Gozo & Malta

Gozo & Malta

Welcome to the Sea Stuff pages for Gozo & Malta, where you can view many of the common species you will see when your snorkelling or diving.

1. Grey Mullet

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Grey Mullet.

 

Scientific Names: Chelon, Liza, Mugil and Oedalechilus species. At least eight species of grey mullet have been found in the Mediterranean (including two exotics)and for all practical purposes they are very difficult to tell apart underwater.

 

Distinctive Features: Remarkably indistinctive silvery fish, with pectoral fins set rather high on the body. The fact that they are so common is one of their most distinctive characteristics.

 

Description: Individuals from several centimetres to 30-40cm long but shoals consist of similar sized individuals. They all have a very similar mullet shape (see the photo) and prominent pectoral fins which are often seen sticking out at a rather odd angle. They are silvery usually with dark longitudinal stripes that not clearly evident in moving fish.

 

Abundance: In shoals of up to 100+ fish. Snorkellers will see many shoals of mullet during a session (20+), and although they are most obvious near the surface they are also very common when diving. Seen on every dive.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They frequent all the main seabed habitats from rocky reefs to sediments and sea grass beds and feed both on the seabed and up in the water column.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary of surface diving snorkellers, less so of divers.

 

Notes: Shoals of juveniles move busily from rock to rock grazing and when seen from above may appear as brownish fish with a pale underside. Watch for one to roll onto its side when its silvery sides and dark longitudinal stripes show up.

/

close
More Info

2. White Seabream

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Julia Jagoditsch.

Common Name: White Seabream.

 

Scientific Name: Diplodus sargus.

 

Distinctive Features: The pelvic fins are a striking and distinctive iridescent purple-white colour.

 

Description: These are deep bodied, oval shaped fish with a steep head profile which, in this area, grow up to 15cm. They are olive-silver in colour with a dark saddle over the tail stem and a black edge to the tail fin and gill cover and striking and distinctive iridescent purple-white pelvic fins; they can have vertical bars on their flanks but these fade as juveniles grow into adults.

 

Abundance: They occur as individuals and in small shoals of 2-10 fish, at every site.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: White Seabream are found in both rocky and sandy habitats, and up in the water column. At some sites they are the first species which greets you as you get in the water. They seem to be attracted to people stirring up sediment in the shallows. They often follow other species that are feeding, in particular goatfish. They are also regularly seen following divers, picking off food disturbed by the divers’ fins.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: They are extremely wary of snorkellers diving from the surface, although less wary of divers.

/

close
More Info

3. Two Banded Seabream

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Two Banded Seabream.

 

Scientific Name: Diplodus vulgaris.

 

Distinctive Features: Two black bands, one at the beginning of the tail stalk and the other behind the eye.

 

Description: Deep bodied, oval shaped fish with a steep head profile, which grow up to 15cm in this area. They are olive-silver in colour with a black band on the tail stalk and another, which may be short or long, behind the eyes. As well as the two prominent bands, smaller fish can have a range of other colours.

 

Abundance: As individuals or in small shoals. At every site in the shallows and deeper.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They live over rock and sandy sediments feeding on seabed species. They will also swim with white bream shoals. They are often seen following feeding fish (see video 19) where they pick up food from the leading species , often Red Mullet. They often ‘hang’ in mid water in small shoals and at particular locations e.g. Middle Finger.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary of surface diving snorkellers, but much less wary of divers.

/

close
More Info

4. Saddled Seabream

Text: Bob Earll. Photo & Video: Russell & Gill Bennett.

Common Name: Saddled Seabream.

 

Scientific Name: Oblada melanura.

 

Distinctive Features: A dark spot on the tail stalk flanked by white on each side.

 

Description: In shoals of similar sized fish from 5 to 15cm. Compared to the White and the Two-banded seabreams, this is a slimmer fish, with a more oval body. The tail stalk marking of a black patch flanked by white on either side, resembles an aircraft roundel.

 

Abundance: Shoals. At every site.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: Shoals are common at all depths in the water column near to reefs and in the shallows too. They feed in the water column on plankton and are busy fish that dart around, constantly on the move. They will often be one of the first species to arrive if bread is in the water!

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: They are extremely wary of snorkellers and difficult to film but less so of divers.

/

close
More Info

5. Cow Bream

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll.

Common Name: Cow Bream.

 

Scientific Name: Sarpa salpa.

 

Other Names: Salema.

 

Distinctive Features: The yellow colouration of the body and fins is very distinctive.

 

Description: Ranging from shoals of juveniles around 5cm to shoals of mixed sized fish up to 40cm. These are often the biggest of the common seabream species seen in Maltese waters. They have a long, oval shaped body with a distinctively yellow colouration to the head, eyes and tail and fine yellow lines that run along the body. A silvery ‘flash’ of their flanks as they turn will often alert you to a shoal.

 

Abundance: In shoals of tens of fish. Seen on every dive.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They are seen over rock, sand and seagrass habitats feeding on sea bed species. They will swim and then stop to feed as a group and then move off again. As they mature they change sex from males to females.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary of surface diving snorkellers, less wary of divers.

/

close
More Info

6. Turkish Wrasse

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Turkish Wrasse.

 

Scientific Name: Thalossoma pavo.

 

Other Names: Ornate Wrasse.

 

Distinctive Features: The very colourful yellow, blue and green patterns are highly distinctive.

 

Description: This is a small wrasse with the majority in the area being up to 10cm, the males growing slightly longer. It has a long and relatively slim body shape. The vivid colours are a variable mix of greens, yellow and blues. Females and older juveniles have 5 vertical blue bars and a black blotch on the back. Small juveniles lack the blue bars. Dominant male fish are more uniform in body colour with a single vertical blue bar.

 

Abundance: It is usually observed in social groups of variable numbers mostly up to 10 or so but often many more. These groups are very common in the shallows and on rock reefs, with 10+ groups per dive. Likely to be seen at every site that has rocky habitats.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: This species prefers rocky habitats, from the extreme shallows to diving depths. Within the social groups, mature female fish may change sex to form dominant ‘terminal’ males. It is a busy fish and hyper-active during the day. It is often seen following other fish that are feeding more directly, such as painted wrasse. Juveniles can act as cleaner species.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Whilst this is a wary and very busy little fish that is not at all easy to photograph, it will often approach and investigate if the undergrowth is gently agitated.

 

Notes: Look out for large fish with the female pattern but without a black blotch; these are in the process of changing sex.

/

close
More Info

7. Rainbow Wrasse

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll.

Common Name: Rainbow Wrasse.

 

Scientific Name: Corlis julis.

 

Distinctive Features: The horizontal colour bands along the entire length of the fish from head to tail, are highly distinctive.

 

Description: This is a small wrasse with the majority being up to 10cm in this area, the males growing slightly longer and fatter. It has a long and relatively slim body shape. The colours are clear bands of brown, grey, black, white, yellow and reds which run along the entire length of the body from head to tail. Dominant male fish usually have a more variable range of colours with less obvious longitudinal bands, except that large Mediterranean males have a prominent zigzag red to orange band.

