Maldivian fish identification guide with names and photos
The Maldives is one of the best destinations on the earth for a dreamy tropical vacation. Although the area’s coral reefs are not as vibrant as they were before due to several bleaching events, the marine life is still extremely rich. If you want to know what Maldivian fish species you can see while snorkeling or diving, here is a list of the 18 most common ones with photos included!
Table of Contents
- Maldive Anemonefish
- Bluestriped Snapper
- Spotfin Lionfish
- Smallspotted Dart
- Convict Tang/Convict Surgeonfish
- Powder Blue Surgeonfish/Tang
- Giant Titan triggerfish
- Orbicular Batfish/Circular Batfish
- Zoster Butterflyfish/Black Pyramid Butterflyfish
- Schooling Bannerfish
- Spaghetti Eel
- Bluefin trevally
- Reef Manta Ray (Mobula Alfredi)
- Spotted Eagle Ray
- Blacktip Reefshark
- Whitetip Reefshark
- Tawny Nurse Shark
Among all Maldivian fish species, probably the playful Maldive anemonefish (often referred to as Nemo or Clownfish) is the most famous one. It has an oval-shaped compressed body colored rusty orange with a vertical white stripe behind its eye. Its belly, pelvic and anal fins are blackish. Females usually can grow up to 11 cm in length, while males are a little smaller, up to 8 cm.
An interesting fact about anemonefish is that this species is sequential hermaphrodite meaning that they are all males first and develop into females when they are mature. This is a unique reproductive feature of some reef fish species that live in hierarchy; if the female dies, the most dominant male becomes a female.
Anemonefish are found in warm tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They are pretty common on shallow coral reefs of the Maldives so can be easily spotted when snorkeling. They live in the same host anemone in their whole life. Females are territorial and can be aggressive; although they are not dangerous, they can attack when feeling threatened.
Bluestripes snappers are one of the most principal Hawaiian fish species but can be found in the Indo-pacific region too. These fish usually live in large aggregations in shallow lagoons and around reef slopes.
You can quickly identify Bluestriped snappers using the following characteristics:
- Pale yellow body
- Large eyes
- A brownish head
- Four thin blue horizontal stripes on the sides
- The lateral line may have dark dorsal spots
Spotfin lionfish, also known as Antennata Lionfish is one of the most beautiful lionfish species. It has a reddish-brown body and fan-like fins. The dorsal, pelvic, and anal fins have venomous spines; while its sting is painful, it does not dangerous to humans, however when threatened, lionfish will direct their spines toward the threat so make sure to avoid getting close to such fish.
Lionfish usually rest underneath rocks and between corals during the day and come out to hunt at night. In total, there are more than 300 lionfish species and can be found in all tropical and temperate oceans.
At places where they are native such as the Maldives, Red Sea, Indonesia, Seychelles etc… they do not cause harm. While where they are non-native, lionfish pose threat to native fish and the ecosystem and therefore are hunted to stop their invasion.
A widespread species in the Indo-Pacific, the silvery-white Smallspotted Darts are one of the most common Maldivian reef fishes. The main habitats of this schooling fish are near shallow waters and lagoons so they can be easily seen when snorkeling in the Maldives.
This species is known for its forked tail and black spots on the flanks (the older the fish the more spots it has). While the females are rather small, males grow up to maximum lengths of 60 cm and can weigh up to 1.5 kilograms.
Convict Tang/Convict Surgeonfish
A species found throughout the world’s tropical waters, Convict Tangs are regularly seen in lagoons, shallow bays and reef slopes. They have off-white, silvery bodies with a little yellow coloration and 6 black stripes that resemble the old prison uniform giving them the name “convict tang.”
In addition to having a pointed snout, their terminal mouth features thick lips. Also, they have sharp, retractable spines on each side of the peduncle, which they use for offense or defense. The main diet of the convict tang is algae, particularly the one that grows near freshwater runoff.
Powder Blue Surgeonfish/Tang
Powder blue surgeonfish gained fame as the character of Dory in the animated ocean movie, Finding Nemo. These fish species of the Maldives have laterally compressed, oval-shaped bodies that allowed them to swim fast.
The powder blue surgeonfish’s head is black at the top and white below. A significant part of its body has a fantastic blue color with yellow dorsal, pectoral, caudal, and light blue anal fins. It possesses a sharp spine at the base of its tail. They’re territorial and aggressive and might use this ‘blade’ for defense so try not to get too close to them.
Giant Titan triggerfish
A common reef inhabitant, the robust Titan Triggerfish is a colorful Maldivian fish with special teeth designed to crack the shells of hard-shelled invertebrates. Its body is generally yellowish, greenish or dark grey with yellow fins with black tips. Interesting facts are about Titan Triggerfish that they swim horizontally, and their eyes are independently rotating.
One thing you need to keep in mind when encountering this fish species: they are extremely territorial and are known to attack when they feel their nesting ground threatened so observe them from a safe distance to reduce the risk of injury.
Orbicular Batfish/Circular Batfish
There is something beautiful about an orbicular batfish. It has a flattened, disc-shaped body with shiny silver color. Its dorsal and anal fins have a symmetrical pattern that gives it a spade-like appearance.
There is a thin difference between an adult orbicular batfish and a long-finned batfish. An orbicular batfish’s anal fin does not have dark blotches like a long-finned batfish’s pectoral fin and anal fin bottom edge.
Juvenile orbicular can flop on their sides and let the current pull them. Its primary habitats are coastal habitats, such as mangroves and lagoons. It can camouflage to a rusty brown color to look like a leaf.
