Examples of the fish listed below can be seen all year round in the Turkish coastal waters of the southern Aegean and Mediterranean Sea. The sizes and colors given in the text refer to those found in Turkey and may differ from those of the same species living in dissimilar environments.
BLENNIES (family: Bleniidae)
Many species of blenny can be found in the shallow water around the rocky shores of the Turkish coast. Blennies are distinctive by their bulging eyes, long dorsal fin and their habit of sitting on the bottom propped up on their pelvic fins, often with their tail fin curving to one side. Some blennies can spend a considerable amount of time out of the water by trapping air and water in their gill chambers and can often be seen flapping their way between rock pools.
Most blennies inhabiting Turkish waters are small, colorful, rarely exceed 5cms in length, and can be found in small holes in the rocks with just the tip of their head showing. Their bulging eyes have a habit of following you around as you swim by.
The largest blenny and the most common to be found here is to be found in shallow water, as individuals, or sitting in small groups. They appear to have an affinity with underwater freshwater springs and can often be found near them. They are colored a muddy brown with two characteristic large fringed tentacles, one above each eye and they are easy to spot. Swimming seems to be an effort for them and if disturbed merely move off a meter or so and rest on the bottom again in their familiar curved tail stance.
CARDINAL FISH (family: Apogonidae)
Looking like its domesticated ‘cousin’ the goldfish, because of its bright red orange coloring, the cardinal fish (Apogon imberbis) is one of the most common residents of the shaded rocky areas around the Turkish coast. In almost every cavern, cave entrance and dark place you will find them in moderate shoals. They are primarily nocturnal and have large eyes with two cross bands. Maximum size is 15cms although rarely seen exceeding 10cms here, usually in shallow areas.
CONGER EEL (Conger Conger)
The Conger eel is not as common in Turkish waters as the Moray eel but can be seen occasionally in its normal habitat hiding under rocks and in crevices. It is a voracious night hunter and is more often seen in open water on night dives. They will attack almost anything that moves, even quite large fish, but will back away from divers. As with Moray eels, do not attempt to play with, harass or feed Conger eels, they can move extremely fast and may not be aware of your benevolent intentions. They rarely exceed 1.2 meters in length in the Aegean Sea.
DAMSEL FISH (Chromis chromis)
The damsel fish, found in profusion here, is first observed as juveniles here, in shallow water around rocks, as large shoals of vivid blue fry. As they progress towards adulthood they become dark brown and sometimes almost black. Their dorsal fin has two sections and they have a distinctive forked tail. Small shoals can sometimes be observed hovering almost motionless in mid water for no apparent reason. They rarely exceed 8cms in length.
GARFISH (family: Lepisosteidae)
GROUPERS (family: Serranidae)Distinctive because of their long jaws with many teeth and a long slender body, garfish, (Belone belone) are predators feeding mainly on other fish. They have a dorsal and anal fin set far back near a forked tail. Most often seen swimming in small shoals near the surface from about August. Divers often forget to look up and are often not aware of the garfish overhead. Rarely seen in Turkish coastal waters larger than 30cms though the species reach 80cms in length. They are harmless to swimmers.
The largest of the residents to be found in Turkish waters these shyest of fish, groupers or dusky perch (Epinephelus gauza) are probably the most adept local fish at avoiding capture, growing up to 1.2 meters in length. They often live their whole life in the same cave and can often be found reclining on a nearby common giant black sponge, moving off lazily into the safety of their cave if disturbed. The most common variety is black/ dark green in colorsometimes with patches of yellow. The body is deep and ovoid in shape and the fins are darker than the patterned body, with pale edges. Despite their size they are not dangerous to divers.
LIZARD FISH (family: Synodontidae)
Whenever you dive, particularly near sandy areas, you will inevitably encounter a Lizard Fish. Rarely found more than 200cms in length, the Lizard Fish is a lone hunter though they can sometimes to be found in pairs. They sit in wait on the bottom resting on their stiffened pelvic fins with a pronounced upward curving body. They sit absolutely motionless for long periods waiting for the opportunity to suddenly, with great speed, attack and devour unsuspecting fish passing overhead. Their mottled coloring, resembling gravel, provides excellent camouflage when viewed from above.
MORAY EELS (genus: Muraena)
The Mediterranean Moray is very common in Turkish waters and, contrary to popular belief, is not poisonous. Eel blood does contain ichthyotoxin which can be dangerous, however it is quickly neutralized by cooking. Contact with the eyes or other mucous membranes should be avoided. There are many types of Moray eel but the most common in Turkish waters is (Muraena helena) colored black green in color with mottled yellow markings. They have a thick leathery skin which also covers the dorsal fin making them difficult to spot. With two distinctive tubular nostrils near the front of their nose and another pair near their eyes, this is about all you will see during the day as they peer from their lair waiting for unsuspecting passing prey. When open, their huge mouths extending back behind their eyes, display an impressive array of sharp teeth.
Attacks on divers are extremely rare and usually only occur as a result of surprise or provocation. Bites can be deep and nasty and usually become infected. Eels have the most acute sense of smell of all fish and will certainly smell a diver long before the diver sees them. More commonly around 90cm in length they can be found in the Aegean Sea up to 1.2 meters in length, though the Mediterranean Moray eel can grow to 2 meters.
