Learning to Identify Marine Life


When I was learning to scuba dive many years ago, I remember getting back on the boat after one of the training dives and my instructor was all excited.

“Did you see the Guitar Shark?”

“The what??”

I had never heard of a Guitar Shark. Since then, I’ve logged more than 200 dives and haven’t seen another one so I guess they are pretty rare. Today, I take a camera with me on every single dive and I love nothing more than spending the entire dive trying to take that perfect picture of a little marine creature I haven’t seen before. The display of colours on the coral reefs are spectacular but unless I know the names of what I’ve seen, the experience isn’t complete. Imagine going on safari and telling people you saw a massive grey thing with big ears and a long nose or a big cat with black dots. It wouldn’t seem right, would it?

Massive Grey Things With Big Ears

Back on land, I download the images to my lapt0p and start editing the best pictures. I normally just delete about 60-80% for any number of reasons such as being blurred, bad colours or missing the shot. The best ones are filed away and then I start tracking down the names of the fish in various books. That itself is no mean feat. On my last trip to Bunaken Island, the instructor was also a marine biologist so we spent hours trawling through books to identify more than 250 images but we got there in the end.

I like to think some of my pictures aren’t too bad and I do receive a few compliments. Identifying exactly what I have taken a picture of is sometimes as much of a challenge as getting the shot in the first place. Underwater a reef may seem vast but certain types of fish can usually be found in the same place. If you want to see an Anemonefish (aka Clownfish), you need to find an Anemone. Moray eels are often found hidden in holes in the reef with just their head sticking out. Larger fish such as Tuna will be ‘out in the blue.

Spinecheek Anemonefish

Generally, I take as many pictures as possible. If I know a particular reef, I may well trying to find a specific type of fish. On my next trip to Sharm el Sheikh, I hope to find a Long Nose Hawkfish on one of the large Gorgonian Fans in the Straits of Tiran. They are beautiful little fish but very hard to photograph.

I upload my better pictures to Flickr. I normally create different sets for each trip but I’ve also finally got round to grouping my underwater photos into sets. Hopefully, that will help both myself and others in trying to identifying marine life. I’ve got plenty more pictures to add and with more trips to come. I may even get to see a Guitar Shark.

If you want to browse my underwater photos on Flickr, you’ll find them here:


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