Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Touching the Unicorn

My strapline says: scribbler, scuba diver and unrepentant vagabond, so I thought it was high time I told you something about my scuba diving experiences. Here is a little tale about the unicorns of the underwater world…

Blue Triggerfish
 When it came to naming newly identified species, Latin was adopted as a universal system. Not so, the common names. Many common names are often simply descriptive. Hence: blackbirds, tortoiseshell butterflies and death’s head moths, to name a few. So it is with many fish. Triggerfish have a little concealed dorsal fin that flicks up like a trigger as a warning signal; surgeonfish have spines as deadly sharp as a scalpel. There are cornetfish, frogfish, butterflyfish, glassfish… you get the picture.

The first time someone mentioned unicornfish I was intrigued. Unicornfish? Surely the stuff of legends and fairytales! Of course the reason for this name is more prosaic. Unicornfish have a protrusion between their eyes, some more obvious than others.

Spotted Unicornfish
I have to confess to feeling somewhat disappointed when I identified my first unicornfish. Visions of endearing fish in My Little Pony colours were shattered. 
Drab in colour, it is the ‘horn’ that makes this fish recognisable rather than its ‘plumage’.

So, I ignored unicornfish in favour of the flamboyant and flirtatious strumpets of the fish world. I allowed myself to be diverted by multi-coloured parrotfish, cute anemonefish - or clownfish - decked out in orange and white, delicate butterflyfish, angelfish and strangely angular boxfish. And who wouldn’t be seduced by the Many Spotted Sweetlips with its Angelina Joliesk-pout?

Spinecheek Anemonefish

Common Boxfish
Many Spotted Sweetlips

Yet, the unicornfish had something up their metaphoric fishy sleeves that would knock the others’ behaviour into a cocked hat… their curiosity of divers and our bubbles.
Pause for any length of time around unicornfish and they’ll hover above you in your stream of bubbles. There is something enormously appealing about any wild creature that is willing to interact.

Waiting for the unicornfish
Now, whenever I spotted unicornfish on a dive, I would wait to see whether they would approach and hang out in my bubbles. Whenever they did, their demeanour reminded me of those Japanese macaques – you know the ones that sit in the hot water pools with sleepy-eyed, stoned expressions?

Humpback Unicornfish

The last time I saw unicornfish I was diving in The Maldives. One bold individual hovered just above my head, enjoying my bubbles. I reached out reflexively, as I often do. It’s a futile, harmless gesture because no fish will tolerate human contact. On this occasion, the unicornfish stayed put and allowed my fingers to brush, ever so softly, against his surprisingly velvety skin.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Lizy's comment has only been temporarily deleted!

  3. Here I am again, Susan, to say that your photographs are always stunning and your stories fascinating. I regret I haven't the courage to dive and see these creatures for myself.

  4. Hi, Lizy. Sorry about the glitch and thanks for re-posting. Glad you're enjoying my blog entries - hopefully as much as I enjoy yours!

  5. Fascinating. I'd never heard of a unicornfish before - I would have guessed it was some kind of seahorse ... Thanks for enlightening me!

  6. Hi Linda, there is so much to learn about the underwater world I find it a constant source of wonder. I'll be posting more on this passion of mine during the life of this blog. :)

  7. Wonderful photos Susan - I really admire anyone who can go diving as I'd never be brave enough to do it! Rosemary, Le Chic En Rose travel blog

  8. Hi Rosemary, diving was something I'd always wanted to try. Even so, it did feel a little strange at first, but once I'd learned to trust my equipment I was fine and quickly developed a love of the sport, bordering on obsession! I've written quite a few dive articles... I really must learn how to successfully post PDF's on this blog!


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