One thing I can rely on when I’m snorkeling is that when I’m looking down into the water there’s a very good chance something will be looking up at me. Most creatures in the water are constantly scanning for predators, or prey.
In this case, this whitemouth moray eel was in a typical position, wedged into a crack, and keeping a watchful eye on my movements.
Posted in response to Becky’s January Squares challenge theme of ‘Up.’ See more responses here.
I saw this fairly small snowflake moray eel sliding over and around a shallow rocky area recently. Often times, eels will vanish into barely visible holes in the reef, but this one stayed in sight for quite a while before doing so. I like how, in the top photo, it’s peeking out to see if I’m still there.
Snowflake eels are probably the prettiest eels to be seen in the waters around here.
I hope this photo doesn’t ruin anyone’s breakfast, but I run it for a couple of reasons. First, a lot of people fish around the island and most of them don’t like eels. Snag an eel on your line and there’s not much to be done. The eel will wrap itself in knots and the only way to be rid of it is to cut the line. The person fishing could try removing the hook and releasing the eel, but even if they were so inclined, the feeling is, ‘why release an eel so that it can tie itself in knots next time you throw a line in?’
And that brings us to the other reason for running the photo, and which also explains another reason no one wants to remove that hook. Look at those teeth! Rows of them, front and back, side to side. Reach for that hook and chances are you’re going to get bitten. This is also why it’s not a good idea to mess with anything in the water. Even little fish that look harmless can have a powerful bite, or sharp spines, or some other nasty surprise.
At one of my regular snorkel spots, there’s a place where a small whitemouth eel had taken up residence. I saw it there several times, head sticking out from a hole in the rock, flashing its white mouth. Then one day it was gone, but there was clearly something else in there. It looked like another eel, but I only saw a smooth patch of skin, it was curled in there so tightly.
Recently though, I saw that the creature had turned around and, in the small opening, part of its head could be seen, revealing it to be a small yellowhead moray eel. In the photo, the eel’s eye peers out from its lair, which is surrounded by rock covered with different-colored growths.
Things to like about the zebra moray eel include that they’re probably the easiest eel to identify. They also tend to be quite long and make visually interesting shapes as they meander through rock and coral.
Whitemouth moray eels can squeeze into the tightest spots on the reef and are often seen with just the head sticking out. They’re easy to identify with their bright white mouths, which they’re constantly opening and closing. While this activity looks somewhat menacing, they’re actually forcing water over their gills in order to breathe. That’s not to say that, if you waggle your finger in the face of an eel, it won’t bite it off so, as with most creatures in the water, it’s best to keep at a reasonable distance and be respectful of them.
Peacock groupers are easily identified by their iridescent blue spots and, in larger specimens, lighter vertical bars toward the tail. They tend to be skittish fish, diving for cover when anything approaches. But these two were in an area where fishing is prohibited and I’ve noticed that the fish in these areas have figured out they don’t have to worry about people in the water (probably a big mistake).
Another trait of peacock groupers is that they will often hunt with eels and octopuses. That’s what these two were doing on this day. On the right of the photo, the tail of the eel can be seen sticking out from whatever cranny the eel was disappearing into.
But the thing I like best about this photo is the fish just above the head of the top peacock grouper. Not much can be seen of it except for two white areas that look like a mischievous grin. I suspect that these white spots are the bill of a large parrotfish, but I was never able to get enough of a look to be sure.