How to shower underwater? How get rid of those itchy parasites stuck around your gills? Or yesterday’s food from your teeth? While diving in Bali we see many fish getting a proper clean up provided by specialised cleaning fish and cleaning shrimps.
Cleaning fish and shrimp hang out in cleaning stations and work from sunrise to sunset to clean all the fish in the sea. Some customers take a fully vertical position in the water as an invitation to clean; others widely open their mouth and gills.
The main parasites to remove are isopods, which are bloodsuckers, similar to ticks on the mainland, but are much more common. Most fish are continuously infested with the parasites. The cleaning wrasse, which is a very common cleaner fish, eats the isopods and this accounts for about 95% of their daily food intake.
The customers range from groupers with big teeth, to the toothless Manta Rays, but how do the cleaners not get eaten when they are doing in for a dental inspection? The advantage is mutual, cleaners get food and customers get clean. If the customers don’t get cleaned the infestation of isopods can lead to serious health issues.
This mutual advantage is too beneficial to sacrifice for a quick bite. A recent study indicated that the customer and cleaners signal to each other that they are ready for business. It was found that the customer changes to a darker colour when approaching the cleaners, indicating readiness to be cleaned.
In Bali we often dive Manta Point in Nusa Penida. Mantas return to this spot because of the cleaning station. Also in other dive sites in Bali we often see fish being cleaned. Yesterday a grouper was getting a clean while we swam by in Tulamben, and a remora was cleaning a sweetlips.