug—yellow, pink, striped, tutti-frutti—but no orange. Then I learned that if you click on a blank silhouette in your marine life encyclopedia, you can turn through the ocean maps and see where unknown creatures can be found—an inestimable aid to the cryptozoologist.

I used this trick on the unnamed sea slug shapes in my book, and found one that was located in nearby Gatama Atoll at coordinates C5, B7, and G6—all I had to do was go there and look. It’s actually a bit harder than that, because a single map square is pretty large and sea slugs are tiny. It’s also hard to keep your bearings within a single square—lose focus a moment and you’re in a completely different part of the map. I took along Oceana for her eagle eyes at spotting wee critters.  After some tedious looking and clicking, I found one at B7, hiding in plain sight as it were in a wide expanse of empty sand. Got as close as I could with the zoom to take a pic, but it still looks like a redhead’s eyelash got on the lens.

The ferocious orange sea slug

And that’s how I found the legendary orange sea slug. Sorry folks, they can’t all be thrillers.

3/28 (55th hour)

Deep Hole, Gatama Atoll—Here’s why I like to give tours: my first client today is a guy (forgot his name—sorry dude) who’s looking for something called sapphire pottery, and it’s located in the western rim of Deep Hole. He’s offering 1,100 P if I find it. My second client is a woman named Sophia who wants to see a certain fish, also in Deep Hole. She’s offering 1,000 P. I’ll take Sophia out to see her thing, and pick up the sapphire pottery while I’m in the neighborhood.

Right off, Sophia strikes me as being, well, a little odd. “Ever since I saw a terrific action film about these, I’ve wanted to see one—a moorish idol!” Huh—Wha?? Moorish idols are a dime-a-dozen reef denizen; pretty in their way, but not exactly action film material. I can’t imagine one diffusing a bomb or charging a motorcycle through a plate glass window. Unless she’s talking about Scar from “Finding Nemo.” True, he masterminded that breakout from the orthodontist’s fish tank, which was tense enough, but how does that make it an action film? Unfortunately, the game doesn’t allow me to ask her what the hell she’s talking about or administer a drug test, so I’ve just gotta roll with it.

The minute we hit the kelp tunnel, bam! Moorish idols all over, looking not the least bit like Jason Stratham. Now, I’m tempted to show her the fish and send her back to the boat, but I gotta get to Deep Hole for that sapphire pottery. As it happens, there are plenty of moorish idols in the Colosseum Area (gladiators, no doubt), and she goes gaga over them there. Then I gently lead her west where I can find the treasure. Seeing the ocean sunfish (Sol, I call him) that hangs over the Mouth of Truth, she says, “Everything in nature has its own pattern—if only I could be so original.” Possibly the most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard a client say. As we hover over the ribbon moray eel in the Serpent’s Lair, she giggles, “Its color matches my car!”

Finally I find the scarlet glint of the sapphire pottery, but the game blocks me from retrieving it. “You found the requested item, ” it informs me, “but it would be rude to pick it up while guiding someone.” Rude? I’m getting etiquette lessons directly from the game now?

Fine. Y’know, this woman is nuts, but if I can’t get what I’m after, I might as well show the client a good time. So I take her all over atoll, feed as many fish as I can along the way, discover a few new species, lead her out to Blue Cliffs to see the dropoff, the works. She’s delighted. We go back to the boat and I return, this time with GG, to pick up the treasure.

When we get back to Nineball Island, Sophia can’t stop talking about what a great time she’s had, and hands me 3,500 P—a 2,500 P tip. Next we have the sapphire pottery guy. He’s also excited, blurting that it will be worth millions.  “That is, uh, in sentimental value,” he hastens to add, handing me 1,100 P —no tip, no fancy swim trunks, nothing.

So I showed a kooky dame the atoll, had a great time, and made 3 times what some cheapskate who won’t do his own dirty work pays me.  If you ask me, I’d rather take a guided tour any day.

Why the Sea is Salt

3/26

Gatama Atoll, Sunrise—Just a short mission today, as it’s late at night in realtime. Went out on a salvage request to find the Admiral’s Pistol. When you go out on these salvage missions now, the client usually hands you a map which is a tiny scrap of the big map. Toggling between the big map and the scrap, you figure out where you should go. This time it was easily found in the Gatama’s Navel region.

While I was there, I set out to solve the High Salinity Testing Results riddle. I had to have a little help with this one, as the clue only says there are high-salinity readings in the microatolls in Gatama. Oh really, so what? I read somewhere on one of the boards that the microatolls are in the Donut Reef area (Mmmm…doh-nutsssss…). Honest, I try not to cheat, but if I hadn’t learned that, I never would’ve found it. As it is, you have to do a good deal of far-flung multisensoring, picking up some nondescript salvage junk. Later, when Nancy polishes it off, you learn that you found a hand mill.

Now, you’d have to know your Brothers Grimm to get the joke:

An old sea captain was tired of chasing across the storm-tossed ocean to retrieve salt for his margaritas, so when he met a wealthy man who boasted that all his riches came from a magic handmill, the captain asked, “Arrr, do it grind salt, matey?” To which the man said, “Yea, it do.” The captain made some outrageous bargain for  it (or maybe he just stole it outright, it’s been awhile) and took it on board with him. He got it started and sure enough, soon salt was spilling all over the deck. Trouble is, he couldn’t stop it, and before long, he had salt up to his poop deck and the ship was going under. So he threw the mill into the sea and the whole crew drank frozen margaritas till they stumbled into port, the end. Oh, and what happened to the mill? It continues to grind out salt on the bottom of the ocean to this day. And that, children, is why the sea is salt. And don’t let those science geeks tell you any diff’rent.

Anyway, for solving this convoluted riddle, I receive a  mermaid figurine to beautify my private reef. How tasteful!