 

Abundance: These fish are usually seen in social groups of variable numbers mostly up to 10 or so. Such groups are very common in the shallows and on rock reefs and over nearby sand and often lots of groups of fish are seen (5+) per dive. Likely to be seen at every site that has mixed rock and sand habitats.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: This species lives near the seabed over rock and sand habitats from the extreme shallows to diving depths. Within the social groups, mature female fish may sex change to form dominant ‘terminal’ males. It is a busy fish and hyper-active during the day. It is often seen following other fish such as goatfish that are feeding on the seabed (see video 20).

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary, and it is a very busy little fish that is not at all easy to photograph.

/

close
More Info

8. Five Spotted Wrasse

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Five Spotted Wrasse.

 

Scientific Name: Symphodus roissali.

 

Distinctive Features: There are five dark blotches on the dorsal (top) fin of the body but these are not always obvious as this fin is often laid flat. In Maltese waters its main distinctive feature is that these are the most speckled wrasse found and females especially have black spots all over the body.

 

Description: A small wrasse (to 10cm), with an almost oval body and a wide array of spots all over its body. Colour is variable from predominantly green to brown, often with horizontal dark bands and a tail spot. A dark band joins the eye and snout. It can easily be confused with small, non-breeding Peacock Wrasse (Symphodus tinca) and with Corkwing Wrasse (Symphodus melops).

 

Abundance: As individuals, or with one or two others. Very common (30+ per dive) in shallow water over rocks at every site.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: This wrasse lives and feeds around seaweed covered rocks and over shallow seagrass beds. Its body colouration, whilst not true camouflage, enables it to merge in with its environment.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary of snorkellers.

 

Notes: It is one of the species of wrasse that builds seaweed nests for its eggs and this behaviour can be observed in shallow water.

/

close
More Info

9. Peacock Wrasse

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Peacock Wrasse.

 

Scientific Name: Symphodus tinca.

 

Other Names: Painted Wrasse.

 

Distinctive Features: The black spot on the tail with three darker lines running from head to tail. Unlike the similar Five-spotted Wrasse it regularly sucks in and spits out bits of the sea bed when it is feeding.

 

Description: This is largest common wrasse in Maltese waters growing up to 30cm, although individuals in shallow water are often half this size. It has a moderately elongate body shape. It has a black spot on the tail (usually), three strong lines along the body, and often has white lips and white flecks around the eye.

 

Abundance: Usually as individuals feeding in particular areas, but with 20-30+ seen in any one dive and at every site where there is rocky habitat.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They feed on seaweed covered rocks, and are found in a wide variety of rocky reef and large boulder habitats including in shallow water near the shore. Its habit of spitting out food that it has just bitten off means that other rocky species can often be seen in close association with it (Turkish and Rainbow wrasse and Painted Combers).

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Shy of surface diving snorkellers, but more tolerant of divers.

 

Notes: Breeding males become a mostly yellow colour and their longitudinal lines are flecked with red.

/

close
More Info

10. Damselfish

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll.

Common Name: Damselfish.

 

Scientific Name: Chromis chromis.

 

Distinctive Features: The blue-brown colour and golden eye ring, huge shoals in the water column.

 

Description: A small fish, usually no more than 6-8cm. It has an oval body with a relatively large, scissor-like tail. It ranges in colour as an adult from dark blue to brown. It has a golden coloured circle around the eye.

 

Abundance: Found in shoals ranging from 10’s, to 100’s to 1000’s at particular sites. At every site and on every dive.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They live in the water column and are often seen adjacent to rocky reefs in huge numbers; they can also occur in the water column in shallow bays. The adults lay their eggs on the reef and the juvenile which are an intense iridescent blue, live in shoals under overhangs and in gaps and caves between rocks.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Indifferent to snorkellers and divers and will come closer if you remain still, which will allow you to see the beautiful gold colour of the eye.

 

Notes: From a distance they often appear as shoals of small black fish and their predominantly brown (adults) colour and dark-edged scales are only apparent when close and in photographs.

/

close
More Info

11. Red Mullet

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Julia Jagoditsch.

Common Name: Red Mullet.

 

Scientific Name: There are two species found in the Mediterranean, Red Mullet (Mullus barbatus) and the Striped Red Mullet (Mullus surmuletus).

 

Other Names: Goatfish.

 

Distinctive Features: The two long, constantly moving barbels protruding from the lower jaw will draw your attention to the fish. Both species have a steeply sloping head. Striped Red Mullet have a striped dorsal fin.

 

Description: Fish can be seen in a wide range of sizes to 20cm+. They have a very distinctive sharply sloping head and prominent eyes, with two white barbels protruding from the lower jaw. The colours they exhibit vary considerably ,with red often predominant.

 

Abundance: As individuals and small groups. At every site and every dive.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They will often be seen with their barbels moving activity through the surface layers of the sand or exploring the surface of rocky reefs. They are often followed by other fish, notably bream and wrasse, which pick up the scraps from this activity. They frequently rest on the seabed in groups of 3 to 5 fish lined up side by side.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary of surface diving snorkellers, much less wary of divers.

/

close
More Info

12. Parrotfish

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Julia Jagoditsch.

Common Name: Parrotfish.

 

Scientific Name: Sparisoma cretense.

 

Other Names: European Parrotfish.

 

Distinctive Features: The way they swim by ‘rowing’ along with their pectoral fins is very distinctive. Beak-like mouth.

 

Description: Both juveniles and larger adult fish growing up to 30cm, may be seen. They have a stocky oval body. The colour is variable with males predominantly grey and females bright red to brownish, with a large grey patch and smaller yellow blotches. The juveniles are every version of this colour mix but exhibit the same shape and method of swimming.

 

Abundance: They are generally found as adults in small social shoals of up to 10 fish. There may be as many as 5-10 such groups at a site. As juveniles they are often seen as solitary fish or in small groups, again at every site.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They are found over rocky reefs where they feed by scraping the surface of the rocks and in seagrass beds. They are always busy darting here and there as they feed. They form social groups composed of females with a dominant male. It is the larger females that change sex to become males.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: They are wary of both surface diving snorkellers and of divers.

 

Notes: They can often be seen spraying their white, sandy faeces in great clouds as they swim!

/

close
More Info

13. Painted Comber

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Painted Comber.

 

Scientific Name: Serranus scriba.

 

Distinctive Features: The large, light blue, almost iridescent blotch on its flank is one of the clearest identification features found in all of Malta’s marine life.

 

Description: The Painted Combers found around Malta are usually 10-15cm long. They have a grouper-like body with a number of paired vertical black bars along the body, a blue blotch on the abdomen and a yellowish tail.

 

Abundance: Solitary or in small groups. At every site from shallows to diving depths, with 5+ seen per dive.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: Over rocky reefs and sandy, boulder strewn seabeds where they occupy cracks and crevices. They follow other species which are feeding, including Painted Wrasse and octopuses.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: They are initially inquisitive and hold their ground, but they will then swim off and then turn once again to assess you.

