diver sees coral heads, gullies, grottoes and caves, forests
of gently-waving sea whips and sea fans, shoals of colorful fish, strangely-shaped invertebrates, and giant predators.
Here there are huge and wary groupers, sleek and supercilious
sharks, scavenging crawfish and a host of other life forms.
The reef is a challenge and a bonanza for the photographer. This is where some of the
most rewarding photographs may be taken, but it is also one of the
most difficult places in which to take photographs.
If ever fish could be described as photographic models then the angelfish are the stars. They pirouette and turn as they curiously examine the
underwater photographer, almost posing it would seem for his lens as they swim unafraid in and out of
the crevices of the reef. The angelfish are little bothered by spear fishermen intent on seeking crawfish and
grouper. This is especially fortunate for the angelfish would probably
be one of the easiest fish in the sea to spear. Slow
swimmers, they cruise the reefs searching for tiny morsels of food, but seldom straying far from the protection of a crevice
They are striking looking fish, sideways flattened and deep-bodied.
Colorful and curious, they are members of a family that includes the
smaller but just as attractive Butterfly fish. Angelfish may be
distinguished from the butterfly fish not only by their size -
up to two feet in length as compared to only six inches for
their smaller cousins, but also by the painted spine
projecting backwards from the gill cover.
There are four species of Bahamian angelfishes - the French, the Blue, the Queen and
the Grey all similarly sized and shaped, but each distinctive in their
coloration. The Queen Angelfish is
aptly named, for she easily takes the title of queen of the reef. A study in blue and yellow, the Queen may be identified
by the yellow pectoral (side) and caudal (tail) fins. The closely related Blue Angelfish only has yellow margins to
these fins and is somewhat duller in its general coloration.
Both species are much brighter when young with iridescent
vertical bands of blue on a dark background. They vie with the
spectacular and improbably coloured jewelfish - actually the
juvenile Yellow - Tailed Damselfish, for the title of most
beautiful Bahamian fish.
Like its kin, the French Angel is more spectacular when young than when mature. The adult is
an almost black fish with gold-edged scales, but the young
have brilliant gold vertical stripes, and are consequently
much prized as aquarium specimens. The rather drab Grey Angel is probably the commonest of the Bahamian angelfishes.
It is well named, as its main coloration is a brownish grey.
The fins become darker towards the edges, which are outlined
with pale margins. Another angelfish -
although it is not given that title, is the Rock Beauty.
This is a common seashore and reef fish. The front parts and
tail are a brilliant yellow, while the majority of the body is
jet black. Like the rest of the family the juveniles are quite
different, being a deep gold colour with a black spot just in front of the tail. Just as the adults differ
in their appearance, so they differ in their habits. The
juveniles are solitary and defend their coral niches or
hollows in the sea grass against all comers, while the adults
are almost always seen in pairs cruising a fairly large reef
area which they make no effort to defend. The juvenile Angel fish
also act as cleaning stations for larger fish.
There is some
dispute as to why some fish clean others. It has long been
thought that the smaller fish were actually removing parasites
from the skin of the larger fish. Another theory holds
however, that the slimy coating over the scales of the larger
fishes - a substance known as a mucoprotein may well
supplement the diet of the cleaner. It has also been suggested
that the larger fish like the tickling sensation caused by the
cleaning process and allow themselves to be cleaned, simply
because they enjoy it! Certainly there is something sensual in the movements of a fish being
cleaned by another. (Of course this latter statement may well
be blatant anthropomorphism!)
When cleaning occurs, the cleaner nibbles the skin of its larger associate, usually a
grouper or a parrotfish. While the recipient of all this attention lies on its side it opens its gill covers, and in
some instances even allows the small cleaner to enter its mouth to pick tiny food particles from between its teeth.
The angelfish family is only one of numerous interesting fish families inhabiting
Bahamian water. There is much to be seen, and still much more to be understood in the waters of the Bahamas. Down there,
among the coral heads, a great new experience awaits. Here can be seen the
splendor of nature in all its diversity for the
most part untouched by the hand of man.
Let us hope that it stays
© R. Attrill 2000