19 Feb 2010

Fishy Fridays ep.10

Welcome! Bienvenus! Wilkommen! Bienvenidos! Benvinguts! Benvenutti!

Time to really kick off Fishy Fridays 2010 edition by diving back into the Liège Aquarium! Remember, before Christmas we had just started off with the tropical section, so these are all fish from warm coastal zones, frequently reefs or mangroves. Don't forget to click on photos for a larger view (sorry if blurry, damn fish won't stop swimming even for a second!) and clicking on a fish's name will send you to its Fishbase page where you can find lots more info (namely distribution, diet, predators, reproductive habits, endangered status, size etc.), which I highly recommend since I was a bit busy this weekend and there were way too many fish involved for me to go too much in detail (also why this post is late, that and I need to remember to start writing these before the Friday, lol!).

Our special guests today include:
  • someone who makes the Wicked Witch of the West seem pale by comparison
  • a fish that will remind some readers of a certain Disney-friendly canine
  • one of the most toxic fish in the world... who is nevertheless regularly consumed by humans... of the highly affluent variety
  • and more! (it's a big tank, lol!)

This tank is also a good example of why it's interesting to return to your favourite Aquarium regularly, because you'll find that things are in constant change! (Unless of course it's a very large Aquarium with oodles of moolah and they can easily replace any fish that dies) I've been told legends about one of the initial inhabitants of the aquarium, the sea turtle (I think a loggerhead, but not sure) Caroline. Now apparently Caroline had quite a temper... one day one of the scientists got in the tank to free her from an archway in which she had gotten stuck, and she thanked him by taking a nip from his ass!!! She was eventually shipped off to the Antwerp Zoo when she continued her reign of terror until a ripe old age.

When I started guiding in Spring 2000 this tank was the biggest in the Aquarium and hosted two black-tipped reef sharks (one male, one female), a nurse shark and a moray eel that no one was really sure how it had gotten in there... A couple of years later the male died and the two women were left alone. Then ditto the female and so the technician decided to re-do the tank and put the nurse shark back in a reservoir and did some renovations which basically consisted in adding that pile of rocks you can see in the centre of the tank (the overhang in the back left-hand corner was already there). The tank then welcomed its new inhabitants, namely a batfish (still there), and spotted grouper (ditto, with friends), and blowfish and porcupine fish (both gone, new blowfish present) a small reef-shark and 7 different moray eels. At least I've always been assured there were 7... I've never seen more than 5 different ones (green, brown, zebra, speckled and splotchy)! Those rocks make for perfect hiding places!

Let me introduce you to the current inhabitants:

The Batfish, Platax orbicularis (poisson chauve-souris en Français).
What's that? You don't see a resemblance to a bat? That's because you've got to see a juvenile, when the fins and body size aren't quite in the same proportion and the colouring is much darker. Definitely bat-like! (but hey, I didn't invent these names!) This guy's been around for as long as I can remember (well, less than 10 years since I know he wasn't there when I started), and he's pretty much reached his top size of ~ 60cm. Seems like a steady diet of bits of fish, mussels and other seafoody stuff is perfect for this shallow-water omnivore from the Indo-Pacific oceans!

The Golden Trevally, Gnathanodon speciosus (Carangue dorée en Français, Jurel dorado en Español).
Also abundant in the coastal waters around the Indo-Pacific islands and reefs, these guys are usually seen in schools swimming around larger animals for protection (including scuba divers apparently, or the tentacles of jellyfish when young), and to take advantage of any possible leftovers! Otherwise they forage for crustaceans and molluscs among the sand. Those stripes are much darker on juveniles (these guys are at least 5 years old) and fade away as they get older, and bigger. Can measure up to 1m20!
Check out this mouth:

 Now for a fish whose name is currently fluctuating (at least in French):

The Humpback Grouper (?!?! 1st time reading the name in English for me!) or Polka-dot Grouper (Australian name, much better!) Cromileptes altivelis (Français: mérou de Grace Kelly / poisson dalmatien, officiellement selon la FAO mérou bossu; Mero jorobado en Español)
Ok, this illustrates the name problem even better than I thought! Thank heavens for Latin and the Linnean system allowing for some consistency at an international level! The story we tell at the Aquarium about this grouper is that when the Oceanographic Museum / Aquarium was inaugurated in Monaco all those years ago, the ribbon was cut by Princess Grace Kelly... who happened to be wearing at the time a beige dress with black dots (and of course this fish was also present), so they gave her name to the fish! We only get to tell this to the older crowd (most people under the age of 30 -or 40?- have no idea who Grace Kelly was), the kids just call it the "dalmatian fish" as soon as they see it.
Anyhow, definitely a grouper, can measure up to ~60cm and eats small fish and invertebrates. Found in the coastal waters (lagoons, reefs) around northern Australia and north up to Japan (with all the islands in between).

Who's next? How about the ultimate hitch-hiker?

