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Mandarin Fish – A Beautiful Declaration of Love

Article by Roy Kittrell. 23 Aug 2022.

One of my most prized finds on Flow Dive Center’s recent scouting trip to the Lembeh Straits was the Mandarin Fish (scientific name: Synchiropus splendidus).

Mandarin fish are a type of dragonet, around 7-8cm long as adults, and as you can see in the picture they are vibrant and vividly colourful. They live along the sea floor and in Lembeh are found darting in and amongst staghorn coral.

What makes them particularly amazing though is their mating ritual. Most evenings at around dusk, male and female mandarin fish can be seen near the edge of the coral fields looking for mates. They raise their pectoral fin to attract the opposite sex, and when they find one the pair start to swim side by side. Then, in a spectacular fashion, they rise up together as if in a dance, both finning towards each other, where they will simultaneously release their eggs and sperm and then dart back into the cover of the coral.

The Mandarin Fish are particularly challenging to photograph. They are sensitive to light, so using a focus light to aid underwater cameras is not allowed as it would scare the fish off. They would dart in and swim amongst fragile coral, so maneuvering a camera and flash setup is extremely difficult and you must wait until they enter into an opening that you can take a clear shot.

Then you must be very observant and watch to see when a pair has started to swim together, get your camera ready and try to take a shot of the fish as they are rising up in the mating ritual. This only lasts around 4-5 seconds so you have to be very quick to get a shot of this amazing behaviour.

So if you have the privilege to witness this mating ritual, be sure to tell us what you think about it! If you want to see this, join us on our trip to Malapascua next month for a chance to spot this beautiful creature!

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