by B. N. Sullivan
See that little fishie in the photo at right? It's a juvenile scorpionfish -- species unknown.
We came across this little guy in the Red Sea during a night dive at a place called Tiran Island, in the Straits of Tiran. (For those of you who may be a bit foggy on Red Sea geography, the narrow body of water that separates Egypt's Sinai Peninsula from Saudi Arabia is known as the Straits of Tiran. That is also where the Gulf of Aqaba joins the rest of the Red Sea.)
We were there to photograph other critters -- which we did -- but once we spotted this little baby, it became the highlight of our dive. I was kneeling on the sand, fiddling with camera settings. Jerry shined his light onto my camera so that I could see what I was doing. In the periphery of the pool of light, we saw something move. That something was partially covered with sand, but it had some colorful bits sticking out of it. It looked a little bedraggled, but we recognized that it was a tiny fish. Those colorful bits turned out to be its tail and pectoral fins.
This next photo shows how the little fish looked when we first saw it lying on the sand. Not quite two inches (5 cm) long, we knew it was some kind of fish, and that it probably was a juvenile. But a juvenile what??
Jerry slid his gloved hand under the little critter, picked it up, and held it out to me. We shined our lights on it to get a better look, when all of a sudden it wiggled, then fluttered, launching itself from the palm of Jerry's hand into the water column like a fledgling bird leaving its nest.
Luckily, I was able to snap a few frames of the fish as it glided back down to the sand (see first photo). By this time we were both quite sure it was some kind of scorpionfish, based on its overall shape, but to this day we do not know which species.
Our best guess is that it is a baby Bearded Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis barbatus), a species that is plentiful in that area of the Red Sea. The adults have an overall shape similar to the juvenile we saw and photographed that night. We have shown the photos of the juvenile to a number of people who know something about Red Sea fishes, but so far no one has been able to identify it with certainty. If any readers of The Right Blue happen to know the identity of this juvenile, please do let us know.
For reference, here is a photo of an adult Bearded Scorpionfish from the Red Sea. This specimen was photographed in the central Red Sea at Little Brother (Brothers Islands), where it was trying its best to blend into the reef scenery.