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Red Sea Life - Fish

There is nothing to compare to the sheer beauty of a reef dive in the Red Sea. Below are just some of the wonderful creatures that we have been fortunate enough to see on some of the dive trips

Angel Fish
There are over 70 different species of Angelfish found in warm ocean waters around much of the world, a few species are from fresh water. Angelfish belong to the family Pomacanthus. These brightly-coloured, flattened body fish live in coral reefs in tropical seas and shallow subtropical waters. Angelfish reproduce by laying hundreds of eggs at a time. The first gill cover has a spine (pre-opercula) and this can help distinguish Angelfish from the closely-related butterfly fish. Most species of Angelfish are herbivores (plant-eaters).

Royal Angelfish (Pygoplites diacanthus)

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Size: up to about 25cm.

Emperor Angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator)

Click to enlarge These are territorial fish and stay fairly close to home.  The juvenile and adult Emperor Angelfish have very different coloration, the juveniles are striped black and white; adults are yellow, blue, black, and white. When fully grown they are about 40cm long.

The Emperor Angelfish is a meat-eater (carnivore), eating coral heads, small invertebrates (e.g., sponges and  worms), and crustaceans (e.g., shrimp and shellfish). They can crush hard-shelled prey with their powerful, beak-like jaws.


Butterfly Fish
Butterfly fish have a continuous dorsal (back)  fin and they also have small, brush-like teeth.  They can be distinguished from angel fish as they do not have the pre-opercula spine.

Masked Butterfly Fish (Chaetodon semilarvatus)

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To me, this is one of the most beautiful fish in the sea, the yellow rich colour is stunning. You generally see them in pairs or small groups. Once mated they become territorial and patrol their space aggressively. Pairs may remain together for life. They can grow to about 23 cm and are sometimes called the Golden Butterfly fish.

Striped Butterfly Fish (Chaetodon fasciatus)

Click to enlarge It feeds on coral polyps, worms and crustaceans. It is very similar to the Racoon Butterfly fish and can grow to about 23cm.  

Crown Butterfly Fish (Chaetodon paucifasciatus)

Click to enlarge These fish often seem to swim in pairs and usually turn their backs the moment a camera appears.  It feeds on small invertebrates, algae and the polyps of corals and sea fans. This one was about 4 inches but they can grow to about 14cm. Also called the redback butterflyfish.

The smaller fish at the bottom right of the picture is called a two tone damsel fish and these are very common.

Pennant Fish (Heniochus intermedius)

Click to enlarge Pennant fish can grow to about 20cm long and they can be found in the warm waters of many oceans in the world.

When they are small they usually live alone and may sometimes pick on parasites on the epidermis of other fish, but when they grow up they tend to live in couples and feed on plants. Also called Bannerfish.


Damsel Fish and Clownfish
This group called Pomacentridae is one of the most numerous groups of coral reefs. 

Sergeant Major (Abudefdur saxatilis)

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Characteristically they have 5 prominent vertical stripes with some yellowish colouring on its back. They feed on  algae, small crustaceans and fish, and various invertebrate larvae and will approach divers who might feed them. They can grow up to about 8 inches long, this one was about 4 inches long.

Red Sea Anemone fish (Amphiprion bicinctus)

Click to enlarge Probably the most photographed fish in the red sea, the anemone or clown fish. For those that don't know, these are fascinating in that they have a symbiotic relationship with the anemone, they use the stinging tentacles of the sea anemone for protection. In fact they are so dependant on this that you will never one without a host anemone. If a predator approaches the anemone fish will retreat into the tentacles and any predators will get stung by the anemone's stinging cells. It is thought that the anemone fish themselves are protected by a coat of mucous. The fish in turn will also protect the anemone by attacking any threats, small or large.  There are over 1,000 species of sea anemones, of which only ten are host to anemone fishes and there are about 28 species of anemone fishes.


You can always tell groupers as they look grumpy and with their longer bottom lip. In many ways they seem to be the upper class of the reef., almost condescending. They are territorial fish that hunt alone, dining on smaller fish and crustaceans. They can often be seen hovering under overhangs. There are over 30 species of grouper in the Red Sea, 350 worldwide.

Roving Coral Grouper (Plectropomus pessuliferus marisburi)

Click to enlarge

Size: up to about 1 metre.
Other names: 6 Banded Grouper

Coral Grouper (Cephalopholis miniata)

Click to enlarge Size: up to about 110cm.
Other names: Coral Hind, Coral Cod

Greasy Grouper (Epinephelus tauvina)

Click to enlarge

Size: up to about 70cm.
Other names: Roving Grouper

Lyretail Grouper (Variola louti)

Click to enlarge Size: up to about 80cm.
Other names: Lunar tail or Moon Grouper


Hawk Fish
Hawk fish, sometimes referred to as sentry fish, don't get involved much in the busy reef life, they like to be on the periphery,  relaxed and distant, almost bored as they lie motionless. But like hawks they \re just waiting until the time is right to strike.