Zoster Butterflyfish/Black Pyramid Butterflyfish
Zoster butterflyfish are small-sized fish with a laterally compressed round body. The black coloration of their bodies is complemented by a white vertical band running through the middle.
You will always find these fish in pairs or solitary, they don’t form large groups. They like staying in robust current environments and areas with a lot of coral.
The name of Schooling bannerfish comes from the fact that these species live in large groups. They are called false moorish idol too and often, you can confuse the schooling bannerfish with Black & White Heniochus Butterflyfish because they almost resemble each other. Schooling bannerfish have a less protruding snout and more round breasts.
Schooling bannerfish’s body coloration is white and has two diagonal black bands. Its pectoral, dorsal, and tail fins are yellow; the head is white, while the eyes are black. Additionally, unlike longfish bannerfish with a straight bar between their eyes, schooling bannerfish’s mark is triangular.
These schooling fish can grow to 18-21 cm. An interesting fact is that their colors darken during the night, and the white bands can turn grey.
An interesting eel species, spaghetti eels are common in the Indo-Western Pacific but still are a bit difficult to spot. They live in large colonies in burrows on sandy bottoms but slide back in their holes when approached.
However, if you stay calm and wait patiently, they will slowly rise again and start elegantly moving waving their heads to feed on the plankton that comes with the current.
Trevallies are usually found near busy reef slopes where they hunt for smaller fish. They are known as Blue Jackfish/Yellowfin Jacks. And can grow large, up to 5.5-6 ft (1.7-1.8 m) but usually they are around 2.3-2.6ft/70-80 cm.
The Bluefin Trevally is a predatory fish and hunts aggressively. While hunting, they might swim close to snorkelers and divers, however they are not considered dangerous to humans. It is more common that they cause injuries when caught by fishermen as they fight to try to escape.
Reef Manta Ray (Mobula Alfredi)
The reef manta ray is the second largest species of rays and is definitely among the most beautiful marine animals you can see on your underwater adventures. As The Maldives is one of the best places to swim with manta rays, snorkelers and divers flock to this destination to encounter these graceful creatures.
Mantas have flattened bodies and long whip-like tail with no poisonous tail stinger, therefore they are absolutely harmful despite their size (they can grow up to 4.5 meters in diameter). They all have their own unique belly pattern such high cognitive functions that it is said that they would be able to recognize themselves in the mirror.
The highest chance to see them is between May to November in the North Male Atoll and between June to November in the South Ari Atoll. If you want to experience swimming with hundreds of manta rays, visit Hanifaru Bay where mass manta aggregation happens each year between May and December.
Spotted Eagle Ray
Being excellent and graceful swimmers, spotted eagle rays travel great distances together in large groups swimming in the open ocean but come into shallow inshore waters too where you have a chance to observe this elegant species. You can find these rays in the warm tropical regions globally, including the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Their large pectoral fins, flat and disk-shaped body facilitate their elegant swimming abilities. The top part of their body is black or deep blue with white spots and they have a white underbelly.
Eagle rays are considered potentially dangerous to humans because of their venomous tail spines. They only use their stinger when they feel attacked, so if you don’t threaten them, they don’t get aggressive.
If swimming with whale sharks is on your bucket list, then the Maldives is one of the best places you can travel to turn your dream into reality! Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the ocean; the largest measured one was 61.7 ft /18.8m in length. Generally, adult species are measuring between 43-50ft/13-15m and weigh around 9-12 tonnes.
Despite their size and massive body, whale sharks are gentle creatures and not dangerous to humans. They are filter feeders; they have over 300 rows of tiny teeth and 20 filter pads in their mouths that they use to filter plankton, small shrimps and fish from the water.
If you are lucky enough to get the opportunity to swim with whale sharks remember not to touch them because this will damage the protective mucus layer that prevents bacteria from growing on their skin.
Encountering sharks is a daily thing in The Maldives but do not worry; the species you will see while snorkeling are generally not aggressive toward humans. One of the most common ones is the Blacktip, which is known for its prominent black tips on the caudal and dorsal fins.
Adults have brownish upper parts and white lower parts and can grow up to 5ft/1.5m. Juveniles, however, have white undersides and yellowish dorsal sides. The pups are approx. 1.5ft/0.5m long and usually spend their time circling around in lagoons to hunt for small and crustaceans. Adults also tend to visit shoreline areas but usually hunt over shallow reefs.
Another common Maldives fish species is the Whitetip reef shark, which is a small shark with a maximum length of 1.6m. Whitetips have slender bodies and short, broad heads. Their body shape allows them to wiggle into small holes and crevices to get crustaceans, small bony fish, and octopuses for food.
The whole body of the whitetip reef shark is brownish, while the bottom is white, and each possesses unique scattered dark spots. The first dorsal fin tips and upper caudal fin lobes are bright white.
Whitetip reef sharks rarely attack humans, but they may closely examine swimmers if they feel threatened, so it is important not to act aggressively toward them to avoid accidental bites.
Tawny Nurse Shark
The slow-moving nurse sharks occur usually on or near coral reefs and lagoon habitats. This Maldivian fish species is also harmless to humans but you need to be precautions if you encounter one or more since they can bite defensively if bothered or stepped on.
Tawny nurse sharks have cylindrical bodies and broad flat heads. Their caudal fins are elongated, and their pectoral fins are sickle-shaped. Their full coloration ranges from greyish brown and yellowish to reddish.
Nurse sharks are active at night and rest in groups inside caves or ledges during the day. To capture prey, these species employ powerful suction forces. Their primary diet includes small bony fishes, octopuses, and other invertebrates.
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