/

close
More Info

14. Mediterranean Sand Smelt

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Julia Jagoditsch.

Common Name: Mediterranean Sand Smelt.

 

Scientific Names: Atherina hepsetus. Whilst this is the commonest sand smelt species, there are other species found in the Mediterranean and the actual species that form these shoals cannot be identified from the features you can see underwater; specimens would need to be collected and identified in a laboratory.

 

Other Names: Silversides.

 

Distinctive Features: Very large shoals; individuals have a very distinctive dark stripe running along the middle of each side.

 

Description: These finger-sized (5-10cm long) silvery fish, are one of the commonest fish in shallow waters off the Maltese coast in the late autumn. At first glance it may seem impossible to tell these apart from shoals of sprat, or anchovies (though the latter are longer and thinner) but with a quiet approach you should be able to see a distinctive dark stripe along each flank often with another shiny line above it. See also Notes below.

 

Abundance: Shoals comprised of hundreds to thousands of fish. Seen at every site in the shallows in late summer.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They are often found in shallow water (1-5m) near rocky reefs in huge numbers. They feed on plankton up in the water column.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary of snorkellers, less so of divers.

 

Notes: Even when snorkelling it is sometimes possible to get close enough and zoom in with your camera to take a clear photo. If this is the case you may see that sand smelts have two dorsal (back) fins whilst anchovy and sprat have only one. But beware because smelt may keep one or both fins folded down!

/

close
More Info

15. Fireworm

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Fireworm.

 

Scientific Name: Hermodice carunculata.

 

Maltese Name: Busuf.

 

Distinctive Features: A large segmented worm with bright red and white collections of bristles along its body.

 

Description: This is a large segmented worm ranging from 10-15cm long and up to 1cm wide. Each segment has a pair of bristles and a pair of paddle-shaped parapodia either side of the body. The main colour of the body is a bluish olive, with white lines marking off the segments, but the base of each parapodium is bright red and the bristles are white.

 

Abundance: Solitary or in small groups when feeding on dead fish for example. Seen on every dive in rocky habitats.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: Fireworms are found mainly in rocky habitats. They are scavengers and are particularly attracted to carrion such as dead fish or other marine species and often many fireworms will be attracted to such a situation. They are very conspicuous and are clearly not preyed on by the resident fish as they can routinely be seen moving over the surface of the rock.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Indifferent but do not touch.

/

close
More Info

16. Octopus

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Russell & Gill Bennett.

Common Name: Octopus.

 

Scientific Name: Octopus vulgaris.

 

Maltese Name: Qarnita Komuni.

 

Distinctive Features: The very distinctive shape, eight suckered arms and prominent eyes.

 

Description: The main body can be 15-20cm but the arms extend widely to double this length. The prominent head with its two eyes, joins smoothly onto a sac-like rounded body. The eight arms are partially joined to form a web beneath which is a mouth with a beak. The texture and colour of the body can change to match the particular habitat the animal finds itself in.

 

Abundance: Solitary. Since they actively and effectively camouflage themselves they can be difficult to see but they are common. On dives, or when snorkelling over rocky habitats, one or two may be seen per session.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They are found mainly in rocky habitats and live in crevices during the day. They are found out in the open much more on night dives when it would be normal to see 3 or 4 on a dive.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: As the video clip shows they demonstrate a range of behaviours from staying put to see if their camouflage works, to crawling or swimming quickly away. They are very entertaining since their colour and texture changes can be dramatic. They are an iconic species that can really make a dive memorable.

 

Notes: There is a catch. They are highly prized for food and hunted routinely by local snorkellers who are very successful at catching them. Don’t shout out that you have found one when snorkelling otherwise you will be witness to their quick demise!

/

close
More Info

17. Mauve Stinger Jellyfish

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll.

WARNING: The tentacles in particular can inflict a painful sting.

 

Common Name: Mauve Stinger Jellyfish.

 

Scientific Name: Pelagia noctiluca.

 

Other Names: Maltese Name: Brama Komuni.

 

Distinctive Features: A bluish, pinkish jellyfish with long trailing tentacles.

 

Description: This jellyfish usually has a bell from 5-12cm in overall diameter. This circular bell has a number of long, frilly mouth tentacles hanging down from the middle. The thin main feeding tentacles around the edge of the bell can, however, be very long up to 5m + as the video shows. Stinging cells (called nematocysts) on these long tentacles are used to kill and capture prey.

 

Abundance: Whilst there may often be one or two scattered in the water column these are generally not a problem. However, huge numbers, where you can see 10-20+ in a single view, can occur in certain conditions. Bathing without a wetsuit in these circumstances is not advisable.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They live throughout the water column but cause most problems when they are funnelled in large numbers into shallow bays under certain conditions of wind and tide.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: You can tell when there is a serious problem with jellyfish because there will not be any swimmers in the water. These jellyfish do not react to snorkellers and divers, who must ‘give way’ to them though wetsuits will give some protection from the stings. If there are jellyfish around keep a careful watch when snorkelling.

 

Notes: After big storms the jellyfish will often lose their longer tentacles and at this point it is common to observe them being eaten by a variety of fish, sardines, bream, and picarel in the water column.

/

close
More Info

18. Sea Urchins

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Julia Jagoditsch.

WARNING: The spines break off easily and cause painful splinter related problems. For what to do about this Click Here. Footware is essential if you intend wandering around in shallow water.

 

Common Name: Sea Urchins.

 

Scientific Name: There are two species which are commonly seen, the black urchin Arbacia lixula, and a rather more colourful urchin Paracentrotus lividus.

 

Maltese Name for Arbacia: Rizza Ragel.

 

Maltese Name for Paracentrotus: Rizza Mara.

 

Distinctive Features: Arbacia is jet black with very dense spines, whereas Paracentrotus comes in various dark browns and purples with rather less dense spines.

 

Description: Urchins ranging in size from 2-3cm as adults. Both of these species have a rather squashed globular shape. The spines cover the entire body and are short (0.5cm), but in Arbacia they are packed densely and much greater in number. Arbacia is jet black and Paracentrotus a great range of browns and purple hues.

 

Abundance: They are often found in very dense patches (10-40/square metre) and are present at every site with rocky habitats.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They often live in circular depressions in the softer rocks which have been eroded over many years by previous urchin occupants. This gives them some protection from wave action and predators. They are nocturnal and will emerge and move around to feed at night.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: They are very obvious to see and have no reaction to divers. Divers have been prone to break open urchins to attract fish, but if you really want to feed the fish simply take in some bread.

 

Notes: These urchins and Paracentrotus in particular are used to make the famous Sicilian dish with urchins and spaghetti chi ricci which means that in many places with easy access to the water, urchins are becoming increasingly scarce.

/

close
More Info

19. Feeding Groups

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Julia Jagoditsch. Video: Bob Earll & Julia Jagoditsch.