Forster Hawkfish (Paracirrhites forsteri)

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These are great for photography as they just lie there, presumably waiting to ambush their prey. They can grow to about 12cm and sometimes referred to as Freckled Hawkfish or Blackside Hawkfish.

Long Nosed Hawk Fish (Oxyccirrhites typus)

Click to enlarge This little fellow is only about 13cm long. It waits, ready to dart out and grab any small crustacean or small fish. Inhabits steep outer reef slopes exposed to strong currents where it lives in large gorgonians and black corals. They are quite hard to find but can grow up to 5 inches.

Freckled Hawkfish

Click to enlarge Easily recognised by its freckled head. Typically it will just wait until the very last moment befofe it darts off to perch elsewhere.


Parrot Fish
Parrott fish get their name from their beak like teeth and their vibrant colours. Most of them feed on the thin layers of algae which cover the corals. Divers can frequently hear them scrape or crunch the coral.  They are active during daylight hours (diurnal ) and sleep in crevices at night. Amazingly, some species cocoon themselves in mucous at night, perhaps as a early warning kit, should predators approach or maybe its to keep their smell from being detected. 

Similarly to other fish they undergo a sex change as they grow older, changing from female to male.

Rusty Parrot Fish (Scarus ferrugineus)

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This coincidentally name rusty parrot fish was photographed on the rusting deck of the Thistlegorm. Note the cleaner wrasse on its back.


Puffer Fish
Puffer fish have the ability to puff themselves up when they are threatened or attacked. They do this by pumping water into a stretchable area of the stomach, resulting in a massive increase in their size. In doing this they loose their mobility and speed but become very difficult to eat.

Their flesh is considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, but they contain a powerful toxin and are generally considered poisonous to eat.  

Giant Puffer Fish (Arothron stellatus)

Click to enlarge

This huge puffer fish was about a metre long and seemed to move slowly and deliberately, about 6 inches from the sea bed. They are generally solitary and feed, like all puffers, on crustaceans and echinoderms. They can grow up to about 120cm and are sometimes referred to as a Star Puffer.

Masked Puffer Fish (Arothron diadematus)

Click to enlarge This puffer actually sleeps at night using a coral as his 'bed'. While sleeping their skin colour gets darker and the mask becomes invisible. They can grow to about 30cm, this one was about 25, Cute or what!



Blue Spotted Ray

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Like all stingrays they have venomous spines at the base of the tail. They are usually found lying on sandy bottoms, under an overhang and they frequently  flick sand over themselves as camouflage. They feed on molluscs and crabs and can occasionally be seen digging up the sand. Their pectoral fins are like wings that enable the fish to 'fly' through the water. Females can produce a litter of up to 7 young. An adult may grow to about 100cm across. 

They breathe by drawing water through a small hole behind the eye and expelling it through gill slits on their undersides.

Manta Ray (Manta birostris)

Click to enlarge Manta rays are the largest rays and are closely related to sharks. They are harmless and have no stinging tail. They are often seen with remoras and are very graceful and acrobatic. They can grow up to about 7 Metres across.

Mantas eat microscopic plankton, small fish, and tiny crustaceans. They funnel the food into their mouth while they swim, using two large, flap-like cephalic lobes which extend forward from the eyes.


Scorpion Fish
Members of the scorpion fish family include, stone fish, and lion fish.

Stone fish (Synanceia verrucosa)

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We stumbled on this incredible fish by accident, whilst looking at something else there was some fast movement out of the corner of my eye. So good is their camouflage that we were afraid to take our eyes off it or even blink in case we lost sight of it.  It was totally still but after a little bit of very gentle agitation it walked, yes walked, on its pectoral fins for a few clumsy steps then sat almost invisibly again on the sea bed. We kept our distance, mindful that the spines on its back carry some of the most venomous poison in the sea. This one was about 10 inches long.

Lion Fish

Click to enlarge The lion-fish belongs to the Scorpion fish family. This brightly coloured and graceful fish is usually found in coral reefs, especially in shallow waters hovering in caves or near crevices. It can move incredible fast in order to catch its prey. The fish have elongated dorsal fin spines and enlarged pectoral fins, and each species has a particular pattern of stripes. An average adult is about 14 inches long. 

Lion-fish have venomous fin spines that can produce painful puncture wounds (as Simon will tell you). A person punctured by one of the sharp spines will immediately feel severe pain and swelling. Treatments is to immerse the wound in hot water (as hot as can be tolerated) for an hour. Local anaesthetics or nerve blocks may also be required. Although the sting is rarely fatal the wound may take several months to fully heal.

Scorpion fish

Click to enlarge

This little fellow was about 25cm long and not as well disguised as usual, hence the photograph. Notice how their outline is broken up with these ragged leafy edges.

Although not as venomous as the stone fish, divers still need to keep their distance from their spines on their back. Great for photographers as they are motionless and unafraid of cameras.  


