A Strange Fish Story

I was remembering back to the voyage across the western Pacific and Coral Sea completed this summer from Tonga to Australia.  There was one strange observation I made at 2 separate times during this sail.  While on watch in the cockpit of Prince Diamond during the day my eyes were drawn to an unusual movement in the water close aboard.  What appeared to be a small hoop of about 12 to 15 cm in diameter was upright on the surface of the water and rapidly rolling away from the boat.  In about 2 to 3 metres it disappeared into the ocean the entire phenomena  taking no more than 2 seconds of time.

The impression I had was of a fish which had curled itself into a hoop, head to tail and was trying to escape from Prince Diamond‘s threatening presence by rolling rapidly away like a car tire.  I had never heard of such a thing!  Unfortunately, the sighting was so fleeting and unpredictable there was no way to film or photograph it.  I can tell you, if it hadn’t happened twice, once somewhere west of Tonga, or perhaps west of Fiji, and the other time off the coast of Australia, I might have been tempted to believe it was some trick of my eyes or imagination.

Once back home I began to investigate what this thing might have been.  Was it some new, unobserved behaviour of a fish?  I found it hard to believe I’d never come across such an action in my many years of reading all things about the sea.  Perhaps this type of fish could be identified by this action if indeed it was unusual and known?

So, I contacted Professor Anthony Gill at the University of Sydney and Professor Richard Moccia at the University of Guelph.  To quote from Professor Gill’s page at the university:

Tony Gill has had over 30 years of experience volunteering or working in natural history museums, beginning with an internship at the Australian Museum in 1981. Prior to joining the Macleay Museum in 2010, Tony Gill was Researcher – Shallow Marine Fishes in the Natural History Museum, London, and Museum Curator in the School of Life Sciences and Assistant Director for Collections in the International Institute for Species Exploration, Arizona State University. Tony received his PhD from the University of New England in 1991 based on research conducted at the Australian Museum. He was later a Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellow in the National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C., and Lerner-Grey Research Fellow in the American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Professor Moccia of Animal Biosciences is Professor of Aquatic and Fisheries Science, Director at the Aquaculture Centre, and Past Associate Vice-President, Research at the University of Guelph.

So I put it to these 2 learned men, and have received a surprising revelation.  It seems this rolling away from a threat is not unusual among fishes such as some wrasses, blennies and leatherjackets.  Dr. Gill states “Various fishes will assume that position and happily scoot along.”.  It still seems amazing to me, but I have to admit the case is closed.  There’s no way to know which fish I actually saw, nor does it really matter.

My right knee, which had had much strength removed from it during the idleness of sailing is now recovering nicely as I visit the gym a few times a week.  Never actually unstable, the knee now is regaining a feeling of robustness, replacing a “loose” sensation and occasional pain under the knee cap.

Toronto is settling into winter weather, generally a humid grey, and the thermometer is gradually sinking down into the negative numbers.  We may get a first taste of snow this week.  Ah!  It has started to fall in large, beautiful flakes!  Back in Darwin the days will be going from hot to scorching.  Prince Diamond is caught like a fly in a web of dock lines, decks stripped, waiting for our return in May and keeping an eye to the sky.

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