Feeding Groups: This is the behaviour where one species of fish feeds and is followed by other species seeking to pick up the scraps for a free meal. It is very common and you will see it often, both when diving and when snorkelling. It is easier to see over sandy habitats where Red Mullet are often the most obvious species being followed, but it is also common in rocky habitats. If you are swimming over sand close to the bottom, look behind you and you may find fish following you, eating the animals you disturb from the sand. The different species of fish are extremely tolerant of one another in these situations.

 

The fish species that lead on the feeding include: The Peacock Wrasse (see the first video clip), with Ornate Wrasse and Rainbow Wrasse actively following and picking up the bits the Peacock Wrasse spits out; The Red Mullet or goat fish (see the 2nd the video clip), with Two-banded Bream and Rainbow Wrasse feeding on the scraps; The common stingray (see the 3rd part of the video clip) with flounders swimming round feeding on the animals that are disturbed. Other species that lead on the feeding include Striped Bream and octopus.

 

Fish that routinely follow include: White Seabream, Two-banded Seabream, Rainbow Wrasse, Ornate Wrasse, flounders and Stop Fish (No. 47).

/

close
More Info

20. Cleaning Symbiosis

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: iStock Photo. Video: Bob Earll.

Cleaning Symbiosis: This is the behaviour where some species of fish will visit particular locations known as cleaning stations, to be cleaned of external parasites by other species. The species to be cleaned often exhibit apparently unusual postures, holding themselves vertically for example, remaining still in the water while they allow the cleaner species (fish or prawns) to go over their body removing the parasites. In the Mediterranean, prawns, or juvenile wrasse and adults of some of the smaller wrasse species, can often be observed performing this cleaning function. There are very strange combinations of larger predatory fish remaining still while being cleaned by much smaller species of fish or prawns, which might normally be considered as prey. This behaviour is often seen although not on every dive, more usually over rocky habitats. The video shows a large wrasse moving very slowly while being approached by a range of other much smaller wrasse. The still photo shows a moray eel being cleaned by a shrimp.

/

close
More Info

21. Feeding Wrasse Shoals

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Bob Earll. Video: Bob Earll.

Feeding Wrasse Shoals: This is a behaviour where groups of small juvenile wrasse (5-6cm) swim in shoals and can be seen together feeding on the rocky sea bed. These busy shoals move rapidly from rock to rock, which is another way of saying that they do not hang around to be photographed. The shoals are often a mixture of species, with Painted Wrasse usually the commonest, but Five-spotted, Ornate and Rainbow wrasse are often in attendance. This may only occur in the late summer and autumn when juveniles of these species are commoner. Such shoals are frequently seen in the shallows at many sites. The video clip shows a wrasse feeding group, responding to the top of a boulder being scraped by a snorkeller.

/

close
More Info

22. Mediterranean Cardinalfish

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Julia Jagoditsch.

Common Name: Mediterranean Cardinalfish.

 

Scientific Name: Apogon imberbis.

 

Distinctive Features: A small orange-red fish with two white horizontal lines through the dark eyes.

 

Description: This small, plump fish, up to 10 cm long, has an orange-red body, with dark eyes that have a white horizontal bar running just above and just below.

 

Abundance: In small shoals of 10 – 20+ fish during the day.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They are regularly found hovering in the same caves and crevices from very shallow (1-2m) to diving depths during the day. They are night active and emerge then to range more widely and venture further afield.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary of surface snorkelers, less concerned about divers.

 

Notes: The same cracks and crevices on Gozo are occupied by small shoals year after year. The male fish brood the eggs in their mouths giving them a distended appearance until they are ready to hatch.

/

close
More Info

23. Barracuda

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Julia Jagoditsch.

Common Name: Barracuda.

 

Scientific Name: Sphyraena viridensis There is some uncertainty among scientists about the identity of the different species. The largest and usually solitary barracuda are S.sphyraena.

 

Distinctive Features: An elongate silvery body with prominent cross bars.

 

Description: Shoals can contain fish from 30-90cm long. Larger solitary barracuda can be 1-1.8m in size. The smaller shoals of barracuda consist of long silvery fish, with very prominent eyes and jaws. They often have obvious and clear cross bars along the body. Shoals of the smaller fish are cryptic and blend in with their background over seagrass beds.

 

Abundance: As shoals and also larger individual fish. In certain years very common in the shallows over seagrass beds. There are sites where shoals of larger fish are known to occur. Not every dive or site.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: The shoals of smaller fish seem to be resting during the day and indifferent to shoals of small damsel fish and silversides nearby. They feed on these species in the water column and are top predators.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Very wary of snorkellers diving down from the surface; less wary of divers.

/

close
More Info

24. Dusky Grouper

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Julia Jagoditsc.

Common Name: Dusky Grouper.

 

Scientific Name: Epinephelus marginatus (In some books it is referred to as Epinephelus guaza).

 

Distinctive Features: The shape of the body and head and the way it swims away but turns back to look at divers, are very distinctive.

 

Description: It can grow to 1.5m but the larger fish will only be seen by divers in deeper water. Juveniles in the 15-30cm size range will often be seen in shallow waters. It has a strong triangular head with a jutting lower jaw and large eyes. The body colour is variable with size and mood, but is typically brownish mottled with pale off-white patches. Almost all of them have a pale margin to the tail.

 

Abundance: Solitary. Once you are familiar with the area you should see one or two at every site from very shallow to deeper diving depths.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: It lives predominantly over rocky reefs often taking up a distinct territory and the same individuals can often be found in the same place on different dives.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Whether young or old this fish will often hold its ground unless a diver or snorkeller approaches too close when it will swim off, but then often to turn and face the diver after a short distance. This makes them very vulnerable to spear fishermen.

 

Notes: These spectacular and important fish are endangered and should be left alone. Click Here for more information.

/

close
More Info

25. Comber

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll.

Common Name: Comber.

 

Scientific Name: Serranus cabrilla.

 

Distinctive Features: Seven to nine vertical bars along the flank of the body, with one or two lines running along the body, one of which runs through the eye.

 

Description: The Combers seen around Malta are usually 10-15cm long. In shape they resemble a slim version of a grouper (see number 24), with 7 or 8 vertical dark bars along the body. There is also a prominent dark line running from head to tail usually passing through the eye and sometimes a second line lower than the first. In juveniles the two longitudinal dark lines edge a distinct white line.

 

Abundance: Solitary fish. Not at every site and often only one sighting during a dive.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: Whilst preferring rocky reefs, it is also found over broken sandy, boulder-strewn sea beds where small fish occupy cracks and crevices. Adults may be territorial.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: They are initially inquisitive and hold their ground and may then swim off but turn round once again to take another look.

/

close
More Info

26. Striped Seabream

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Julia Jagoditsch.

Common Name: Striped Seabream.

 

Scientific Name: Lithognathus mormyrus.

 

Other Names: Marmora.

 

Distinctive Features: Thin, dark vertical stripes run from back to belly along the whole length of the body.

 

Description: This seabream grows up to about 30cm in the area. It has a longer and more gently sloping head profile than the White Seabream (number 2) and Two-banded Seabream (number 3). The pattern of the vertical black bands on an olive-grey coloured fish is very distinctive.