Surgeon Fish
Surgeon fish get their name from their main defence weapons, which are extremely sharp movable spines on each side of the tail, that are thought to resemble a surgeon's scalpel. Normally the spines lie flat in a groove, but if the fish is disturbed or alarmed, they are erected and can inflict serious wounds on an enemy as the tail is lashed to and fro.

Yellowtail Surgeonfish (Zebrasoma xanthurum)

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The brilliantly coloured blue tang is one of the 75 or so species in the surgeonfish family, Acanthuridae.  The blue tang feeds entirely on algae, which it removes from rocks with its sharp-edged teeth.

Although fairly typical of its family in appearance, the blue tang has a particularly deep body and steep profile. Its coloration changes as it matures: young fishes are bright yellow, with blue spots near the eyes; they then become blue over much of the front of the body, with a yellow tail, while adults are a deep, rich blue all over, with narrow, dark-blue lines running the length of the body.

This was actually shot on the wreck of the Thistlegorm. I'd spent ages trying to get a shot of one of these, but they were always a lot faster than me. This one, presumably used to lots of divers, just swam nonchalantly past me. 

Striped Bristletooth (Ctenochaetus striatus)

Click to enlarge

Again photographed on the deck of the Thistlegorm. These grow to about 26cm.


Trigger Fish
Trigger fish have an unusual defence mechanism; A strong dorsal spine which can be locked in place by a smaller spine,. When approached by a predator it can dart into a small opening and 'trigger' this mechanism thus locking itself inside the opening. Most are solitary, and they have strong teeth which allow them to feast on most things including molluscs and sea urchins. They can swim horizontally or diagonally and are aggressively protective of their eggs, which are laid in large circular nests in the sand.

Orange Striped Trigger fish (Balistapus undulatus)

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This one was fully grown at about a foot long, they are said to be one of the most aggressive triggerfish.

Blue Trigger Fish (Pseudobalistes fuscus)

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Size: up to about 55cm.

Arabian Picasso Trigger fish (Rhinecanthus assasi)

Click to enlarge This funny looking fish was about 30cm long and rather difficult to photograph.

The fish on the left is a sentry (Hawkfish).



There are about 600 members of the  wrasse family and they vary enormously in form, colour and size, perhaps from a few centimetres to several metres. Moreover a single species can vary male to female and it can also change as it grows from juvenile to adult. They are diurnal and usually the first to retire at dusk.

The dorsal fin is usually continuous and the caudal fin, although variously shaped, is never forked at its extremity. The pelvic fins always have one spine and five rays. The species are nearly all brightly coloured, with vivid hues of blue, green, yellow and red. The males are the ones that usually have the brighter colours. They are  usually solitary.

Checkerboard Wrasse (Halichoeres hortulanus)

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This one was about 27cm long.



Forsskal's Goat fish

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The goat fish are so named because of their barbels protruding from their lower jaw. They are fairly common and often found in small groups. They spend their time digging for crustaceans and worms on the sea floor.  They grow to about 28cm long.

Bigeye Emperor (Monotaxis grandoculis)

Click to enlarge The bulging eyes are a dead giveaway for this fish. It is a little smaller than other emperors and can be found in schools close to the reef. They can grow to about 60cm.

Sabre squirrel fish (Sargocentron spiniferum)

Click to enlarge These are nocturnal although you do see them swimming on their own during the day particularly in shaded areas. They can reach 18 inches long and apparently feed on crabs, which is quite amazing as they seem to very rare. Like many nocturnal fish, this fish is red. To the human eye it is easy to spot during the day, but to other fish it blends into its dark crevice or cave. Long red light wavelengths don't penetrate water well, so fish colour vision tends to be tuned to the shorter, blue and ultra-violet, end of the spectrum. This means that red and pink fish are more difficult to see. Also called the Giant squirrel fish.

Black Spotted Sweet lips (Plectorhynchus gaterinus)

Click to enlarge There are easily recognisable, they have thick lips, yellow tail and back and back spots. They are rather shy and not so easy to photograph. They grow up to about 45cm.

They feed at night on bottom-dwelling invertebrates. The juveniles of Black spotted sweetlips have 6 black lines on their heads and bodies, these become spots with age. Other names include Rubberlips, Grunts.

Red Sea Rabbitfish (Siganus rivultus)

Click to enlarge For some time there was uncertainty about the identity of this fish, however thanks to Jetty Middelkoop from the Netherlands we can now put a name to it.

Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

Click to enlarge The barracuda feeds on a wide variety of fishes. It frequently drifts just below the surface and is known to approach divers at very close range. It has a longer lower jaw and some very fierce looking teeth, Attacks on divers are very rare but have been reported in cloudy water and when the victim is wearing bright diving gear.

Juvenile barracuda are normally in shoals, adults are usually solitary or in pairs. They can grow to about 190cm.

Cornet Fish (Fistularia commersonil)

Click to enlarge This fish hugs the coast or reef to hunt, usually near the surface. Usually seen in small groups. Despite their fragile appearance they are an efficient predator and can reach 150cm in length.




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