From the dark, chilly waters they materialized—massive beings with large eyes that I knew were watching my every move from deep below long before I ever saw them.
The fish were nearly 10 feet in length and several feet thick, weighing around 1,000 pounds, and moved unlike anything else I had seen underwater.
Spinning around in circles I would see them rocket up from the depths, turn on a dime while flashing colors, then disappear back into the gloom. At least a dozen of them swam around me, and I scanned all axes trying to follow their movements. As they passed by I rolled in the wake of their mighty bulk.
Mesmerized by this fluid scene, I forced myself out of the trance I was in and began making pictures, but just kept repeating over and over in my head, “these are perfect oceanic creatures.”
They were the creatures that had haunted my dreams and stirred my soul. Feeling at times like Ahab, I’d pursued these animals for almost two decades; a quest not to capture, but to photograph.
And finally, I was here, on assignment for National Geographic magazine, tasked with bringing back images of these elusive and enigmatic beasts. I was in the northern realm of the last of the giants.
The mandarinfish is one of only two known species that produces a blue pigment. (Credit: Jim Trodel/Flickr)
by Becky Crew
One of the most beautiful fish in the ocean, but the mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus) has got so much more going on for it than all those pretty colours.
At home in the sheltered lagoons and inshore reefs of the Pacific Ocean, ranging from the Ryukyu Islands off the coast of Japan, to warm Australian waters, this little dragonet is covered in tiny spines to inject a toxic mucus into anyone who tries to handle and/or eat it.
The mandarinfish contains two types of secretary cells in its colourful epidermis – one that produces a thick mucus coating to protect it from the elements, and another that produces a toxin to protect it from predators.
And not only is this toxic mucus coating dangerous, particularly if it makes it into a predator’s open wound, but reportedly, it smells disgusting.
“Every scientist and book [who] talks about the mandarinfish makes mention of its strong, unpleasant smell,” says Esther Inglis-Arkell at io9. “
That stink is not incidental. The mandarinfish needs the smell, and the spines, because it lacks one of the most basic protective measures in the marine world: It doesn’t have scales.”
There’s nothing like thick mucus and an unpleasant stench to turn someone off their potential meal.
Bangkok-based photographer Visarute Angkatavanich (previously) continues to capture some of the most elegant portraits of fish we’ve seen.
His intimate, crystal-clear photos of Siamese fighting fish (betta) make it seem as though they are suspended in air instead of water.
Angkatavanich recently told Popular Photography that he only started photographing the fish after encountering them for the first time three years ago at a fish show and has since become obsessed with the different species which vary greatly in size, shape, and color patterns.
Limited edition prints of his work are now available through La Lanta Fine Art.
The German ichthyologist M.H.C. Lichtenstein described the goliath grouper as Serranus itajara in an 1822 publication regarding the natural history of Brazil.
In an 1884 work, “The fishes of the Florida Keys,” David Starr Jordan proposed the inclusion of the goliath grouper in Epinephelus (Bloch 1793) and this combination remains in use today. Of incidental note is the fact that various authors have incorrectly spelled the specific epithet “itajara” as “itaiara.”
The genus name comes from the Greek epinephelos translated as cloudy. Synonyms of E. itajara include Serranus guasa Poey 1860 and Serranus quinquefasciatus Bocourt 1868.
A number of authors treat the name Promicrops itajara as valid taxonomy for the goliath grouper.
The goliath grouper occurs in the western Atlantic Ocean from Florida south to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.
It is also found in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, from Senegal to Congo although rare in the Canary Islands.
The species is also present in the eastern Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California to Peru.