"look ma! no thumbs!" but can still hitch a ride with just about any large shark, manta ray, turtle or whale... how? see for yourselves what a modified dorsal fin can do:

I don't know exactly which species this is, so I'll send you along to the fishbase file for the Common Remora Remora remora (le rémora ou "auto-stoppeur des mers" en Français), also known as the "shark sucker"!
Can you imagine swimming around with one (or more!) of these over 1/2 meter fish clutching onto your belly? Plus you can't really avoid them as they're found pretty much all over the world in sub-tropical waters...

It's time for the queen of this tank, the fish who gets the most "oohs" and "ahs" out of the crowd, when she deigns to grant an appearance:

the Green Moray! Gymnothorax funebris (murène verte en Français)

She used to spend most of her time hiding in the tube under the rocks, until she got too big (can measure up to 2.5 m!). Now she spends her days in the "cave", only poking out sometimes to stretch or eat (and we have wondered if she might have something to do with the fact that we haven't seen most of the other morays in a while now...).

Definitely a Caribbean reef-species, as well as present along the northern coast of South America, apparently she's also been spotted in the Eastern Pacific (?!). Like most morays she's nocturnal but appears to be a bit more aggressive than her Mediterranean cousins.

This is actually the only other moray in there that I've seen recently:

Damn! I thought this was the spotted moray (murène tachetée), but the Fishbase photo doesn't look anything like mine... Anyhow, this was the only other "big" moray in here. The others were the much thinner (at least the last time I saw them) Snowflake moray (murène étoilée) and Zebra moray (murène zebrée), plus those mystery eels I never met! :p

And last but not least...

pop! goes the weasel...
The Pufferfish... but I'm not 100% sure which one it is! I think it's the Blue-spotted puffer Arothron caeruleopunctatus... damn, I should have thought to send an e-mail and ask the boss! (Poisson ballon en Français)
It seems like every time I take a group round the Aquarium I get asked if we can't scare him to make him blow up, and I'm like NOOOOO!!!! Poor critter, it's the equivalent of giving it a heart attack!!!
Abundant in the coastal waters from northern Australia up to Japan, some species are also known on the sashimi market as Fugu (see variants here). What's so special about the fact that this highly prized item? Well, how about for starters the fact that if prepared incorrectly your extremely expensive experience... could also be your last! The ovaries and liver of the pufferfish has a lovely little stockpile of a poison called tetrodotoxin which provokes muscle paralysis (while remaining conscious, scary!) leading to death by asphyxiation (remember, your heart's a muscle too!). And there's no known antidote... Still want to try it? Apparently part of the attraction (other than the risk factor for you daredevils out there) is the fact that the meat retains a slight toxicity that makes you feel light-headed and makes your lips "fuzzy". Go ahead, try it! Considering the tight regulations it should be safe! After all, the chefs have to go through a rigourous 2-3 year training learning how to identify the fish and prepare it. Their final exam consists of doing just that, and then eating it! Only ~35% of applicants pass the test... ;o)

I really miss the more prickly cousin, the porcupine fish... I used to have so much fun gazing into those blue eyes, and getting it to follow my baguette up and down along the glass. Sigh! That and it was a much slower swimmer, so would have been easier to get a decent shot! :p

My! Is anyone else thirsty after all that saltwater? I'm off to find a drink! See you back here in 2 weeks for another Fishy Friday. Here are a few clues as to who will be in the starring role:
  • "Congratulations sir, you're pregnant!"
  • Shares the first half of its name with a rather large, semi-aquatic mammal; but in truth the name refers to another 100% terrestrial mammal with whom it shares a fleeting resemblance..
Here, I'll leave you off with a more recent video of these guys that my room-mate did during my last Aquarium visit right before Christmas:


  1. Hmm?
    Oh! Did I forget to say why it's called the puffer fish?! If attacked it can blow up like a balloon! Changes shapes, from being roughly like a rugby ball to completely round like a basket ball. Hard to find something to chow down on! Not that any sane fish should want to chow down on such a poisonous creature... sometimes just that sudden change in size is enough to scare off a potential predator. ;o)

  2. Nice to Fishy Fridays again! Great job!

  3. Hey Dive Girl! I'm curious as to wether you've seen any of these while diving... I've never been in tropical waters! :o(

  4. My daughter had a puffer fish... small version. I see why Ms Green draws the oohs and ahs!

  5. Indeed! I wish I had footage of her unspooling out of the cave and then curving back in, so very elegant!

  6. I need to go back to the aquarium! Moray eels are awesome, as are the puffer fish - one of my favorites, though I admit it would be cool to see one puff up - also, I'm guessing seahorses or catfish for the next post!
    I made the mistake, btw, when I was about 8 of catching a catfish from a local pond with my bare hands - and those whiskers are NOT friendly!
    Great post!

  7. That eel looked angry! Cool shot!
    I like it, looks like it's from a horror movie.

  8. Nicky, how did yo catch a fish with your bare hands?!?!?! Hmmm... I never thought of there being a prob with catfish whiskers! :p

    Spencer, those morays ALWAYS look nasty! I'm pretty sure it's part of the reasn why they've got such a scary reputation...


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