 

Abundance: As individuals or in loose groups of up to 10-20 fish. Common and characteristic of all the sites with sand and sea grass habitat.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They are found in sandy areas taking mouthfuls of the sediment and ejecting this as they eat the small animals it contains. They are often the leaders of feeding groups (see video number 19) followed by other species.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary of surface diving snorkellers, but less so of divers. They will investigate foot or fin prints in the sand for disturbed food items.

/

close
More Info

27. Silversides

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Julia Jagoditsc.

Common Name: Silversides.

 

Scientific Name: This is a collective group covering a number of species (5+) which are very common in Maltese waters but very difficult to identify with confidence whilst snorkelling and diving.

 

Distinctive Features: Their distinctive ‘sardine’ like shape and often glistening ‘silver sides’.

 

Description: Small 10-15 cm long. With a sardine/herring- like shape and often very silvery body colouration. They can be very distinctive in their colours but because they are difficult to photograph they have not been well described from their living features as seen in the water in this area by snorkellers and divers.

 

The video clips show: Firstly, the flashing silver sides in a shoal. Secondly, a species called Bogue – Boops boops. Thirdly, an unidentified species.

 

Abundance: They are often present in shoals of huge (uncountable) numbers, for example at Dwera at the end of the window. They are present at virtually every site.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: These are species of the water column far above the sea bed although the diver will often see them orientating to landscape-scale features such as reefs because of the effect of these structures on water movement. They move around in groups or shoals, often reacting as one to perceived threats. One of the video clips shows two silver flashes as the shoals move together.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary to indifferent.

/

close
More Info

28. Belly Blenny

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Luke Adshead. Video: Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Belly Blenny.

 

Scientific Name: Parablennius sanguinolentus.

 

Other Names: Rusty Blenny.

 

Distinctive Features: Typical blenny shape, with a fat belly. Broken dark lines radiating out from the eye. Only in very shallow water.

 

Description: This little fish is a typical blenny in terms of its elongate, tapering shape, with a long dorsal (back) fin and steeply sloping head and prominent eyes, along with its habit of lying with its head end propped up on the two pelvic fins. Most in this area are up to 10cm long and have a very prominent belly. Typically a light olive in colour, speckled with blackish dashes (and a few white ones) all over the body.

 

Abundance: Mostly seen as individual fish, but often common at swimming entry points. They can be found at most sites if you look closely.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: This species is found in shallow water 0-3m deep in rocky habitats.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Shy and not keen on being approached or videoed by snorkelling.

 

Notes: Often found on the steps on the shore as you are getting out (or in). There are a great variety of blennies found in the Mediterranean and many, like the Tompot (48,) have the same shape but more distinctive colours or head tentacles.

/

close
More Info

29. Garfish

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Luke Adshead. Video: Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Needlefish.

 

Scientific Name: Belone belone.

 

Other Names: Garfish.

 

Distinctive Features: The clue with this species really is in the name – the long thin body and the long, rapier-like jaws are highly distinctive.

 

Description: Up to 1m (see Habitat and Behaviour below), but routinely 30-40cm. This long, thin silvery fish has a very distinctive ‘beak’ formed from its jaws which protrude forward from its head.

 

Abundance: Mainly seen as individual fish, although in and around prey the numbers can include 4-5 in any view. Common at the water surface and just below when hunting. We saw them on every snorkelling session in September at every site.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: Needlefish are predators swimming very near the surface and then bursting forward or downwards to prey on shoaling fish at the surface or just below. We came across massive shoals (uncountable) with some very big fish (1m+) in September 2015 in 5-10m of water at Xlendi and Mgarr Xini.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary of snorkellers but sometimes individuals will come close if you keep still; probably not seen often by divers.

 

Notes: Half-beaks (Hemiramphus and Hyporhamphus) are similar but have only the lower jaw elongated. Watch to see the fish open its mouth as in the video.

/

close
More Info

30. Amberjack

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Julia Jagoditsc.

Common Name: Amberjack

 

Scientific Name: Seriola species. The species seen off Malta are likely to be either Greater Amberjack (S. Dumerili) or Guinean Amberjack (S. Carpenteri).

 

Distinctive Features: The diagonal line through the eye is very distinctive.

 

Description: Juveniles around 30cm up to larger fish of 90cm are seen snorkelling and diving. The streamlined body with powerful crescent shaped tail is typical of ‘jacks’. The body is silvery and the diagonal line through the eye is a very distinctive feature.

 

Abundance: Individuals, or in groups of 2 or 3 or more. Once you know what to look out for, they can be routinely seen at a wide range of sites, although the experience will often be fleeting. They will only be seen by looking up and out into the water column rather than at the seabed.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They live in the water column and patrol around rocky reefs searching for small fish to feed on, which they attack with explosive bursts of speed.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Perhaps surprisingly they can be filmed by snorkelling relatively easily, though they will not stop their endless patrolling. Whilst they will often swim past divers they frequently return as they continue their search for food.

/

close
More Info

31. Mediterranean Moray Eel

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Mediterranean Moray Eel.

 

Scientific Name: Muraena Helena.

 

Distinctive Features: The sinuous eel-like shape with golden spots on the body is very distinctive.

 

Description: The size of eels seen varies from 10cm juveniles, to small 50cm individuals in the shallows with those over 1m long generally in deeper water. The long, thin sinuous body which is often seen bent around rocks and cracks is very distinctive. The dark brownish colour with large numbers of golden spots is also very characteristic of this species.

 

Abundance: Solitary. At every site with rocky habitats from very shallow to deeper.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: The moray eel is a species associated with rocky habitats. It is often seen by divers hidden away in cracks and crevices during the day (here a torch is handy). Whilst it usually emerges at dusk it can also be seen out in the day winding slowly over the sea bed exploring for food.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Can often be seen by snorkelling but they will soon swim off if they are out in the open. When seen by divers they often ‘stay put’ ultimately retiring further back into their crevice homes.

/

close
More Info

32. Bucchich’s Goby

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Frances Dipper. Video:  Luke Adshead.

NOTE: The video appears to be this species but the still photo is probably the very similar Sarato’s Goby (Gobius fallax).

 

Common Name: Bucchich’s Goby.

 

Scientific Name: Gobius bucchichi This species has been included here to allow you to recognise what a goby looks like. This particular species is often seen in shallow 1-2m waters off Malta. However, there are many goby species found in the Mediterranean and whilst some are very distinctive many can only be identified definitively by experts.

 

Distinctive Features: A dark line through each eye joining on the snout.

 

Description: This is a relatively small goby mostly seen in the 3-5cm range, though it can reach 9cm long . Gobies have a prominent head with their eyes set high and projecting above the forehead. Like blennies they often rest with the front of the body held off the surface by their pelvic fins. A really close look (or good photograph) should show that gobies have two separate fins on their back (blennies have one long one). Bucchich’s goby has a light grey-brown body colour with a dark line through each eye and numerous lines of dark spots along the body. A single line of larger, almost rectangular blackish spots running low down along each side may help tell it apart from Sarato’s goby.

