Hope you all had a lovely Xmas and are gearing up for the second food and drink onslaught that is New Year, if you want to see another blog post from a year or two back from this time of the year check out Xmas Leftovers here. As you may be feeling as stuffed as this Lizard Fish below undoubtedly is!

Have you over eaten this Xmas? this Lizard Fish certainly has.

Have you over eaten this Xmas? this Lizard Fish certainly has.

Master of Disguise

They might be relatively  immobile and some folk always say they’re ugly, I don’t agree btw, but they’re fascinating creatures and I love them and always want to do them justice when I take pictures of them, what am I talking about? Stonefish thats what.

This one is buried, and just goes to show how well hidden they can be when they want to be. This one stayed in situ for the entire five dives we stayed at the Barge for.

This one is half buried, and just goes to show how well hidden they can be when they want to be. This one stayed in situ for the entire five dives we stayed at the Barge for.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Lets look at a few facts and figures about these fish. They are the genus Synanceia a part of the larger group Scorpaeniformes, a group that as the name would suggest include the more often witnessed Scorpion Fish of which they are related to.

I mention this as when on my workshop trips, very often people excitedly tell me that they’ve seen a Stonefish, but rarely is this the case and when they show me the pictures they’ve taken of the ‘Stonefish’ it’s nearly always a Scorpion Fish on the LCD screen.
There is two in the shot below, hard to spot eh?

 

Another one well hidden, and there was another within a foot or two of this one.

This is a Stonefish can you see it? Very well hidden, and there was another within a foot or two of this one.

 Barging In

This happens a lot when I take the groups to the Barge in Gubal an awesome dive site, that keeps delivering, and regardless of whether or not you’re into photography or just like an abundant dive site it’s hard to get bored here as it is so full of marine life and the life here seems so much bigger than normal it’s easy to understand why a diver witnessing a huge Scorpion Fish thinks that they have instead encountered a Stonefish.

This Stonefish being a very slightly contrasting colour to the reef its laying in is easier to turn into a picture, I've used the strobes quite high but quite close to the dome port to light this fish. Bunny ears lighting but modelling a tiny bunny!

This Stonefish is a very slightly contrasting colour to the reef its laying in so is easier to spot and turn into a picture, I’ve used the strobes quite high but quite close to the dome port to light this fish.
Bunny ears lighting but mimicking a tiny bunny!

 

The Barge though does have a lot of Stonefish living in the immediate environs and sometimes within the wreckage itself, so be very careful with your fins and where you’re putting your hands as this is one of the most poisonous fish in the sea, but as the picture below of a Stonefish buried in the sand within the wreckage, and when I found it no one else had seen it.

Click on the picture below to take you to a blog about Bottom Dwelling creatures and why you should be careful with your fins and hands at all dive sites

This Stonefish was lurking in the sand for the whole day and a half that we stayed at this dive site, but none of the guests onboard had seen it on their orientation dive and it was in one of the busiest thoroughfares !!

This Stonefish was lurking in the sand for the whole day and a half that we stayed at this dive site, but none of the guests onboard had seen it on their orientation dive and it was in one of the busiest thoroughfares !!

 

So they’re poisonous ?

Yes they most certainly are, and so much so that the original peoples of the Northern Territories and Queensland in Australia have a special ritual dance that they teach their children to warn them about the perils of Stonefish and to watch out for them when walking along the shoreline, it is a mime of the pain and ultimate death of a person who has stepped on one, to make sure they get the message.
The toxin is a complex cocktail of blood and nerve agents, and is being studied as it has huge potential benefits to the medical industry. And in parts of the world where it is a problem they have developed an Anti-Venin for it.
The ones resident in the Northern Red Sea aren’t considered quite as deadly as their Australasian cousins but nevertheless they could spoil your day.
Getting things in perspective though it’s highly unlikely you would step on one diving, and if you employ some common sense and don’t go around touching and prodding you should be fine.

 

Regardless of the type of camera you have you are able to get great shots of these marvellous reef dwellers.

