Fish id is a fun and passive way to spend our dives. Hunting for different critters that we have never seen is definitely one of the highlights of all of our dive adventures. So far we have been very lucky and usually manage to fine 1 or 2 that we haven’t seen before. Or at least that is what we claim. So how do we identify the ones we haven’t seen? Well having a slate helps and a camera is even better and there are so many books with awesome pictures in them to help.
But Fish id does have some basics that you can apply without all those hand reference tools. With over 21000 species of fish and over 4000 of them found on coral reefs, just about only the most astute scientist can id them all. But you can use a few fish id tools to help you id most of them.
This about it this way, you spy a fish you have not seen before. What does it look like? All the fish are divided into roughly 30 or so “families” and they are then broken down into only twelve common groups. This will make your fish id dive much easier and more fun. We are not trying to be perfect, just getting close will help us when we get back to the boat or resort and can start looking at the reference books.
The twelve family groups to help you in your fish id dives are:
1. Butterfly, Angel and Surgeon fish
2. Jacks, Barracuda, Porgy and Chubs
3. Snappers and Grunts
4. Damselfish, Chromis and Hamlets
5. Groupers, Seabass and Basslets
6. Parrotfish and Wrasse
7. Squirrelfish, Bigeyes and Cardinalfish
8. Blennies, Gobies and Jawfish
9. Filefish, Triggerfish,Puffers, Trunkfish, Cowfish, Goatfish, Trumptfish and Drums
11. Sharks and Rays
12. Flounders, Scorpion, Lizard and Frog fish.
By thinking about fish this way, you can see how it will make your fish id adventure easier. But lets just take the first of these family groupings.
Butterflys, Angels and Surgeon fish usually have rather thin bodies and are oval or disk shaped. They are all generally brightly colored and have interesting patterns. So, how to distinguish them. Well in true fish id techniques, Butterfly fish are generally smaller and more round. They may have a longer mouth. Angelfish are generally darker in color, have a more rounder forehead and long dorsal fins. Surgenfish, aka Tangs are generally a solid color and have spines that stick out at the base of their tail.
And there you have the basics of Fish id.