Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bunaken Diving: Mandarin Fish Dive

One of the draws of diving at Bunaken is not only the amazing coral, huge schools of fish and crazy steep wall dives, but the ability to see the fascinating and beautiful mandarin fish in action...   Mandarin fish are crazily patterned and brightly colored (blue, orange, green, turquoise!), although really quite small (about 2 inches long at their largest).  They are named for their resemblance to the robes of the Imperial Chinese bureaucrats, the Mandarins

Photo courtesy of Luc Viatour at
Mandarin fish have an interesting mating ritual, described in oddly graphic detail in this National Geographic article and with pretty photos in this article, summed up as such: everyday, just before sunset, small groups of lady mandarin fish gather in one spot while the male fish swim by and try to impress them.  Once a pair is made, they latch onto each other, float up and away from the coral a few feet and then release a cloud of eggs and sperm.

Bunaken has a least one dive site where mandarin fish are plentiful and quite active, particularly around dusk, when they go into mating mode, so we signed up for a mandarin fish dive on our second day at Two Fish Divers.  We hopped on the boat, motored over to the designated spot, suited up, jumped out and sank down only about 5 meters (quite shallow), right on top of a pile of coral rubble (perhaps rubble-ized by dynamite fishing, now outlawed in the Bunaken areas?).  From there we hovered just a few feet above the ground, staring intently at the rubble in hopes of seeing the elusive (and tiny!) mandarin fish do their thang (like really do it... heh heh), while the light faded all around us, necessitating flashlights (see Scuba Steve and Colleen flashing the reef below, har har):

While waiting on the mating (no more rhymes now, I mean it!), I noticed that I was hovering just above a nice anemone whose residents were none too happy that I was loitering in their 'hood... check out their defensive posturing:

Aaaaand finally, we saw some mandarin fish action.  Basically we watched tens of these pretty but tiny fish troll the reef for a while, darting in and out of the coral rubble.  Eventually, when two of them crossed paths enough and the mood was right, they latch on to one another and float away from the reef, doing it.  When they're done they jet away from each other and back down to the rubble, lightening fast.  

Thanks to our divemaster, Sandy, for filming.  His buoyancy is much better controlled than mine, so his hand was steadier for filming this tiny sex act.  The lighting is not ideal since it's dusk, but you get the picture.  This makes me feel like those guys in Knocked Up who run a website that identifies, down to the second, nudity in movies, but here goes:  mandarin fish sex at approximately 0:30, 0:42, 1:55 and 2:05.  That should help those people with short attention spans get to the good stuff quickly. 


  1. What might be best about that Nat geo article is that it from 2001. Keepin it classy. Also thank goodness for Sandy for so many reasons!

    1. Eh, I guess the facts about the mandarin fish's sex life don't really become outdated.


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