Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Joe Dickinson sends us rarities: underwater photos of reef fish. His notes are indented:

About a year and a half ago I sent a batch of photos, mostly under water, from French Polynesia.  We returned  recently just to Moorea for a week of binge snorkeling (with some other activities thrown in when I became too waterlogged).  Here is an initial set of the results.  I’ll send more over the next week or two as I get them edited and identified.

First, we can set the scene with a shot approaching Moorea by Ferry, with the surrounding reef indicated by a line of surf.

 Then a view from the deck of our “bungalow” from which we could descend directly into the lagoon (note the ladder from the similar neighboring unit at the far left):
Now to the fish.  The blue lined surgeonfish (Acanthurus lineatus) was, to the best of my aging memory, a new species for me.
A dash-dot goatfish (Parupeneus basrberinus).


A school of convict surgeonfish (Acanthurus triostegus).
Ornate butterflyfish (Chaetodon ornastissimus).


Bullethead parrotfish (Chlorurus sordidus).
Those last two species together.
Saddle butterflyfish (Chaetodon ephippium).
An old favorite from my introduction to snorkeling while on sabbatical in Hawaii (studying Hawaiian Drosophila, by the way), the Moorish idol (Zanclus cornutrus).
The aptly named Picasso triggerfish (rhinecanthus aculeatus).
And finally, for this set, a very brave bluestreak cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus) completely inside the mouth of a giant moray eel (Gymnothorax javanicus).  Not the sharpest photo I’ve ever taken, but I’m still proud of it.


  1. James Walker
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Amazing photos! I’d be interested in knowing what kind of camera was used for the underwater shots.

    • Joe Dickinson
      Posted June 30, 2016 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      It’s a fairly inexpensive waterproof point-and-shoot, the Power Shot D20 by Canon. The secret is to fire away, then do some thoughtful selection once you have them up on your desktop.

  2. Michael Day
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Love these photos! In particular the photogenic parrot fish.

  3. Posted June 30, 2016 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Utterly delightful, Joe. Congratulations (and more than somewhat envious).

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted June 30, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      Me too – it looks glorious. I want to be there right now…

      Apropos: I went on a pretty miserable, tense, argumentative family holiday to Tobago when I was fifteen or so, but amidst all the bad tempers and passive aggression I got given a mask and shown how to snorkel in water just off the hotel’s own beach, and I have never forgotten how extraordinary that was. It was head-spinningly beautiful.
      And it felt almost like cheating; that a world as sensual and vivid and colorful could be accessed so easily by a mediocre swimmer with a cheap mask! When you’re there it’s just overwhelming. One of my ambitions is to some day go snorkelling in waters like that again. These photos have really stirred me up.

      • Michael Day
        Posted June 30, 2016 at 9:52 am | Permalink

        That’s the wonderful thing about snorkeling or just diving with a mask in the right place: it can actually be much more beautiful than scuba diving. Below a certain depth, the vivid colors are washed out and dominated by blues…

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted June 30, 2016 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

          Yes, that was my feeling – I’ve never been scuba diving but snorkelling felt so wonderful I’ve never wanted to either. And I’m more interested in resolution, contrast, depth of colour and frame rate than I am in the ability to watch in 3D if you see what I mean.

      • Posted June 30, 2016 at 9:56 am | Permalink

        Hear, hear, Saul, same for me in Turkish waters when I was about 35: it is like discovering another world and the nearest us medium-achievers will get to space-travel.

        OT: btw. sitting aghast at twitter and fb as Corbyn breaks the Labour Party. Thank goodness for Wimbledon and Joe’s photos. They’re the only things which are cheering me up.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted June 30, 2016 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

          What a horror show of a week eh? At least the Tories seem even more intent on destroying themselves.

          Last thing I read was that Corbyn was actually keen to go but was being held back by his more strident hard-left supporters/pimps. I’ve no idea how much truth there is in that.
          It’s not a pretty picture is it? but if ever there was an opportunity for Labour it’s now – 48% of the country have no-one fighting their side. I don’t know which way you voted but my feeling is that it’s incredibly complacent for the Tories to talk as though this was a landslide. Half the country is angry, frustrated and a great deal more united, in my opinion, than the other side – and at the moment the 48% are living in what amounts to a one party state.
          Our one remaining just-about-credible centre-left party surely can’t afford to keep faith in a man who seems to openly disdain the idea of democratic compromise, a man who seems to regard gaining actual political power in the same way other people regard getting caught wanking in a disabled toilet. Never mind his cabal of followers at the top, who are prepared to cede the next ten years of government to the Tories in the hallucinatory belief that this will foment some kind of left-wing populist uprising…in 2026. This hard-left experiment has been a hideous disaster, but until now it’s been in everybody’s interests to just drift along – Corbyn listing, his opponents sitting on their hands biding their time. After last Thursday however it’s crucial that Corbyn goes as quickly as possible and they begin the process of returning to opposition. Listening to people like Cameron and Anna Soubry talk over the last few days has been telling – even some Conservatives are concerned about Labour’s uselessness.

