It’s not unusual to see this kind of gang activity while snorkeling, and what they’re doing is hunting. Their prey is small fish that take sanctuary in coral heads and among the rocks.
This bunch of hunters is dominated by Blue Goatfishes, easily identified by their blue bodies and yellow saddle at the base of the tail. There’s also a Bluefin Trevally and Pacific Trumpetfish toward the bottom of the photo and, near the top of the photo, a Peacock Grouper with a Whitemouth Moray Eel curling below it.
Eels are popular members of these hunting parties because they can wriggle into the smallest spaces, flushing out prey. The goatfishes perform similar work using long, white barbels below the chin to probe small spaces in the hopes of disturbing a meal. Other fish tag along hoping to be beneficiaries of this work by being the first to snag any victims that get flushed out.
The appearance of Undulated Moray Eels can be quite varied. The yellow-green head is a common feature, and this black and white patterning is probably its most attractive look. They are, however, considered one of the nastier eels in the area and not to be messed with.
My fish book notes that the large-spotted snake moray eel can be encountered both day and night, but is not often seen. That’s true in my experience. This is only the second one I’ve seen here and the first I’ve photographed.
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.