Sharks, Schmarks – Triggerfish Are the Demons

Posted in Dangerous, Tattoos, Under the Sea on September 25th, 2008 by MadDog
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Woe betides the diver who crosses either of the villains I’m going to show you today.

Everybody asks about sharks. (1) “Where’s the sharks?” (2) “What do I do if I see a shark?”(3) “Are there any dangerous sharks around here?”

The answers are: (1) One has to know where to look. (2) Look at it. (3) Just about never.

But, I’m not writing about sharks today.

In a couple of thousand or more dives (stopped counting at 1,500), mostly around Astrolabe Bay, I’ve only a very few times seen reason to be even mildly concerned about sharks.

I have, however, seen many people surprised, startled, frightened out of their wits, chased, snapped at, and otherwise harassed by our two resident and common species of large triggerfish.

Let me introduce you first to, in my opinion, the worst of the pair – the Yellowmargin Trifferfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus). It’s sometimes known as the Green Triggerfish.

Here’s one we found near the wreck of The Henry Leith near Wongat Island at a place we call the Fan Garden:

Yellowmargin Triggerfish - swimming habit

That’s a typical swimming posture. They often adopt odd postures when moving through the water. I sometimes think it is so that they can keep an eye on you.

Notice the ‘trigger’, a stiff, retractable spine at the front of the dorsal fin. Triggerfish hide in holes when spooked. They can raise the spine to lock themselves into the hole so that nothing can pull them out and eat them. A bit of tail may be all that’s lost.

Here is the same individual demonstrating a common feeding habit:

Yellowmargin Triggerfish - feeding habit

Vigorous tail wagging disturbs the bottom and exposes worms and other yummy stuff for the hungry beast.

While we’re here, click the shot above to enlarge it and have a close look at the teeth. Yep, they are just like a Doberman’s choppers!

Incidentally, both of these demons are about the size of a football.

I’ll introduce our next pesky varmint by quoting myself from an article titled The Eel Garden in Issue 7 (July/August/September) of Niugini Blue:

I remember a rather stupid and nervous young diver who was on his third or fourth dive (untrained and uncertified) with Brian Lusmore at Planet Rock. Having encountered a truly colossal Titan Triggerfish at about twenty metres, he was so enamored of escape as the vicious beast snipped away at his dive fins that he popped up immediately to the surface. Fortunately, he didn’t pop a lung. I can truthfully attest to this incident. I was there. The hapless and ignorant diver was me!

And here is a nice shot of the typical feeding habit of the Titan Triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens):

Titan Triggerfish - feeding habit

As you can see, it’s the same football shape. Thus, in both taxonomic names the Latin ballisto root, meaning ball-shaped.

Here’s another shot showing the fearsome dentition:

Titan Triggerfish - I’d be moving quickly away at this point

Both of these critters will come at you without hesitation if you enter their territories.

The standard defence technique that I describe to divers is to turn toward the little creep and start kicking your fins like crazy in his face while simultaneously vacating his territory in reverse. One needs to remember to move away horizontally, staying close to the bottom so as not to pop up and risk a lung injury.

We always discuss triggerfish in pre-dive briefings if we suspect they might be around. I got so tired of describing them to new divers not familiar with them that I had pictures of the two tattooed on my back:

Triggerfish on my back

The standard briefing is now, “If you see one of these, get behind me.” What I don’t mention is that you have to be a pretty fast swimmer to do that.

It’s all fun and games on Faded Glory.