          Re. snorkelling: you’re right, it really is like another planet…and you don’t need a rocket, two years of physical training and degrees in astrophysics and engineering to get there. That’s part of what was so attractive about it – you just inhale, balloon yourself out and float on the surface, blotting out the sun for shoal after shoal of twinkling, shimmering fish. It’s one of those things that you want to tell your friends about and drag them with you to experience it too.

          Anyway, keep your chin up. I can’t actually think of any reasons why you should, but that’s what they say in these circumstances…

          • Posted June 30, 2016 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

            I agree with most of that Saul but let’s not hijack Joe’s moment in the sun, or rather, under the sea.

            More of these pics, if you can, Joe: a whole swathe of miserable middle-aged Englanders are looking to you to cheer us up!

            • Saul Sorrell-Till
              Posted July 1, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

              Fair enough. I’ve been posting a fair few apocalyptic screeds over the last week and it’s difficult to not let it all pour out.

              I second your plea for more photos: more of these would be very welcome.

  4. Jim Knight
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Beautiful photos! Makes a person want to seriously study Ichthyology…!

  5. aldoleopold
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Love the cheeky parrot fish 🙂

  6. Merilee
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Spectacular photos!!

  7. Posted June 30, 2016 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the excellent photos — the colors and patterns of the markings on the various species are so interesting!

  8. steve oberski
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    As the name indicates, the cleaner wrasse is removing parasites and dead tissue in a mutually beneficial relationship with the moray eel.

    I’ve also seen cleaner shrimp in the mouths and gills of groupers performing a similar function. The grouper would literally line up at “cleaner stations” on the reef, waiting to be serviced.

    • Lurker111
      Posted July 1, 2016 at 6:33 am | Permalink

      I’ve always wanted to ask: Who cleans the cleaner wrasses?

  9. Posted June 30, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    A newbie question…

    Why are these reef fishes so gaudily colored? They just seem to be, um, designed to amaze and delight us hoomins.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted June 30, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      I am not an expert, but I can offer some educated guesses based on things I have heard about here and there. The colors and patterns emerge from a combination of factors.
      First, like many animals they use color patterns to communicate identity, so to help mediate territories and solicitations for sex. Second, the intensely contrasting patterns are rather necessary to compensate for being underwater. Under natural light down there, everything is seen as shades of blue and they need a lot of contrast to get their communication across. Third, the bright colors, under flash photography, is somewhat of an accident. The fish themselves probably cannot see these colors since it is underwater. But the colors are from the pigments that animals tend to have at their disposal.

      • Tim Anderson
        Posted June 30, 2016 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        But why is it so typically associated with tropical reef fish? If color identification were a product of low-light underwater conditions, wouldn’t it be a feature of all fish in all environments? In any case, the following site suggests that many fish species have color vision superior to humans:

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Totally awesome! I would love to try this!

  11. Sue Sommers
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Beautiful photos and the water is so clear!

  12. KD33
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Man, I want to be in that bungalow right now…

    Nice pics. To a one, all of these fish can be seen on several Hawaiian islands, with at most minor variations in pattern and color. (I also have tons of pics taken with an iPhone in an underwater casing – works great if you’re brave enough to risk it…). Not sure if the varieties are identical, but I’d be interested to know how the fish can be so similar 2600 miles away. Do these little fish somehow traverse the open ocean and keep the the gene pool stirred? Anyone know?

    • rickflick
      Posted June 30, 2016 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      “I’d be interested to know how the fish can be so similar 2600 miles away.”

      I’ve wondered about that myself. I have not dived in the western Pacific, but from my experience diving in various parts of the tropical world I’ve noticed differences. In the Caribbean the species tend to be much the same on all the reefs. There must be lots of gene flow.
      Hawaii has pretty much a different set of species, Galapagos similar to Hawaii but much of interest happens to be palagics which of course travel easily. I once dove in the Indian ocean off S. Africa, which looked quite different again, especially the coral and sponges which appeared strange to my eyes.
      My guess is that the farther apart geographically, the more differences – which implies there is some gene flow (travel) but there are constraints.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      At the very least, the Moorish Idol and Picasso Parrotfish are common on the Tanzania coast.
      My guess is that the larvae get swept around in the oceanic circulation and when they get to somewhere of an appropriate environment when they’re at an appropriate age, when they settle and become all territorial. If it’s good enough for the coelacanths in the Indian Ocean (remember the two species, Indonesian and Comoran), then I don’t see why it wouldn’t be good enough for a Moorish Picasso Idle Parrotfish.

  13. DrBrydon
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink


  14. Heather Hastie
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Underwater pictures are always my favourite. These are wonderful!

    I’ve been to New Caledonia twice and once to Vanuatu and got in plenty of snorkeling. I’d dearly love to do it again. It’s one of the best experiences ever!

  15. Karen Bartelt
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 4:22 pm | Permalink


  16. Mark R.
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful group of photos Joe. Can’t wait until you submit more!

  17. cruzrad
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Posted June 30, 2016 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    These are wonderful, Joe. Thanks for sharing your adventure!

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