 

Abundance: Solitary fish. Often seen in very shallow water (e.g . the Inland Sea) and more frequently once you know what to look out for. Regularly seen in shallow water, on at least every other snorkelling session.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They live in rocky habitats, often out in the open on the seabed. They feed on bottom living marine life.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: For such a small fish they can be very wary of snorkellers, perhaps because to them a snorkeller could be a predator. However, on a recent trip two were observed posturing and clashing over territory. In this setting they were completely oblivious to being filmed with the GoPro.

/

close
More Info

33. Swallowtail Seaperch

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll.

Common Name: Swallowtail Seaperch.

 

Scientific Name: Anthias anthias.

 

Other Names: Mediterranean Fairy Basslet, Marine Goldfish.

 

Distinctive Features: The reddish body and the long, elegant tail and pelvic fins are highly distinctive.

 

Description: This small fish (to about 10cm in this area), resembles a goldfish in shape and colour and has a large deeply forked, crescent-shaped tail fin. The fish are coloured a variable golden red, with yellow tips to the tall dorsal (back) fin which can be raised up like a flag. The pelvic fins are also relatively long and can have yellow tips.

 

Abundance: Loose shoals of hovering fish. Common at depths below 20m and in caves.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: Found in dark areas often adjacent to vertical or steep rock and in dim deeper water between 20-30m. A torch will be needed to highlight the colours.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Will mainly be seen by divers.

 

Notes: The males are larger and more flamboyant than the females and there are fewer of them as they are produced by sex reversal from large females.

/

close
More Info

34. Pompano

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Bob Earll.Video: Bob Earll.

Common Name: Pompano.

 

Scientific Name: Trachinotus ovatus.

 

Other Names: Derbio.

 

Distinctive Features: The black tips on the dorsal (back) and anal (belly) fins and black tips to a large deeply forked tail.

 

Description: In Maltese waters this species is small (less than 10cm). It has an oval, sideways flattened body with a distinctive large forked tail and is a member of the jack family. The overall colour is silver but with distinctive black tips to the highest part of the dorsal (back) and anal (belly) fins and at the ends of the tail.

 

Abundance: Individuals and small groups (5-10). Swims near the surface and so once you know where to look you are likely to see it on every snorkelling session, although perhaps only one group or fish per session. Whether divers would see them is debateable.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: It lives and swims near the surface or a few metres below it. It swims with a characteristic frantic motion with very rapid tail beats. They are reported to feed on the seabed but I have not seen this in Malta.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary and difficult to film.

 

Notes: An adult (30cm+) was filmed in the Inland Sea and the black fin marks were still distinctive.

/

close
More Info

35. Picarel

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Bob Earll. Video:  Bob Earll.

Common Name: Picarel.

 

Scientific Name: Spicara smaris (see also Notes below).

 

Distinctive Features: The black spot in the middle of the body is very characteristic.

 

Description: A small, slim cylindrical fish up to about 15cm long. The basic colour of the fish varies from bluish to silvery, but there is always a prominent black spot in the middle on either side. At night the colouration changes and it becomes much more mottled in appearance and the black spot can fade.

 

Abundance: In shoals, but these can be quite small. Not common, we saw it on a third of our sessions.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: In Maltese waters they can be seen feeding with other shoaling fish in the water column, but they also feed on seabed species and over sea grass meadows. On night dives they can be seen just above the sea bed.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Shy and wary of snorkellers.

 

Notes: The Mendole (Spicara maena) and the Garizzo (Spicara flexuosa) are both very similar to the Picarel and telling them apart underwater is difficult. The Picarel has a slimmer (i.e. less deep between back and belly) body than the other two.

/

close
More Info

36. Lizardfish

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Julia Jagoditsch.

Common Name: Lizardfish.

 

Scientific Name: Synodus saurus.

 

Other Names: Bluestriped Lizardfish.

 

Distinctive Features: Large mouth; thin blue to turquoise stripes along the upper body.

 

Description: A relatively large fish up to 30cm long. As the name suggests the Lizardfish is shaped rather like a plump lizard. For its size it has a very large mouth which is filled with needle-like teeth. Unlike the similarly shaped weeverfish (46) the mouth does not turn upwards and runs back broadly parallel to the line of the fish. The colour is a sandy brown with darker saddles and very clear blue to turquoise stripes along the body.

 

Abundance: Solitary. It often lies buried in sand and so is difficult to spot but when looking in this habitat it is reasonably commonly observed (50% of dives).

 

Habitat & Behaviour: Found in sandy seabed areas, where the fish often burrows into the sand and lies with only its head exposed, though they will also lie out in the open. Burying themselves provides camouflage and may be the prelude to feeding on other fish. Their sediment habitats are distinctive and you can easily learn the best places to look.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: They can be wary of snorkellers diving from the surface and may bury themselves when approached, not surprising as the author has seen them caught by spearfishing. They are more tolerant of divers.

/

close
More Info

37. Scorpionfish

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Scorpionfish.

 

Scientific Name: Scorpaena species – There are seven species found in the Mediterranean which are very difficult to tell apart underwater.

 

Other Names: Rock Fish.

 

Distinctive Features: Their brilliantly effective camouflage which makes them difficult to see.

 

Description: In the shallows off Malta they are mostly up to 15cm long but various species can grow much bigger. They have a prominent head with a large mouth and high-set eyes and a body that tapers away to the tail. They are masters of camouflage with spines and skin flaps on the head and spiny fins that break up their outline making them difficult to spot. Most are a mottled brownish or red colour.

 

Abundance: As individual fish. At most sites but you are unlikely to see more than 2 or 3 in a dive.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: Mainly on rocky reefs. They usually remain stationary both to hide from larger fish that might eat them, but also to remain hidden so that they themselves can ambush their next meal.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Generally they will not move unless provoked and so are easy to photograph once you have spotted them.

 

Notes: Take care! Scorpionfish have venomous fin and head spines and are one of the reasons why it is always better to look and not touch.

/

close
More Info

38. Annular Seabream

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Bob Earll. Video:  Bob Earll.

Common Name: Annular Seabream.

 

Scientific Name: Diplodus annularis.

 

Distinctive Features: The pectoral and anal fins are yellow and it often has a yellow tinge to the top of the eye.

 

Description: Grows to about 10cm in the shallow waters of Gozo but usually smaller. It has a deep-bodied shape similar to the other two common seabream (White and Two-banded) but it is rather petit in comparison. The silvery body has a prominent black tail band, as does the Saddled Seabream (4), but the yellow colour to the pelvic and anal fins and yellow tinge to upper parts of the head are distinctive.

 

Abundance: As individual fish or in small groups of 2 or 3. Less numerous than the White and Two -banded bream but once you have your eye in they are found at every site.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: Found close to the seabed over both rocky and sandy sea beds.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary of surface diving snorkellers but less wary of divers.

 

Notes: Refer to and compare with other seabream (2, 3, 4) if unsure of identification.

/

close
More Info

39. Jacks

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Julia Jagoditsch.

Common Name: Jacks.

