» Posted by on Jan 3, 2015 in Blog, Conservation, Education, Josh M, Reef Aquariums | Comments Off on Deep Water Marine Aquarium Fish

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Deep Water Marine Aquarium Fish


By Josh Maxwell


For many marine aquarists, there is a fish in their aquarium that represents the crown jewel of their collection. This fish may be difficult to care for. It may only come from one place in the world, or from some of the deepest parts of the Earth’s oceans. Fish that come from deep waters are unusually shaped, very colorful, have unique behavior and often carry a hefty price tag. The reason for such cost is the effort it takes for divers to bring them to the surface so that we can appreciate these animals that few ever get a chance to see in the flesh.

For a fish to be considered deep water, it must occur in 100ft of water or deeper. These fish are rarely seen in areas outside of their home depths. In the areas that these fish naturally occur, temperature is typically cooler and it is usually dark as sunlight doesn’t easily reach down to these depths. Soft, non-photosynthetic corals and gorgonians typically inhabit these depths and it is at these depths that divers must descend to acquire the fish that call this region of the ocean home.

In order to reach these depths divers need to use specialized breathing apparatuses called rebreathers. What these devices do is remove the carbon dioxide that is exhaled with each breath and takes the unused oxygen from each breath and returns it back to the air supply. What this means is that the diver can stay underwater longer. When divers do get to the bottom they search out desirable species and catch these fish using wall and hand nets. Bringing their catches up to the surface however is no easy task. Like divers these fish are subjected to extreme pressures and have compressed gasses in their systems that need to be released slowly or they can get decompression sickness and die. To deal with this divers put their catches in containers, fill a bag with air, leave the bag under a ledge, and ascend in increments of 50 feet at a time to decompress the fish slowly and carefully to ensure survival.

Many of the fish are very enigmatic as studying them in their natural environment is very difficult due to the depth at which they live. Because of this we know very little about them and their behavior, most of what we learn is in aquaria and from similar species. Most of these fish like caves and overhangs and appreciate aquariums that are not lit too brightly, but most will acclimate well to brightly lit reef aquariums. These are a few of the most well-known deep water fish that we see in the aquarium trade:

Dr Seuss Fish
Dr. Seuss Fish (Belanoperca pylei)
Location: Marshal Islands
Depth: 300-350 ft

The Dr. Suess fish is a deepwater ambush predator. Preferring caves and overhangs where it can sit and wait for prey to pass buy. It feeds similarly to groupers and anglerfish where it uses its prostubule mouth to rapidly inhale prey items. While this fish will not prey on coral, shrimp and small fish may be eaten by this predator.

Spanish Flag
Spanish Flag (Gonioplectrus hispanus)
Location: Western Atlantic (Collected at Curacao)
Depth: 220-350 ft

Found in the Caribbean, this grouper only grows to about 8 inches and is suitable for aquaria unlike many species of groupers which can grow very large. It behaves similarly to the Dr. Suess fish in terms of feeding where it uses ambush tactics to feed. Just like the Dr. Suess fish it can possibly prey on small invertebrates and small fish in reef aquaria. It is generally docile, preferring to live in caves or overhangs.

Candy Basslet
Candy Basslet (Liopropoma carmabi)
Location: Western Atlantic (Collected at Curacao)
Depth: 100-250 ft

A very small basslet found in the Caribbean in similar environment to the Spanish flag. This fish is perfect for nano reef aquariums because of their diminutive size, achieving a maximum size of about 2 ½ inches. In the wild they prefer to live in and near caves and overhangs and grab any planktonic organisms that float by and will do the same in aquaria. This fish is completely reef safe and will not bother coral and only bother the smallest of shrimp or similar invertebrates.

Neon Hogfish
Neon Hogfish (Bodianus sanguines)
Location: Hawaiian islands
Depth: 300 ft + (recorded 600 ft)

Occurring in the deep water reefs of Hawaii, the neon hogfish feeds on planktonic invertebrates in the water column as well as those on the substrate. It is a very active fish and can be found in the wild swimming in rubble, weaving through the rocks gracefully as it hunts for prey. In the aquarium this fish makes an excellent addition as it is hardy and rarely bothers fish that are not similarly related. However this fish can eat small shrimp and harass other more peaceful wrasses such as fairy, flasher, and leopard wrasses. Caution should be taken when mixing them together.

Curacao Chromis
Curacao Deepwater Chromis (Chromis sp.)
Location: Caribbean (Curacao)
Depth: 150-400 ft

This undescribed species of chromis is found in the deep waters surrounding Curacao and is largely unknown to science. From what little we know, they are a peaceful damsel fish that will cohabitate well with other fish and will not pester invertebrates and are even peaceful to members of their own species.

Peppermint Angel
★ Photo taken from Wikipedia.
Peppermint Angelfish (Paracentropyge boylei)
Location: South Pacific (Marshal islands, Cook Islands, Hawaiian Islands)
Depth: 170-400 ft

Considered by many to be the holy grail of angelfish, if not all marine fish, the peppermint angel is a dwarf angel from the south eastern pacific ocean. This incredibly rare angelfish only achieves a max length of 3-4 inches and is highly reclusive. It inhabits rubble slopes in its home range and depth, feeding on sponges, corals, and small invertebrates. When startled these angels will dart for rocks and will usually not emerged until the threat has passed. In aquaria these angels behave similarly to many dwarf species of angelfish, grazing over live rock looking for sponge and algae to eat. They retain their highly reclusive nature in the aquarium however and are easily startled by more boisterous tankmates, so caution must be exercised when choosing tankmates. They also appreciate a dimly lit tank but adjust well to the bright lighting of reef tanks. Peppermints are territorial and will typically not coexist well with other similar angelfish, however they can be paired but this is difficult as there are no indications between male and female. Peppermints typically adapt well to most aquarium fare, however they are not reef safe and will nip at soft and stony corals and clam mantles.

     The true values of these fish are not in their price tag or the prestige that comes from having one of these beautiful animals in your display. It’s the fact that they represent a part of the world that few ever get to see in person. These fish are more than just objects, they’re a conduit to a world that goes on below the waves and below the coral reefs, a world that is truly beautiful.  

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