Several fish at the Two Oceans Aquarium look a little dull; that is, until you pay closer attention and see the awesomeness that they are secretly harbouring. Here are our top five unassuming fish that are secretly awesome:
The bluefin gurnard is a fish that we are certain the vast majority of our visitors overlook. Inhabiting the Cold Reef Exhibit, together with the shysharks, this drab little fish may not seem like anything special, perhaps just well-camouflaged…
… Until you see it looking for food! It spreads its pectoral (side) fins wide, revealing brilliant blue “butterfly wings” that give the gurnard its other name: searobin. If you look just in front of these fins, you might notice that it appears to have a set of little “legs” that helps it creep along. These are not actually legs, they are modified rays of its fins, which the gurnard uses to stir up the sand to find prey – small crustaceans.
Buzz the brindle bass in our I&J Ocean Exhibit is by no means a dull fish. His yellow tinted fins and subtle white spots certainly are beautiful, but he does have a hard time competing for attention with Yoshi the loggerhead turtle.
But, Buzz has a secret – he is still young, and in a few years can grow larger than 2,7m and weigh over 400kg (more than twice the size of Yoshi,). In fact, there have been reports of brindle bass growing up to 4,3m and weighing almost 600kg!
In nature, large brindle bass (also known as giant groupers) are predators, hunting anything they can fit into their mouths, including sharks and turtles. Unfortunately, overfishing has left them vulnerable, and precious. In fact, a huge brindle bass in the USA was the first fish to ever get chemo therapy to save its life!
A kingklip is a fish you’re probably far more likely to recognise on your plate in South Africa, rather than in the Aquarium (even though it;s listed as Orange on the SASSI consumer guide – think twice before ordering or buying kingklip).
The kingklip’s real secret is that it doesn’t look the way anyone expects it to: it is a cusk eel, not a typical fish! This eel is a predator, hunting small fish, mantis shrimps and squid on South Africa’s continental slope.
Rocksuckers are small tadpole-shaped fish, common along the Cape’s coastline. They have a large suction cup that they use to cling to rocks in strong currents, waiting for high tide when they can pry limpets and other small shellfish off of rocks.
Why is the rocksucker awesome? It has two prominent canine teeth, which it uses to loosen shellfish. These massive teeth have created quite a few scares in Cape Town – every so often a deceased rocksucker washes up, prompting residents to think there is an infestation of some species of vampire-piranha hybrid in our waters.
Rocksuckers are no threat to humans and will not bite us, they only demand our love.
Mudskippers are already quite famous – most of our visitors can see them out of the water, due to the fact that they are able to breathe air directly. They use their strong flippers to cross mud flats as the tide goes out, catching snails and crustaceans before they have time to burrow to safety.
However, this isn’t their only trick: mudskippers can climb trees! They use their flexible pectoral fins to climb the roots and stems of trees in mangroves, finding safety and the occasional insectoid snack.
“Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid,” said Albert Einstein. Clearly Einstein never met a mudskipper.