I always find it interesting to listen to my fellow snorkelers when they exit the water and begin talking about the various marine life that they have seen. You can usually get an idea of how often they snorkel by their conversations of what they have seen. The snorkeling neophyte is excited about everything because it is all new to them. They don't know the names of the fishes that they have seen but they can describe many of them in vivid detail. While I like watching the common fish like yellowtail snapper and squirrelfish, I have a tendency to look for, and point out, some of the more unique critters found on the reefs. Some of these can be spotted swimming around in plain sight but others require a keen eye, patience and many times a lot of luck in order to see them. What makes many of them unique is their ability to blend in with the surrounding environment. For me snorkeling is often like playing hide-and-seek as a kid, with me always being "it". With that said, you are probably wondering about some of the creatures that I find to be unique.
The Coronet and Trumpet fish are long, thin fish who are masters of disguise. The easiest way to spot them are when they are swimming horizontally in the water because they look out of place. It gets harder when they employ their defense against predators or when they are hunting for food. This involves something as simple as changing their body position from horizontal to vertical where they become "one with the reef" by taking on the appearance of an innocuous branch of coral. They also have the ability to change rapidly change their coloration to match the stalks of coral they are near which further increases the believability.
The Seahorse, which is a relative of the Trumpet and Coronet fish, is another that uses camouflage quite effectively. They are not adept at swimming and when they do, most of them swim in a vertical position. They do have a prehensile tail which they wrap around a stalky piece of coral while waiting for food to pass by them. They change color to match the coral to which they are attached and some have even evolved to have similar coral like textures on their bodies. These creatures, I have to admit, are the hardest for me to spot while I am snorkeling. I have even been with others who have pointed them out to me yet I was still clueless as to what they were pointing at.
Flounders are another amazing fish that can hide very well while still being in plain sight, This is not the only reason that I place them in the category of being unique. They are from the Flat Fish family which go through a rather bizarre physical metamorphosis as they transition from their juvenile state to adulthood. Juveniles move through the water is the classic style which we associate with common fish but as they mature their world basically turns sideways. They begin swimming sideways hugging the sandy ocean bed and one of their eyes physically migrates to the opposite side of its body during adulthood. This transition makes them a bit creepy but excellent bottom feeders. People usually will only be able to spot them when they are on the move as their color changing camouflage is the ability to mimic that of the surrounding sand.
Octopus probably reign supreme when it comes to their ability to blend in to their surroundings. They are considered to be intelligent and because they have no internal or external skeleton, they can squeeze in and out of the tiniest of spaces. Their ability to rapidly change color has been associated with a representation of their moods as well as an excellent camouflage when needed. When threatened they also employ a smokescreen technique by blasting out a get of black ink which hides their getaway. One particular type, the Mimic Octopus has been seen actually imitating the shape of other marine life and corals to warn and escape predators.
These are but a few of the wonders of the underwater realm that I find to be fascinating and consider it a treat when I spot them while snorkeling. There are so many more but if I listed them all it would probably rival the number of pages in the thickest of books, but it is a start to help you expand your own snorkeling adventures.RELATED READING: