Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Why is that fish following me?

Have you ever felt like a fish was following you?  Maybe you're hanging out at Secret Harbour Beach in the shallow sandy area, digging your toes into the sand, and suddenly you are surrounded by fish!  Or maybe you're snorkeling and a fish follows you around like you're its new best friend.  You may have noticed that stingrays often have a fish following them around or seen pictures of fish following big sharks.  Are they buddies?

There is a very common behavior among fish called "Shadow Feeding."  A fish hangs in the shadows of another creature, following them around in hope that somehow they will get an easy snack.

Image by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble via Wikimedia Commons - Palometa Jack

When you are walking through the sand, you are potentially stirring up tiny organisms like little worms, shrimp, or crabs, which the fish near your feet hope to gobble up.  That is why the silvery palometa jack and other fish are often hanging around near your feet at the beach.  If you want to attract fish, stir up some sand!    

Image by Nathanial Kelley - Great Barracuda
When you are snorkeling or scuba diving and find a fish following you, it may be using you as camouflage so it can hide from potential predators, or to sneak up on potential prey.  It may also be hoping that you (the bigger "fish") catch some prey and they get to feed on the remnants of your meal.  I have had barracuda, Atlantic spade fish, grey angelfish, bar jack, and many other fish species follow me while diving or snorkeling.  Don't worry, despite their menacing teeth, the barracuda have no desire to eat you!

Image by NOAA CCMA Biogeography Team via Wikimedia Commons - Southern Stingray with shadow-feeding Jack

Video by Amy Kelley

Many times you will see a bar jack following along with a stingray.  The bar jack is also shadow feeding, hoping to get an easy meal when the stingray stirs up the sand.  

Image by Peterkoelbl via Wikipedia -  Pilot fish following an oceanic whitetip shark

A fish called a pilot fish often accompanies sharks, rays, or whales in hope of getting some tasty crumbs from the larger creatures meal, or finding ectoparasites they can pick off the larger creature. 

Image by Giorgio Galeotti - Green Sea Turtle with Remora
Video by Amy Kelley

Remora often cling onto or follow turtles, sharks, and other bigger creatures to feed off their ectoparasites or catch a free meal when their host feeds.  I've even had remora try to cling onto me!  

Video by Amy Kelley

Next time you are diving or snorkeling and are fortunate enough to have a "buddy" follow you or notice an "odd couple", take a moment to appreciate and observe their behavior.  Now you know what the are really up to!  Fish are much more intelligent than most people give them credit for.