Swimming with the fishes

I haven’t posted anything about scuba diving for a long time. It’s been three years since I last visited the world beneath, but I finally managed to go diving at Tulamben in Bali, Indonesia last month. Plenty has been written about scuba diving at Tulamben so I won’t repeat it here. In my opinion it’s definitely worth it. I enjoyed my trip very much.

Now, on to the main subject of this post: fish behaviour at dive sites. At some dive sites, if divers are well-behaved and dive operators maintain good discipline, the fish will become somewhat habituated to the presence of humans. If divers do not disturb the animals or interfere with their activities, they will learn that divers are not threats. It is important NOT to feed them to encourage this! What we all want to see is the fishes’ natural behaviour, not being harassed for food.


Example #1

Photos not by me, but I was diving with this group. Credit: Darrell of Scuba Voyagers

At the Tulamben Liberty Wreck, large bumphead parrotfish will often show up early in the morning at their preferred cleaning station. After a brisk morning grooming, they will depart to look for food, rather like a human brushing their teeth before work. Just wait for them at the cleaning station. If you don’t make any sudden movements or chase after them, they will come very near.

I was diving with this group and hovering over the cleaning station when a bumphead parrotfish approached me slowly head-on. I moved a little to the left and upwards and the parrotfish swam over the cleaning station, hovering there while the wrasse groomed it less than 2 metres away.

Example #2

Photo not by me, but I have personally witnessed similar scenes in the Maldives. Credit: Rasdhoo Dive Centre

At some dive sites in the Maldives, groups of Bignose Unicornfish (Naso vlamingii) will greet divers near the surface as they enter and even follow them around for a bit. These fish will nibble at the streams of exhaled bubbles and even wriggle through them as if enjoying a Jacuzzi massage.

This fish can be recognised by the two “streamers” on its tail and bright blue markings. It’s best to descend gradually so that they can keep up. Don’t attempt to touch them, as this species has 4 sharp spines on the base of its tail, camouflaged against its dark body colour.

Example #3

At some places where night diving is popular, a few predatory fish may follow divers around to use their lights for hunting.


Remember, as with all wildlife, fish will be less fearful if you do not harass or chase them. Avoid sudden movements, keep your eyes open and observe.

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