I imagine it is exhilarating to fly like a bird at treetop level, coast inches from mountains like wingsuit base jumpers or sail through the sky like ultralight aviators.
Underwater, my envy of soaring is no different when I watch a flying fish, flying gurnard or searobin. They glide almost effortlessly through the water with razor sharp turns, making my awkward limbs pale in comparison. Divers admire the searobin’s fins, not just for their wing-like ability, but a range of elaborate designs and colors reminiscent of a Balinese kite festival.
From a closed fin resting position they extend their pectoral fins, give a sudden tail fin kick, and quickly race across the bottom.
Searobins are members of the Triglidae family, with more than 24 species occurring in the Caribbean alone. They have two separated dorsal fins and large pectoral fins. The three front rays of the pectoral fins are detached. These detached rays are used for support and foraging in the sand for prey, often giving the false impression of legs.
They are found on sand and rubble bottoms near the reef, from three to more than 800 feet in depth. They bury in the sand and can be difficult to identify at first glance since they normally tuck their fins close to the body when resting.
The leopard searobin, Prionotus scitulus, has brown spots covering the body and pectoral fins. They also have a dark spot on the front dorsal fin.
Wait for the fins to flare and for a moving fish before taking the shot: Several of these fish are difficult to distinguish without their pectoral fins and dorsal fins extended. Patience will be your best friend.
Shoot above, below, from the front and to the side: The important thing is to photograph them on the move, while their pectoral fins are spread. A faster shutter speed and higher ISO will help to stop the motion.
Have fun with juveniles: Often they are easier to approach and swim shorter distances, making them easier to photograph.
While hunting new species for future editions of our books, our team at New World Publications has recently photographed seven of the more than 24 species found in the Caribbean. Amazingly, all seven have been photographed at Blue Heron Bridge. Keep hunting the sand—there are many more searobins to be discovered!
About the Author
Eric Riesch is the photo editor at New World Publications on their series of marine life identification books. For more information on searobins see Reef Fish Identification – Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach.
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