Among all the fishes we see in Dauin, the sweetlips are special to me, and they are even special in two different ways:
Firstly, they are fishes which like to dance! Not all sweetlips do that. Only the young ones like to shake it – in this regards they are a bit like humans, where older people are also less likely to hit the dance clubs. Check out this video of a dancing juvenile sweetlips, only a few centimeters long, but full of energy:
Why are they performing such odd motions? Nobody knows for sure! Fishbase thinks that the behavior mimics the motions of toxic flatworms. This sounds credible, but has not yet shown to be true in a solid scientific study, as far as I know. That’s one of the great things about the ocean: there is still so much to learn about it. I see every single dive along our coastline in Dauin as a true marine biological adventure.
Interestingly, sweetlips not only stop dancing when they grow to adult size (that’s up to about half a meter, depending on the size), but completely change their skin color pattern as well. Adults are often striped or dotted. In Dauin we mostly see harlequin, striped, ribboned and yellowbanded sweetlips. The image below is of a ribboned sweetlips. In total, 134 sweetlips and grunts (they belong to the same family) are known.
Sweetlips hunt at night and feed on small invertebrates such as crabs, or on small fishes, which they often catch in seagrass fields or in the sand. While they sometime school during the days, each fish goes on its own way at night.
Tasty, But Alive
Another reason why I am always delighted to see sweetlips underwater is the fact that they are large, tasty fishes. Furthermore, they tend to hover under coral ledges or artificial reef structures during the day, and are hence rather easy to spear. Still, many of them are alive in Dauin! This shows that the marine sanctuaries in Dauin are, to a large degree, effective. It is probably hard to completely eliminate fishing in ocean sanctuaries, but the fact that we have a good number of adult sweetlips is a good sign.
A big part of the human population of the Philippines depends on fish for their protein intake. A big, tasty fish which stays in one place on the reef is equivalent to a 100$ restaurant voucher for a city dweller – very tempting! The fact that these fishes are still here is a marine conservation success.
The Dauin dive sites with most sweetlips are Poblacion and El Dorado. These dive sites have lots of the coral ledges and artificial reef structures which the sweetlips like to hide under. Less than 15 minutes by boat away from our resort, they provide great spots to observe these beautiful and fascinating fishes.