Regardless of the type of camera you have you are able to get great shots of these marvellous reef dwellers as they aren’t easily spooked.

Unlucky 13

The poison is contained within sacs at the base of 13 dorsal spines, which act like a bulb that when pressed will force poison along the spine and into the flesh of the hapless victim.
It takes quite some time to replenish the venom sacs, around two weeks or so.
Can you spot these two below?

The two here shot to really show how well hidden they are even when in the open.

The two here shot to really show how well hidden they are even when in the open.

 

 

The same two shot in the vertical, the bottom one is more easily visible as the lighting is now coming in at an angle allowing you to see its shape more easily.

The same two shot in the vertical, the bottom one is more easily visible as the lighting is now coming in at an angle allowing you to see its shape more easily.

 

“don’t panic Mr Mainwaring”

Whilst potentially dangerous and in some cases deadly, the real dangers to you if you’re careful and considerate in your diving is very slim.
There have been only a handful of recorded Stonefish deaths in the last hundred years, and they have nearly all been from people walking along the shorelines, as one of the remarkable facts about Stonefish is that they can live for up to 24hrs out of the water.

Despite their poisonous reputation they are very benign creatures and will let you get much closer than this to take your shots.

Despite their poisonous reputation they are very benign creatures and will let you get much closer than this to take your shots.

 

Stonefish Life

They are a carnivorous ambush predator much like the Frogfish (click here) but their poison plays only a defensive role.

They lay in wait perfectly camouflaged and this is one of the main reasons people don’t see them nearly as much as Scorpion or Lion Fish is that they blend in so perfectly that to the untrained eye they really do look like a stone, and adorn themselves with algae adding to the effect.

When I find them to show our trip guests there is normally another one or two close by.

When they strike, just like the Frogfish, it happens faster than you can see within 0.015sec, and the prey usually shrimp or small fish is gone in a flash.

They range in size from 10 to 20 inches in length on average but I have seen some whoppers bigger than this at the Barge and also at the reef at the Dunraven.
They aren’t particularly rare its just they’re well hidden.
They live from 5 to 10 years on average, but again I swear that I have seen the same ones over more than 10 successive years at the same spots.

 

This was probably the most visible that this one became, and whilst I tried to highlight its mastery of disguise I still wanted you to be able to see it.

This was probably the most visible that this one became, and whilst I tried to highlight its mastery of disguise I still wanted you to be able to see it.

 

When the female lays eggs it is a numbers game and she can lay up to  a million which the male then fertilises, of course this is one of natures strategies as most of the resultant larvae get eaten, and the baby Stonefish stay well hidden until they can fend for themselves, eating and eating until they are too big for most other reef fish to devour.
They do have predators though and some sharks and rays will eat them.

The trip to see them on

My escorted trips are the perfect place to witness and/or photograph a Stonefish, as whilst there are never any guarantees with marine life in the wild, I have lots of experience spotting and finding them, and luckily when found they tend to stay put for the time we spend at one of the best places to see them, which is in and around the area of Gubal Island

My Red Sea Relaxed trips always spend time at the Barge, but for the most exposure to this great dive site I recommend the Winter Warmer trips, which tend to spend a little longer than regular at Gubal where the Barge is situated so you’ll get lots of opportunities to see these creatures along with Morays and a myriad of marine life, and oh theres the dolphins too which usually make their presence known daily.
See why we love the Barge here.

This year my second Winter Warmer in March is pretty much full, but I still have some spaces left on the one at the end of January early February click here to see.

Check out the opinions of earlier Winter Warmer guest blogs from the folk onboard.

Winter Warmer 2016 trip reports 

 

These trips are for all, they’re great for newbies and first time liveaboarders, great for the experienced who like to do their own thing, and great for those who want to practice their photography.

And this years trips I’m going to be really putting GoPros to the test as increasingly more and more people are bringing them along so it makes sense that I make some new presentations to pass on the knowledge.

So why not join me for some winter sun and fun in the Northern Red Sea and kick off 2017 with a great dive trip?

Hope you all have a Happy New Year

Duxy