Basic information about fishes on the reef

Fish Hunting Parties

ANIMALS IN THE OCEAN ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR FOOD (and trying to avoid being food). Some times it involves more than one animal. On Bonaire, one year, I encountered several instances of group fish hunting. Sort of. There’s a known phenomenon called Nuclear Hunting in which a small eel (like a goldentail moray) and one or more other fishes (like rock hinds) meet up, identify a nearby coral head as a target site and race toward

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Parrotfish Beaks Are Really, Really Strong

CORAL REEFS ARE DYNAMIC EQUATIONS, CONSTANTLY BEING BUILT UP AND TORN DOWN. The stony corals and the coralline algae mostly do the building. Major factors in the tearing-down side are parrotfish. And, especially, the teeth in parrotfish beaks. Parrotfish don’t set out to tear down coral. As herbivores, they focus on eating the algae that live on the surfaces of coral polyps’ calcium carbonate exoskeletons, or corallites. And they work at this pretty continuously, scraping

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Actual Shark Facts You Should Read on Shark Awareness Day

HAPPY SHARK AWARENESS DAY! I’m not sure who decreed it so but every July 14th is Shark Awareness Day. It’s a time to appreciate our cartilaginous fellow travelers on Planet Earth with a generous supply of actual shark facts. To judge by what we see on cable television, sharks are cold-blooded psychopaths always in a brutal frenzy of hunting man and beast, ready to grab a tasty arm or foot at the first opportunity. LESS

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 Fish Buoyancy – How Our Finny Friends Stay Neutral (Unless They Don’t)

ONE THING IS CLEAR – FISH HAVE BETTER BUOYANCY THAN YOU.  And, they don’t have to press any buttons. Many bony fishes have built-in versions of the buoyancy-compensators that divers use to control their position in the water versus changing ambient pressures. In these fishes’ case, it’s an internal gas-filled sac called a swim bladder that automatically works to counteract the ambient pressures applied by the waters surrounding it and keep the fish at neutral

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Black Durgons: In Living Color

BLACK DURGONS (MELICHTHYS NIGER) HAVE LONG BEEN BOTH A FAVORITE FISH OF MINE and a challenge to photograph. A favorite because I like their dramatic effect – all that blackness with blue stripes along their anterior dorsal and anal fins – and their wiggly technique of swimming powered by those fins. A challenge because, well, they’re black. They suck up light like a black hole. And (see above), they’re wiggly. I’ve shot more black, blobby

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Trunkfishes, Cowfishes: Boxy But Cute!

WHAT’S MORE ENDEARING THAN WATCHING A TRUNKFISH SWIM? Watching a baby trunkfish jiggle about trying to. Trunkfishes at their best are relatively inept swimmers, with bulky, triangular bodies and limited tailfin  propulsion. They row furiously, they move slowly and awkwardly. As juveniles, they’re small and round. Their tails are barely there, almost negligible, making for less control, with a certain amount of yeeing and yawing. It’s both irresistible to watch them work to master their

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Balloonfishes, Porcupinefishes: Prone to Blowing Up!

WHEN YOU SEE PHOTOS OF PORCUPINEFISHES AND BALLOONFISHES, they’re often inflated like stuffed pincushions. In fact, like this..  But the truth is that recreational divers who are minding their manners are unlikely to see them in a puffed-up state (Note to wiseguys seeking to initiate inflation: leave them alone). With their bulky shapes in uninflated modes, they’ve have been described as “footballs with a tail.” Big-eyed and gentle, permanently affixed with Mona Lisa smiles, they

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Lateral Line

LATERAL LINE (lat’-er-uhl lahyn)  A series of tube-like canals  and sensory cells along the heads and sides of fishes by which they are able detect vibrations in the surrounding water. Lateral lines almost certainly play roles in schooling behavior, predator detection and fishes’ turning away when they sense over-anxious photographers like me swinging their cameras toward them to shoot photos.  

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Seahorses’ Shape Gives Them an Edge

IF YOU’VE EVER OBSERVED A SEAHORSE, its tail wrapped around a sea rod or some other feature, its demeanor would seem to suggest lethergy and a wish that you would just go away. THERE’S CUNNING IN THAT CURVE    In reality, odd-shaped fishes as seahorses are, their curved bodies and horse-shaped head-and-neck anatomy give them an edge over their straight-shaped pipefish cousins by increasing the speed and distance with which they can capture prey (mostly

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The Hamlet Grand Slam

WHO KNEW THAT SPOTTING LITTLE GUYS LIKE BUTTER AND BARRED HAMLETS could be challenging? I’ve thought of them as fairly bland little fishes of modest interest. I’m aware of occasionally seeing vivid blue indigo hamlets (Hypoplectus indigo) in Bonaire and Belize but not the other 10 or so species to be found around the tropical Atlantic/Caribbean. Which sounds fishy considering that Humann and DeLoache’s Reef Fish Identification says barred hamlets (Hypoplectus puella) constitute the most

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