The dive known as the Leap starts with a two metre drop to the water. I was just about to step into the air when one of my dive buddies mentioned that a yellow anglerfish had been spotted on the deep wall the previous day. The deep wall is a sandstone cliff that hits the sand line at about 25 metres depth.
The deeper you go the more air you consume and the more nitrogen you absorb. 25 metres is my comfortable limit, and even then I prefer not to spend too much time at that depth. As a result I was pretty happy when, after only a couple of minutes searching, I found a Red Fingered Anglerfish hidden against a sponge on the deep wall. This species is usually a uniform drab grey. This one was much more spectacularly coloured, the base colour between yellow and orange.
The flanks of the anglerfish had a prickly texture. They were broken up by crisscrossing lines of what looked like a green filaments of algae. There were also a few circles of smooth skin that mimicked the respiratory openings of a sponge. Just about every Red Fingered Anglerfish I’ve seen has had a red rim on their pectoral and dorsal fins. This individual had the same red edging on its tail, pelvic fins and around the mouth. The different colours and textures totally disrupted the outline of the body, looking more like a lump of algae encrusted sponge than a fish.
The ‘lump of sponge’ effect was enhanced by the lack of movement and the twisted stance of the fish. Anglerfish have large mouths and the ability to capture and consume prey almost their own size. This one was resting on a noticeably distended stomach. That big belly might hide its last meal, although it is also possible that it was full of eggs.
The Sydney Basin contains many endemic plants, species that are restricted to the sandstone soils and their habitats. In contrast the large majority of Sydney wildlife are distributed across NSW, Australia or even internationally. The Red Fingered Anglerfish is one of our very few locally endemic species of wildlife, with most sightings confined to Botany Bay, where it’s also known as the Bare Island Anglerfish. This localised distribution would suggest that the fry don’t have a platonic stage and instead settle close to their hatching site.
Mindful of the depth and long swim to the exit point I left the Red Fingered Anglerfish and headed back along the deep wall. The visibility was around 15 metres, and about 15 metres later I found group of divers peering at something on the reef. It was a Painted Anglerfish, a bright yellow specimen and clearly the one that had been seen the previous day.
I must have swum straight past the smaller anglerfish on my first pass along the wall. It’s always a treat to find an anglerfish on a Sydney dive, and finding two of different species is exceptional. The thought that there might have been more than one on the same patch of reef had never occurred to me. It left me wondering how many times I’ve missed our more cryptic wildlife simply because I didn’t have the right ‘target’ criteria in mind.
Odds and sods