 

Scientific Name: Caranx and Pseudocaranx species – there are about 4 species of ‘jack’ that can be found in the Mediterranean. Even with photographs and careful observations they can be very difficult to identify underwater.

 

Distinctive Features: Jacks are fast, powerful predators with forked tails and often prominent pectoral, dorsal and anal fins.

 

Description: Adults range from 50cm to 1m+. They are slim, sleek and powerful fish with forked tails, thin curved pectoral fins and often tall, prominent dorsal and anal fins. Colouration and the shape and extent of a line of large scales called scutes, near the tail can help tell the species apart. See also the Amberjack (30).

 

Abundance: As individuals or small schools. At specific types of sites, namely off headlands and reefs sticking out into the current, they can be seen regularly. The key to success is to watch out for them in such places. They are often seen only for a moment as they speed by.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: These are predators of open water and the water column, feeding on the shoals of smaller fish which are attracted to the rich plankton that sweeps in with the water currents swirling around rocky reef headlands. They swim fast patrolling along, but then attack their prey fish with explosive darts into the shoals.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Mainly seen by divers in waters below 10 -15m.

/

close
More Info

40. Fried Egg Jellyfish

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Fried Egg Jellyfish.

 

Scientific Name: Cotylorhiza tuberculata.

 

Distinctive Features: Has a yellow bell with short tentacles with purple ends.

 

Description: Although this species can grow quite large (35cm), in Maltese waters it is commonly from 5-10cm in diameter. The surface of the bell is smooth and yellow and with a raised centre giving the impression of a fried egg. The tentacles under the bell are very short and some have purple coloured ends.

 

Abundance: Solitary. Likely to be seen on half your snorkelling sessions in the late summer.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: It lives in the water column and is seen close to the surface. Occasionally there are small fish seeking shelter in the tentacles (see video).

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: None, and no threat to divers or snorkellers.

/

close
More Info

41. Goldblotch Grouper

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Julia Jagoditsch.

Common Name: Goldblotch Grouper.

 

Scientific Name: Epinephelus costae.

 

Other Names: Golden Grouper. Some older books call this Epinephelus alexandrinus.

 

Distinctive Features: This large grouper characteristically has 6 or 7 dark lines running along its body.

 

Description: A large grouper 50cm +. It has the typical grouper shape with a strong triangular head, jutting lower jaw and large eyes, but it is much less heavily built than the Dusky Grouper (24), with a thinner body. The distinctive dark lines running along the body also distinguishes it from the Dusky Grouper. A golden blotch behind the head gives it its name but whilst sometimes obvious, this is only reliably clear in breeding males.

 

Abundance: Solitary or in small groups of 3-5. Seen mainly by divers, perhaps on every other dive.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: Although it can be seen resting on the seabed it usually swims actively in mid water or adjacent to reefs. It is a predator of smaller fish and seabed life.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Snorkellers will not see this species at all frequently, but it can be inquisitive of divers and may pose for them.

 

Notes: We need a better video of this species: contact bob.earll@coastms.co.uk

/

close
More Info

42. Wide-Eyed Flounder

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Julia Jagoditsch.

Common Name: Wide-Eyed Flounder.

 

Scientific Name: Bothus podas.

 

Other Names: Peacock Flounder.

 

Distinctive Features: Flatfish species are difficult to distinguish underwater but all have a flat body and two prominent, upward facing eyes.

 

Description: Small individuals of 10-15cm length are found in the shallow waters of Malta. With their flat bodies and brownish speckled colouration, they are masters of camouflage and blend in against the sand on which they lie. A close look will show clusters or rings of white or coloured spots. The eyes are prominent and can operate independently of one another. In males the eyes are extremely far apart.

 

Abundance: As individual fish. Common at sites with sandy habitat.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They are found on sandy seabed from 4m to deeper. They will often follow other species which are actively feeding in the sand (see 20, Feeding groups).

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary of surface diving snorkellers and swim away quickly, much less wary of divers.

 

Notes: This is a ‘left-eyed’ flatfish. Juvenile flatfish have a normal fish shape but lie down on one side as they become adult. This species lies on its right side and has both eyes on the left side.

/

close
More Info

43. Cuttlefish

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Cuttlefish.

 

Scientific Name: Sepia officinalis.

 

Maltese Name: Sicc.

 

Distinctive Features: A pair of large, distinctive eyes with flaps of skin projecting down from the top. Often pose with two tentacles raised.

 

Description: Larger individuals are 5-10 cm+ and are more easily seen. Cuttlefish have a plump but flattened oval body surrounded by a rippling fin used for gentle swimming. Ten pointed tentacles project forward from the head but often only eight are visible. They have a wide and changing repertoire of body colours and patterns.

 

Abundance: Solitary. Difficult to see but probably quite common.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: Most often seen over sand and sea grass beds where it sometimes burrows into the sediment to conceal itself as the video shows. Like the octopus, it is a master of camouflage, and will often only have its eyes protruding above the sand. It can instantaneously change the colour and texture of its skin.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: It will hold its ground but if provoked will jet off backwards and often leave a screen of ink as a decoy.

/

close
More Info

44. Common Stingray

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Julia Jagoditsch.

Common Name: Common Stingray.

 

Scientific Name: Dasyatis pastinaca.

 

Distinctive Features: Long whip-like tail fin with a sharp spine about a third of the way along it.

 

Description: The individuals I have seen have been small 20-30cm in width, although they can grow up to 1.4m. Like all rays, the body is flattened top to bottom and they have very enlarged pectoral fins or ‘wings’ which undulate during swimming. Stingrays have a very long tail with a barb-like sting part way along it. The colour of the top of the body is dark grey.

 

Abundance: Solitary. Predominantly over sandy habitats so if this habitat is not present you are unlikely to see any.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They are found mainly over sandy habitats were they burrow in the sand for food – see video 19. When feeding they are often followed by other species such as flounders which try to catch any small creatures the stingray disturbs.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary of snorkellers diving from the surface probably because they are easy targets for even the least proficient spear fisherman. Less wary of divers.

 

Notes: There are at least five other stingrays found in the Mediterranean, some of which have distinctive patterns. However, in the area covered you are most likely to see the Common Stingray.

/

close
More Info

45. Flying Gurnard

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll.

Common Name: Flying Gurnard.

 

Scientific Name: Dactylopterus volitans.

 

Distinctive Features: The huge, colourful fan-like pectoral fins are unmistakable.

 

Description: Most of those seen in this area are up to 20cm long. It has a prominent head with a sharply sloping profile with large eyes set near the top. The body is almost square in cross section and tapers away towards the tail. The really distinctive and beautiful feature of this fish is the gigantic pectoral fins that reach almost back to the tail. When swimming (see the video), these fins are outstretched to reveal beautiful colours including vivid blue spots.

 

Abundance: Solitary. Only on sandy habitats.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: They are found on sandy habitats were they actively search for food in the sand. When disturbed they ‘fly’ off (see the video).

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Wary of snorkellers diving from the surface, less so of divers who value the beauty of the fish; often photographed.

/

close
More Info

46. Weeverfish

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Luke Adshead.

