My knowledge of Sweetlips is pretty limited. I first heard of the fish as a species hand-feeding chunks of bread to them from the end of a reefside jetty in Vanuatu about six months ago. Big squat things without fancy colour or graceful shape, they’re still somehow appealing in their brute ugliness, like many fish I paddle across. Apparently they taste great, though I’ve never (to my knowledge) eaten one.
These here are sub-adult Silver Sweetlips- given away by the array of yellow spots over their body. They’re not pretty. They’re not streamlined. As far as I know they’re not possessing of any uncommon intelligence. What makes them special for the photographer, however, is that they’re about as dynamic as cows. They sit there on sandy bottoms- in this case in rock crevices about twenty metres down the reef wall- and hang there an inch off the ground. They don’t really move much, and they don’t appear to be particularly bothered by the presence of divers. If you’re careful, you can get to within a few inches of them, and they might give a lazy flick of the tail and drift just out of reach, but so long as you don’t charge in amongst them, that’s about as much movement as you’re likely to see.
So I had some fun lining up a few shots with them. Here, one Sweetlips shows off the distinctive pattern of yellow spots that sadly fade with time. You can see the distinctive fat pout that presumable gives the fish its common name.
Firing flash catches some of the silvery hues off the fish’s flank. While I like using natural light where possible to photograph underwater, conditions often make this challenging. If the dive is deep or the sun is behind cloud, not only does this adversely affect shutter-speeds, but you lose the natural colours of the subject, and everything cools down to shades of blue. Firing a flash is like putting a burst of sunshine on a fish, and if you’re subtle about it, you can make it as bright and colourful as it would be at the surface.
Listen to me. I make it sound like I actually know what I’m doing here.
This Sweetlips below clearly had enough of my photographic intrusions and tried to make a run for it. Happily it still moved slowly enough that I could keep it lined up in the frame. Its more colourful piscine cohabitants like the Moorish Idol and the Anemone Clownfish (forthcoming) are rarely so accomodating.
As well as making moves on loitering Sweetlips, we came across a whole bunch of other life down in Sek Passage yesterday. In fact, there were shoals and shoals of the stuff above us near the reef crown.
I only had a split second to fire off a shot at this torpedo-like Barracuda as it streaked past me, so it’s not as sharp as I would have liked. Mind you, his teeth certainly are.
This little fella I have no clue about. All I can say is he was slow enough for me to get a bead on him before he scuttled off. If anyone knows his name, drop me a line. I’m always curious.
My final offering from Sek Passage is somewhat less natural than the rest of my portfolio. This is a diver’s weight, the sort we hang from our belts to help us stay underwater rather than cork to the surface. I spotted it almost directly beneath where we’d anchored the boat at the mouth of the passage. To give you an idea of scale, it’s about three inches long. I don’t know how long it’s been down there, presumably dropped by some slip of wet fingers and lost to the deep. It was about seven metres down. It’s an anthropic intrusion into an otherwise natural environment, but I really like how it’s been colonized by the reef anyway. With luck, in another few years, you won’t even be able to see it at all.