This blog is a bit more personal than usual.
I have done a lot of dives. I started diving in 1987 (at age 14), and have been diving almost every week since about 2006. I enjoyed pretty much every dive. I am delighted even by the usual blennies playing on the mooring lines, or by the fairly common damselfish hiding in-between coral fingers. When teaching, it is a pleasure to see my students’ progress as divers.
But some dives still stand out. I’ll never forget when I saw my first manta ray in Yap. I’ll always remember when I did a mixed gas dive to 100 meters in Malapascua. The dive I did on Thursday with my fellow instructors at Salaya was another such extra memorable dive. We saw a fish which I had been hoping to observe and photograph for many years…
This fish is the weedy scorpionfish, or Rhinopias frondosa (to scientists), belonging to the family of the Scorpionfishes. It looks more like a ball of fuzzy filamentous algae than a proper fish. It has perfected the art of camouflage. In my opinion, it represents one of the peaks of fish evolution.
It’s found in the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans, with some sightings reported as far south as Durban in South Africa. Yes, it occurs over a very wide geographical range, but it is nevertheless very rare within that range.
What an incredible exciting experience to finally see it with my own eyes!
Why Does It Look That Way?
Scorpionfishes have developed two strategies for surviving in the dangerous world of tropical shallow waters. One is the aforementioned camouflage. It’s hard even for us humans, with our big eyes and a big part of our big brains dedicated to vision, to spot this fish. It must then be so much harder for a predatory fish, with eyes and visual brains a small fraction the size of ours to see a Rhinopias!
The second strategy is to be venomous: the spines in their dorsal fins are full of powerful venom, which will cause intense pain and tissue degradation in anyone being stung. Other reef fishes realize that on some level (they hatch with a well-founded fear instilled by evolution), and leave them alone.
Photographing the Rhinopias
When photographing a Rhinopias, it’s important to remember that we are fish lovers, not fish molesters. These are rare, small, fragile animals which can’t swim away very fast (in fact, Rhinopias prefer to crawl, as you can see in the video above). Let’s not hurt them while trying to get a good shot!
The individual we found in Dauin is about 10 cm long, and using a 60 mm macro lens on my micro-two-thirds Olympus E-M1 camera worked quite well.
Back-lighting Rhinopias works well; when putting a strobe behind the animal, light penetrates through the thin body of the fish, and we can get interesting photographic effects that way.