WARNING: If you stand on a weeverfish or get stung by touching or handling one, you will find it a very painful experience. Click here to see what to do.

 

Common Name: Weeverfish.

 

Scientific Name: Greater Weever: Trachinus draco; Starry or Streaked Weever: Trachinus radiatus; Spotted Weever: Trachinus araneus and Lesser Weever: Echiichthys vipera.

 

Distinctive Features: Weeverfish have a mouth that slopes steeply upwards enabling them to hold their head off the seabed and to bury themselves whilst keeping the head above the sediment. Their clearly visible mouth line goes down at a sharp angle giving them a very grumpy look. In the similarly-shaped Lizardfish the mouth goes back almost horizontally which helps to tell which is which.

 

Description: These fish can grow up to 40cm but smaller fish are commoner. If the fish is not buried then their patterns will help tell them apart. The Starry Weever has leopard-like spots, the Greater Weever has groups of dashed bands making oblique streaks, the Spotted Weever has a row of large dark spots along the sides and the Lesser Weever is spotted or streaked with brown and yellow.

 

Abundance: Solitary. Only found on sand.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: These species, like the Lizardfish, live in and on the sand often buried, waiting for prey to come within the range of their waiting jaws.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Weevers do not immediately swim off when approached by surface diving snorkellers, which makes them vulnerable to spearfishing. They are less wary of divers.

/

close
More Info

47. Stop Fish

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Julia Jagoditsch. Video: Julia Jagoditsch.

Common Name: Stop fish.

 

Scientific Name: Dentex gibbosus.

 

Other Names: Lump-headed Bream, Pink Dentex.

 

Distinctive Features: A very silvery fish with distinctive blue fringes to its fins and a very obvious habit of stopping suddenly and then moving on again.

 

Description: Those seen in the area are mostly 10 – 20cm long and are young or juveniles, which live close to the shore. The body is deep and relatively longer than other seabream such as the Two-banded Seabream. The distinguishing features underwater are the blue fringes to pelvic, anal, tail and dorsal fins. They may have a pinkish background colour but this is not usually visible without a torch. Adults have a distinctively humped head but we have not seen any like this in Malta.

 

Abundance: Solitary. At particular locations such as Marsalforn Bay you can see 10+ fish scattered across the sandy seabed.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: In Malta these fish live over sand. They feed independently but also follow other fish in feeding groups. The younger fish are all males but larger males can change sex and become female. These large females (as well as large males) have a humped head.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Very wary of surface diving snorkellers and are not worth chasing. Seemingly indifferent to divers.

 

Notes: Although called dentex rather than seabream, they are in the same family as seabream and are similar in overall shape (see 2, 3, 4, 26, 38). Other species of dentex also occur in the area.

/

close
More Info

48. Tompot Blenny

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Tompot Blenny.

 

Scientific Name: Parablennius gattorugine.

 

Distinctive Features: The large branched tentacles on the head above the eyes.

 

Description: This is one of the larger blennies (to 25cm long) but the specimens seen in the area have been around the 10cm size. It has the typical tapering blenny shape (see blenny 28) and poses propped up on its pelvic fins. Often only the large head can be seen with its obvious head tentacles, thick lips and large eyes. The colouration is a complex mix of browns and reds but there are usually solid darker bands running down from the top of the dorsal (back) fin to the belly.

 

Abundance: Solitary. Probably common but this is a species that will usually only be seen by close scrutiny.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: Secretive, living in cracks and crevices in rocky habitats. In the breeding season males are quite bold and will guard their crevice homes where the females lay their eggs, seeing off all comers (including divers).

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: They are inquisitive and rarely camera shy, which is one of the reasons that this species has become an icon of many conservation projects. The subject of the first video was certainly not spooked by the camera.

/

close
More Info

49. Seahorse

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Russell & Gill Bennett. Video: Bob Earll & Julia Jagoditsch.

Common Name: Seahorse.

 

Scientific Name: There are two species that can be found in Maltese waters, the Long-snouted Seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus) and the Short-snouted Seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus). Good photography or video is essential to enable identification but the use of flash photography and lighting when photographing seahorses are not allowed in Malta (or the UK).

 

Other Names: Spiny Seahorse (H. guttulatus).

 

Distinctive Features: No other fish are shaped like seahorses.

 

Description: These are small fish growing to 15cm. Their distinctive upright posture with bowed head and snout and curling, prehensile tail are characteristic of the group. With practise, colour, snout length and the presence, absence and shape of skin tassels enable identification of different species.

 

Abundance: Solitary. I have never seen one in Malta but they are often seen. This is one of those species where looking very carefully in the right habitat and knowing what to look out for is essential.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: These species live in seagrass beds and in rocky areas with a good cover of seaweed. They can also be found in sediment areas where they hide amongst seaweed debris or live seaweeds attached to pebbles.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Seahorses are iconic fish in marine conservation, and are one of the reasons behind moves to conserve seagrass beds where they are commonly found. Click Here to read the guidance and information to prevent stress to any seahorses you might find on your dive in Maltese waters.

/

close
More Info

50. Pipe Fish

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Luke Adshead. Video: Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Pipe Fish

 

Scientific Name:

 

Other Names:

 

Distinctive Features:

 

Description:

 

Abundance:

 

Habitat & Behaviour:

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers:

 

Notes:

/

close
More Info

51. Bogue

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Luke Adshead. Video: Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Bogue

 

Scientific Name:

 

Other Names:

 

Distinctive Features:

 

Description:

 

Abundance:

 

Habitat & Behaviour:

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers:

 

Notes:

/

close
More Info

52. Green Cumber

Text: Bob Earll. Photo: Luke Adshead. Video: Luke Adshead.

Common Name: Green cumber.

 

Scientific Name: Cumber viridis.

 

Other Names: White Lined Cumber, Matchstick Cumber.

 

Distinctive Features: Green body, with matchsticks for eyes.

 

Description: The long green body is cucumber-shaped. The white fins are very distinctive as are the matchsticks for eyes.

 

Abundance: Very rare – only one ever seen – off Gozo.

 

Habitat & Behaviour: Often completely stationery.

 

Reaction to Snorkellers & Divers: Does not react.

 

Notes: Good in salads. You might like to search for other similar creations / species.

/

close
More Info

The Sea Stuff project is not complete and if you have any comments please send an email to seastuff@seastuff.com

We Would Like Your Comments

If you have better videos or photos, or have views on particular species, please let us know by contacting Bob Earll – seastuff@seastuff.com

 

Code Of Diving & Protecting Our Seas

Please follow the Gozo & Malta diving code.

 

Marine Life Projects

There are host of marine observation projects underway on Malta and Gozo. Here are links to some of them:

 

Sponsors

We are looking for a sponsor for the Sea Stuff Gozo & Malta web pages.

 

Acknowledgements

The material for Gozo and Malta has been prepared by Bob Earll, Russell and Gill Bennett (photographs) supported by Luke Adshead (video editing) and Frances Dipper (technical advice). Videos by Bob Earll, Julia Jagoditsch and Luke Adshead.