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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Meet the Author
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.