Snorkeling with tailspot blennies
“Dave, did you see any tailspot blennies on that snorkel?”, Lee said, chuckling, as we climbed aboard the Sea Safari after exploring yet another stunning coral reef in Raja Ampat. I deserved it, I really did. What prompted this running joke was my exuberant glee after having seen my first tailspot blenny early in the trip, and Lee’s amusement at the juxtaposition between that reaction and the sheer abundance of this species.
The tailspot blenny, Ecsenius stigmatura, is commonly observed in Raja Ampat, and, indeed, I saw several at just about every site we visited during our ten-day snorkeling adventure to this center of marine biodiversity. While abundant in Raja Ampat, the tailspot blenny has a relatively restricted range, only found in eastern Indonesia and the southern Philippines. Perhaps I should have known better – I’m a coral reef ecologist and have been working in the tropical Pacific for many years. But, then again, I had never been to Raja Ampat before, and as much as I’ve learned about Indo-Pacific marine life over the years, the jaw-dropping diversity of life in Raja Ampat meant that there were likely to be reef inhabitants I had yet to encounter in my travels. In defense of my excitement at that first encounter, the tailspot blenny truly is a beautiful fish; the blue head grading into a mandarin orange, the bright orange and yellow rings around the eyes, the sharp lines on the head, and, of course, the black spot at the base of its tail, set this species apart from many other reef-dwelling blennies.
Its diminutive size (2-3 cm) make spotting even such a strikingly colored fish somewhat difficult, especially for the uninitiated. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself snorkeling on the reefs of Raja Ampat, I encourage you to turn your attention away, if only briefly, from the dazzling reef scapes and dizzying schools of fish to peer intently at a group of corals at arm’s length. You’ll see them, common as coral, but uncommonly beautiful. Join us on our next snorkeling tour to Raja Ampat to see them yourself :-).