Pitcairn Islands Expedition: Bizarre Fish Face Photo

Some fish, with their delicate features and calm poised attitudes, always appear ready for their close-ups. Others, like this teetering triggerfish, look like you’ve just snapped a Polaroid of them in the middle of a wild weekend in Las Vegas.

To be fair, when expedition leader Enric Sala took this photo, the fish was essentially in the middle of a bath, getting the spa treatment from a tiny cleaner fish visible just below its eyes.


Beyond the Funny Face

I saw the same behavior (and perhaps even the same fish) today as I dove with our fish experts Jenn Caselle from Marine Science Institute, UC Santa Barbara, and Alan Friedlander of the US Geological Survey and University of Hawaii as they laid out rope and tape measures and identified and counted every fish that passed by that line.

At one point Alan signaled to me and pointed into the distance. There, its colors fading into blue from from all the water between us, was a triggerfish just like this one Enric had photographed up close the day before. Parasites were being nibbled off its body by an attendant cleaner fish.

As the cleaner fish did its work, the triggerfish rolled on its side, with its large top and bottom fins waving like the graceful wings of a manta ray. Having appreciated its comical qualities the day before, it was in a way humbling now to see it in person, moving beautifully, demonstrating peaceful inter-species partnership.

As Mark Hooper, one of our ship’s engineers said to me the other night, “It’s a beautiful planet we’ve got if you just take the time to look at it.”


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Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of nationalgeographic.com for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.
  • […] Pitcairn Islands Expedition: Bizarre Fish Face… Apr. 3, 2012 (0) News Watch » […]

  • […] face, below the eye. Read more about this nature encounter at National Geographic News. Link -Thanks, […]

  • Alex Bateman

    Nice picture, but if I saw a triggerfish looking at me like that I’d swim away quickly. They can be agressive and territorial and will attack divers. See this nice post on the subject: http://bit.ly/t7JZbF

  • David Martin

    Great line about the trigger fish’s wild weekend in Sin City. Watch out ladiez!!!!

  • Nathan Bevan (facebook)

    Hey I might need some major dental work braces WHAT EVER! Im a Triggerfish look at ma sexy body!!!

  • Alena Fayant

    I thought it was Triggerfish day!Not Groundhog day!…Wow my bad!…lol

  • darline harris

    Hey Come back! I only eat vegetables !!

  • Joe terrazas

    Check out my new GRILL~€:}

  • Jon


  • Mark

    Great photo ! although the article doesn’t mention how territorial they are , I have had my finns and mask attacked by the peacful trigger fish , that inspires beauty !

  • Alka Misra


  • El Tigre

    This fish is British!! hahaha!

  • Derpy

    He looks so .. British.

  • Carla

    Oh Nooo…the dentist is coming…outta my way!!!

  • car marie

    I have to wait how long for an appointment with the dentist.

  • […] newswatch.nationalgeographic.com  /  via: […]

  • keyvan

    only the beautiful rhythm of colors.

  • […] came across this photo of the triggerfish over on National Geographic’s blog, and felt the need to […]

  • Debra Eaglecloud

    Pollution runs deep, just look at what you did to my teeth!

  • ssemakula ronald

    my real old African
    u should get this ancestral tooth brush
    a tree branch and whiten ya teeth

  • Peter Atef

    say , What’s up doc !

  • Julie Erickson

    Ohh, I’m just fine, Trigger. Thank you very much. It’s really great seeing you again, man. I love love love your cool colors. Later.

  • Addison

    Those lips…

  • […] National Geographic Share this:DiggCorreo electrónicoImprimirShare on Tumblr Pin ItMe gusta:Me gustaSe el primero en […]

  • Loreto Duffy-Mayers

    I’m sexy and I know it!!!

  • George

    the photo is very funny.

  • chali saidi

    Samaki mzuri kwa utalii.

  • emmanuel james

    Sisi huku mpaka tuende ufukwe wa dar. Ndio tuone aina za samaki kama huyu.

  • Elizabeth Llatas

    I love going fishing and when I was in Rangiroa I had he chance to observe different kinds of fish but I find this one so beautiful!! GREAT picture !

  • Kaden

    hi dentist i need my teeth cleaned

  • Dageda Keary

    It is quite beautiful.I love animals ,I love the fish.

  • […] the reef to get to 18 m (ended up at 17.4 m). Saw some cool stuff including loads of triggerfish (titan, yellow) and a Great Banded sea snake, as well as lots more Parrotfish, Butterfly fish and […]

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