Lembeh is a great place to observe the Mandarin Fish and each week we take our divers over with the hope of getting a glimpse of their mating behaviour. This week we’ve had Mandarin Fish madness and the dive is as popular as ever!
The Mandarin Fish (Synchiropus splendidus) is part of the Dragonet family and is often referred to as the most colourful fish in the sea thanks to it’s blue, red and green colour combo. It looks like it has been dipped in a paint can as it has strange stripes and blotches of colour on it’s body. Sadly because of it’s beauty, it is also popular in the aquarium trade.
In Lembeh we are lucky to find them on many sites, with a couple being particularly good for finding numerous Mandarin Fish and a good chance to see them mating. It is possible to see the Mandarin Fish during the daytime, but they often hide in their coral habitat and only offer us a fleeting glance, plus they only like to mate at dusk! We depart for our Mandarin dives at 4:30pm, jumping in the water at 5pm just as the sun starts to disappear behind the volcanoes for the best chance to see this mating behavior.
There are plenty of Mandarin Fish to go around and we can often see several males pursuing a single female. The males are larger and have a sail-type dorsal fin, the females are generally around half the size of the males. We have to remember that we are in the ocean, and not everything happens according to a schedule! Sometimes we can wait (patiently!) for up to twenty minutes for the Mandarin Fish to come up from their hiding place and other times we see them fairly quickly, and sometimes we see them fish but without the mating behaviour – they are animals at the end of the day, not robots! But when they do get together you see them swimming around hovering above the coral together in a beautiful dance, it is mesmerising to watch.
Photographing them is also very popular but they shy away from bright torches or video lights, so we actually advise people not to take a torch as it may effect their behavior. They do not seem to be sensitive to red lights or single flashes from the camera or strobe however, so using a red filter on the torches is a good option!
The sites for the Mandarin Fish are often very shallow at 3-6 metres so everyone can enjoy the full hour to observe them. There are also some other subjects in the vicinity such as Reef-top Pipefish and Pajama Cardinal Fish and occasionally a Frogfish, but we do dedicate the dive to observing and photographing the Mandarin Fish. As with all of the Lembeh dive sites we adhere to a maximum of 15 divers per site to avoid overcrowding and stressing of the animals. We also have a schedule so that not all dive operators go to Mandarin site on the same day, and have a rest day with no boats going to the site at that time.
Of course it’s not all about the Mandarin Fish, Lembeh never disappoints and this week we’ve seen Hairy Octopus, Mimic and Wunderpus, some huge Melibe nudibranchs, Seahorses, Flamboyant Cuttlefish, Hairy Frogfish, Lembeh Sea Dragons, all of the Pygmy Seahorses to this area, Harlequin Shrimp, lots of Warty Frogfish, Ornate, Robust and Velvet Ghost Pipefish, Ambon Scorpionfish, Donald Duck Shrimp, Blue Ringed Octopus, Randalls Frogfish and even a big Grouper and a White Tip Reef Shark on the wreck!