Malta's Underwater life

Here is a selection of some of the life that you are likely to see on your dives and some that you will be very privileged to see due to their rarity. It is by no means an exhaustive list of creatures endemic to the Maltese Islands, but merely a selection of our favourite things to see. Remember to dive slowly, the slower you go the more you will see!

 

Marbled Electric Ray

The marbled electric ray (Torpedo marmorata) is a species of electric ray in the family Torpedinidae found in the coastal waters of the Mediterranean sea. There are two transparent electric organs on either side of the head. Be careful and do not touch as they can give you a large jolt. Lives on sandy bottoms from 20m to 200m, can grow to 100cms.

Stingray

The common stingray (Dasyatis pastinaca) is a species of stingray in the family Dasyatidae, found in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean and Black Seas. It typically inhabits sandy or muddy habitats in coastal waters shallower than 60 m (200 ft), often burying itself in sediment. Usually measuring 45 cm (18 in) across, the common stingray has a diamond-shaped pectoral fin disc slightly wider than long, and a whip-like tail with upper and lower fin folds

Moray eel

The Mediterranean moray (sometimes also called Roman eel, Muraena helena) is a fish of the moray eel family. It has a long eel-like body and is found in the eastern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.The Mediterranean moray has an elongated, eel-like body and can reach a length of 1.5 meters and weigh over 15 kilograms. Its coloration varies from dark grey to dark brown with fine dark spots. The Mediterranean moray is known for its ‘alien’-like pharyngeal jaw. A pharyngeal jaw works like a second jaw. The moray first bites into its prey with their first set of teeth then the pharyngeal jaw/teeth come forward. It grabs the prey and drags it towards it oesophagus for swallowing. This is the only animal known to do so.

Scorpion Fish

 Scorpion fishes have large, heavily ridged and spined heads. Venomous spines on their back and fins with a groove and venom sack. Well camouflaged with tassels, warts and colored specks. Some scorpion fishes can change their colour to better match their surroundings. The stonefish is a master of disguise and deception, it looks like a piece of coral or sand covered rock. Thus he can blend in with its surroundings and go unnoticed by its prey. They feed on crustaceans, cephalopods and fishes employing a lie-in-wait strategy, remaining stationary and snapping prey that comes near. With their mouth they create a vacuum and suck prey in during a nearly imperceptible split-second movement (15 milliseconds).



John Dory



John Dory
, also known as St Pierre or Peter's Fish.The dark spot is used to flash an 'evil eye' if danger approaches the John Dory. Its large eyes at the front of the head provide it with bifocal vision and depth perception, which are important for predators. The John Dory’s eye spot on the side of its body also confuses prey, which are scooped up in its big mouth. A related legend says that the dark spot on the fish's flank is St. Peter's thumbprint.The John Dory grows to a maximum size of 65 cm (2 ft) and 3 kg (7 lb) in weight. The John Dory usually gets its food by stalking it then shooting out a tube in its mouth to capture its prey. The John Dory eats a variety of fish, especially schooling fish, such as sardines. Occasionally they eat squid and cuttlefish.

Blenny


Blennioids or Blennys' are generally small fish, with elongate bodies (some almost eel-like), relatively large eyes and mouths. Their dorsal fins are often continuous and long; the pelvic fins typically have a single embedded spine and are short and slender, situated before the pectoral fins. The tail fin is rounded. The blunt heads of blennioids often possess elaborate whisker-like structures calledcirri.  Blennys' spend much of their time on or near the sea floor; many are reclusive and may burrow in sandy substrates or inhabit crevices in reefs, the lower stretches of rivers, or even empty mollusc shells.







Squid

Squid are cephalopods of the order Teuthida, which comprises around 300 species. Like all other cephalopods, squid have a distinct head, bilateral symmetry, a mantle, and arms. Squid, like cuttlefish, have eight arms arranged in pairs and two, usually longer, tentacles. Squid are strong swimmers and are more often encountered at night while diving.
The squid propels itself using jet propulsion. In this form of locomotion, water is sucked into the mantle cavity and expelled out of the siphon in a fast, strong jet. The direction of the siphon can be changed, to suit the direction of travel.


Octopus
The Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris) grows to 25 cm in  length with arms up to 1 m long! The Common Octopus hunts at dusk. Crabs, crayfish and bivalve mollusks (two-shelled molluscs such as cockles) are preferred, although the octopus will eat almost anything it can catch. It is able to change colour to blend in with its surroundings, and is able to jump upon any unwary prey that strays across its path. The prey is paralyzed by a nerve poison, which the octopus secretes, and the octopus is able to grasp its prey using its powerful tentacles with their two rows of suckers. If the victim is a shelled mollusc, the octopus uses its beak to punch a hole in the shell before sucking out the fleshy contents. They are intelligent enough to learn how to unscrew a jar and are known to raid lobster traps!!

Barracuda

Barracudas are elongated fish, pike-like in appearance, with prominent sharp-edged fang-like teeth, much like piranhas, that are all of different sizes which are set in sockets of their large jaws. 
Their grace and confidence will enthrall you. Barracudas are voracious, opportunistic predators relying on surprise and short bursts of speed (up to 27 miles per hour (43 km/h)) to overtake their prey. Adults of most species are more or less solitary, while young and half-grown fish frequently congregate. Barracuda prey primarily on fish (which may include some as large as themselves). They kill and consume larger prey by tearing chunks of flesh, do not attempt to hand feed or touch!

Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna

The king of the fish in the Mediterranean is the Blue Fin Tuna.  Atlantic bluefin are native to both the western and eastern Atlantic Ocean, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. Atlantic bluefin have become extinct in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. Atlantic bluefin tuna are capable of reaching well over 450 kilograms (990 lb) in weight, and 2 to 3 metres in Length. Throughout recorded history, the Atlantic bluefin tuna has been highly prized as a food fish. Bluefin have been a valuable commercial catch from the time of the ancient Greeks and Phoenicians to the modern era. Besides their commercial value as food, their great size and the speed and power they display as apex predators has attracted the admiration and respect of both ancient and modern fishermen, as well as writers, sport anglers and scientists. Now due to over fishing and the controversial practice of tuna ranching you will be truly lucky to get a close up view of one of these giants of the sea.


Dentex

Dentex  is a member of the sea bream family. Dentex is common in Malta and are often encountered on the shipwrecks. It is an active predator, feeding on other fish and cephalopods such as Octopus. It is usually solitary, although younger Dentex form schools and are less elusive. Adult Dentex can reach a length of one metre, and weigh up to 14 kg. The adults have a grey Blue colour and if you can get close enough you will see them sparkle in the sunlight!!



Dusky Grouper
The Dusky Grouper (Epinephelus marginatus) is the best known grouper of the Mediterranean Sea and North Africa coast. Unfortunately, for it, it has the best taste of all Mediterranean fishes!

The dusky grouper is a solitary fish, It likes to live alone in rocky areas. It normally has one cave considered as home and several other caves as temporary refuges. Its home has a minimum of two exits, and a size slightly bigger than the grouper, so no bigger animal can enter in. In case of biting attack or other force to extract it, the grouper opens its mouth, and the operculum spines wedge it inside the cave. It feeds mainly on other fish, crabs and octopus. It is very greedy and one of the major predators in the Mediterranean sea. It normally grows to lengths of between 50 and 100 cm, and between 3 to 10 kg. But its not rare to find examples of more than 40 kg!

Amberjack

The Greater amberjack  is found in the Mediterranean Sea, living usually between 20 and 70 m of depth  It is the largest genus in the Carangidae family, with a maximum length of 200 cm. It is a fast swimming pelagic fish which makes the other fish on the reef very nervous. They are silver-blue with a golden side line, with a brown band crossing over the eye area. The Greater amberjack is a powerful hunter which feeds on other fish and invertebrates. Itcan be quite large, even as much as 70 kg. When you are diving here in Malta and you see the small fish run for the cover of the reef look out into the blue and you will see one or more of these aggressive fish.

 

Wide-eyed flounder

A bottom dwelling fish found on sandy bottoms, both eyes lie on one side of the head, one or the other migrating through and around the head during development. Flounder can camouflage themselves on the ocean floor. The surface of the fish facing away from the sea floor is pigmented, often serving to camouflage the fish, but sometimes with striking coloured patterns. Flounder are also able to change their pigmentation to match the background, in a manner similar to a chameleon. The  flounder  has a maximum length of 45cm and can weigh 700grams, however the more typical examples found in Malta are 10-20cm long and you need to have a keen eye to spot them! You may confuse them with Sole and Turbot which are also bottom dwelling fish.

 

Sea Bream
This is a family of fish. The fish of the family are commonly called sea breams and porgies(North America).

They are found in shallow temperate and tropical waters and are bottom-dwelling carnivores. Most species possess grinding, molar-like teeth.



Usually very gregarious fish they can easily be enticed by a morsel of bread!! There are many different types of these fish to be found in Maltese waters the most common being Saddled Bream, Two Banded and Striped Bream. Other types of Sea bream that are commonly found are the Salema Porgy, a fish which has been reported to induce hallucinations when eaten.



Nudibranch

Nudibranch 
 is a member of a huge family of creatures with extraordinary colors and striking forms. The clade Nudibranchia has more than 3,000 described species.The word "nudibranch" comes from the Latin nudus or naked, and the Greek brankhia or gills. Nudibranchs live at virtually all depths of salt water, but reach their greatest size and variation in warm, shallow waters. All known nudibranchs are carnivorous. Some feed on sponges, others eat other sea slugs or their eggs, or, on some occasions, are cannibals and prey on members of their own species. Along with bright colours which indicate the fact that you should not eat them, Nudibranchs use a variety of chemical defences to aid in protection, some successful toxins induce bradycardia or hypotension in a predator, allowing the nudibranch to escape consumption while its attacker is incapacitated.

Damselfish

One of the main fish found on any Maltese reef, they form small shoals in mid water above or near rocky reefs or sea grass meadows.  They feed on small plankton or benthic animals and hence love any area with current. Damselfish reproduce in summer, and the young when born, create beautiful and numerous shoals of small purple fish. Damselfish grow to a maximum of 15cm and can often be encountered along a reef waiting in a cleaning station for wrasse to come and clean them.






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