Pitcairn Islands Expedition: Bizarre Fish Face Photo


Posted by Andrew Howley of NG Staff in Explorers Journal on April 3, 2012

Photo by Enric Sala
This triggerfish may have a comical appearance, but the wavelike motion of its fins and the peaceful inter-species partnership it’s displaying with the cleaner fish below its eyes add an unexpected level of beauty and inspiration.

Some fish, with their delicate features and calm poised attitudes, always appear ready for their close-ups. Others, like this teetering triggerfish, look like you’ve just snapped a Polaroid of them in the middle of wild weekend in Las Vegas.

To be fair, when expedition leader Enric Sala took this photo, the fish was essentially in the middle of a bath, getting the spa treatment from a tiny cleaner fish visible just below its eyes.

Beyond the Funny Face

I saw the same behavior (and perhaps even the same fish) today as I dove with our fish experts Jenn Caselle from Marine Science Institute, UC Santa Barbara, and Alan Friedlander of the US Geological Survey and University of Hawaii as they laid out rope and tape measures and identified and counted every fish that passed by that line.

At one point Alan signaled to me and pointed into the distance. There, its colors fading into blue from from all the water between us, was a triggerfish just like this one Enric had photographed up close the day before. Parasites were being nibbled off its body by an attendant cleaner fish.

As the cleaner fish did its work, the triggerfish rolled on its side, with its large top and bottom fins waving like the graceful wings of a manta ray. Having appreciated its comical qualities the day before, it was in a way humbling now to see it in person, moving beautifully, demonstrating peaceful inter-species partnership.

As Mark Hooper, one of our ship’s engineers said to me the other night, “It’s a beautiful planet we’ve got if you just take the time to look at it.”

Credits: National Geographic

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