Thousands of "friendly" little fish are actually eating this diver
Scuba diving is an excellent way to explore a part of the world that few people ever get to see. It opens the door on a fascinating and beautiful realm beneath the waves that is peaceful and tranquil beyond description. The animals are very different than what we experience on land. It is too easy to look at this colorful and vibrant world and see only the beauty. But we are wise to remember that humans are guests in this domain and that there is a precarious struggle for survival every minute. Every creature is both predator and prey, and the balance can shift in seconds.
These "friendly" little fish are a perfect example of the deceptive nature of life in the ocean. The scuba diver was drifting along on a shallow portion of a dive in Fiji when he saw an undulating, black mass under a coral head. From a distance, it seemed to be moving fluidly, like an octopus. As he swam closer, he imagined it might be a sea anemone with waving tentacles. When he was almost face to face with them, he could then see that there were thousands of small black fish in a tightly packed mass. They moved together as one until he was an arm's length away. As he watched their little faces peeking at him, he saw more emerge from under the coral head. They swarmed around him in a dazzling display of reflective scales in the sunlight. They had the appearance of being a school of friendly fish that recognized him as something to investigate rather than fear.
It was then that the diver felt like he was being bitten or jabbed with pins all over his exposed arms and legs, and even his neck. He was wearing a short wetsuit that left him bare from the knees and elbows outwards. He first though that he had come in contact with a swarm of tiny jellyfish. He held his hand out and saw that the stinging was being caused by the little fish biting into his skin and tearing off little chunks. He backed out of the school of fish but extended his hand, along with his video camera. The fish raced up to his hand, bit on and wiggled to tear off a meal before racing away.
Although these fish had mouths so small that they could not inflict serious pain or injury on their own, there is no doubt that an unwary person or creature could lose a quantity of flesh if he remained near them for any length of time.
With a little research, it became clear that these fish are a species of catfish that are native to these waters as well as Asia and the Middle East. They are frequently used in smaller numbers in fish spas where people soak their feet in a tank to have the fish trim off the surface layer of skin.
This school of fish provides an important lesson that some of the creatures we encounter in the ocean may be a little more sinister than they appear. It is also clear that we are not immune from taking a place in the food chain that isn't the top.