French Angelfish

Is it possible that I made a friend – who is a fish? I’m not sure. Surely that’s too anthropogenic to suggest. But here I was, being guided around the reef while diving this afternoon, by a French Angelfish.

It was the same angelfish who we feed bread to. I’m sure of it. This is because it came up to greet me. The angelfish has a dark-grey, velvety head. It is ringed around its round eyes with bright yellow, finished by a line of pale blue towards its mouth. And what a mouth. It’s the same mouth I’ve seen stuffed with bread – indeed, yesterday it was the remains of our raisin bread. Which it liked.

We started this fish-feeding thing during lockdown. I kicked myself then that we hadn’t done it before. There were moments like this during lockdown though. Feeding the fish from the surface, and then getting in the water to feed them was an example of finding fun while stationary. It’s a tropical treat. In Barbados, mostly little yellow-tails hung out under Quest.

Bonaire in comparison is a Caribbean fish festival. Both in terms of size and range of species. This is definitely due to it being a marine park – and a strict one. Not one where locals can still fish, like many other parts of the Caribbean. This reef is a no-take zone.

Under Quest, we have a pontoon mostly of sergeant major fish. Striped yellow and black, along a white base, these are the fish who come up in droves to eat the bread. They also have a egg-brooding station on our mooring block.

It’s when you get in the water, you see the French angelfish. And they are different to the other fish. As well as being large and round, dinner plate-shaped, they don’t really jostle to grab the torn-up bread. Even underwater, if you smush and break the bread up through your fingers, the French angelfish don’t seem to care. They have a weirder trait all of their own.

We have discovered they want to eat the bread right out of your fingers. If you let the bread go, they swim away. But if you hold the bread, and wave it at them, they come. And yes, those are powerful jaws. Not surprising for a creature who spends a good amount of time chewing at the reef.

I have to say too, I’m not advocating feeding fish straight out of your hands. I know this can be both risky for us injury-wise and more importantly, promoting a trust in these creatures that may backfire against them at a later stage. But oh my goodness. They won’t eat it, unless it’s in your fingers.

So, leaving this dilemma alone for now, I really think the fish knew me; even with my dive gear on. It showed me where its two friends, the smaller French angelfish live. They also come for food but are more skittish. I waved at them in their crevice.

Then the big one looked at me pensively. ‘Got any food? No? Oh well. Let’s go and tour the reef.’ So we did.

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