PARROT FISH (family: Scaridae)
In virtually every bay or inlet around the coast of this part of Turkey you will inevitably find a parrot fish or two (Sparisoma cretense). These non shoaling ovoid shaped fish are often seen in pairs or small groups of grey colored individuals, probably males, following a brown and yellow leader, probably female, and can be up to 20cms in length. The front teeth of parrot fishes are fused into a tough beak which is used to bite the surface of rocks or, if available, the tips of growing coral. Large grinding teeth chew the rocks or coral, food is extracted and the residue is excreted. The crunching sounds made by grazing parrot fish are clearly audible underwater.
Divers sometimes find what appear at first to be a kind of spherical jellyfish, but it is in fact the abandoned mucous ‘night-shirt’ of a parrot fish. It is not known why parrot fish occasionally construct a cocoon with which to cover themselves at night, but it is thought to be a protective device, preventing detection by smell from such night predators as the moray eel with its keen sense of smell.
PICAREL (Maena chryselis)
The picarel can be seen in Turkey in large shoals around reefs and rocky areas. Nearer to shore in shallow areas smaller shoals often follow divers having learned that the odd tidbit might be forthcoming. At some of the more popular dive sites they will follow divers for the entire dive. Adults grow to 20cms in length and the body is ovoid in shape with a rectangular shaped spot on the side. They have a long dorsal fin and a short anal fin, both with sharp spines.
SEA BREAM (Pagellus bogaraveo)
The red sea bream is common in Turkish waters but is often confused with the picarel, which is more abundant inshore. The red sea bream can be up to 35cms in length but due to its popularity in the restaurants of Turkey it rarely exceeds 20cms. Its body is ovoid with the upper edge being more convex than the lower edge. Adults have a conspicuous dark spot at the anterior end of the lateral line behind the gill, which is the main reason why they are sometimes confused with the picarel.
RAYS (order: Batiformes)
There are seven families of scates and rays easily recognisable by their flattened appearance and enlarged pectoral fins, often called wings because of their graceful up and down movement when swimming. Many species have a single or sometimes several poisonous spines at the base of the tail which are only used in defence, and although extremely painful the poison is not lethal. Several species exist in the Mediterranean and they are normally found on the bottom in sandy areas close to the shore, often covered with sand with only their eyes visible. Sightings around the central and southern Aegean and the Turquoise coast are are fairly rare but not uncommon.
ELECTRIC RAY (Torpedo marmorata)
The electric ray can be seen here occasionally in open sandy areas but more often on small sandy patches between rocky outcrops. By agitating the sand with their ‘wings’ as they land on the bottom they create a sand cloud which settles on their back making them difficult to spot. They have conspicuous spiracles behind the eyes and a snub appearance and they are are brown in color. They have a circular disc which can be up to 60cms in diameter and a muscular tail, bearing small dorsal fins, used in conjunction with the enlarged pectoral fins for propulsion.
As its name suggests this species of ray has the ability to produce an electric charge which it uses to stun small fish or if they are disturbed and feel threatened. They have electric producing organs, which are modified muscles, at the base of the pectoral fins which in a fully grown adult are capable of producing up to 300 volts. While not dangerous to divers they should of course be treated with some respect.
COMMON SKATE (Raja batis)
Also seen occasionally is the common scate, which has a diamond shaped body with no dorsal fins. They are usually light brown in color and have a row of conspicuous spines down the back of their tail.
RED MULLET (Mullus surmuletus)
The red mullet is also a favorite with the local fishermen and restaurateurs, their sweet flesh is something of a delicacy in Turkey and the reason why they rarely reach their maximum length of 30cms. Their most distinctive features are two long sensory barbels on the lower jaw which they use to furrow in sandy bottoms in the search for food. They have the ability to change color depending on the time of day or if stressed and it is easy to confuse them with the grey mullet, which is not even a close relative. They are often accompanied by an opportunistic rainbow wrasse or picarel, which hover in wait hoping to snatch the odd titbit uncovered by the industrious red mullet.
SCORPION FISH (order: Scorpaeoniformes)
The scorpion fish (Scorpaena porcus) is common here and like most scorpion fish they are masters of disguise. They have the ability to change color quite rapidly to match their background and can be any color usually ranging from brown green to pink cream. They have a large head, large mouth and feather like tentacles over the eyes. Their gill covers, dorsal fins and anal fins are very spiny, the dorsal fins are very poisonous and the venom can cause extreme pain, in cases of allergy the reaction can be severe. For treatment, in the unlikely event of being stung, refer to the section, Hazardous Marine Life.
They are not efficient swimmers and spend most of their time motionless on the bottom among the rocks and weed in shallow bays waiting for prey which consists of small fish and crustaceans. Their attack is swift and deadly, and their large mouth allows them to take relatively large prey for their size. If disturbed they raise their dorsal fins in warning and for defence, preferring to retreat a meter or so rather than to attack. They occasionally reach 30cms in length, though not often here because they are a local delicacy and are used to make a traditional Turkish soup. The poison is neutralised by boiling.
STARGAZER (family: Dactlyoscopidae)
The European stargazer, (Uranosscopus scaber) is fairly common in Turkish waters but difficult to find. They bury themselves in sandy areas with just their top mounted eyes protruding from the sand, lying in wait for unsuspecting prey to pass. The most common variety found here have a large head and a large mouth extending from side to side over the top of their body just in front of their eyes. They have large sculptured gill covers and their rounded body tapers to a ‘fold away’ tail fin which flares out when swimming. They are very inefficient swimmers and if disturbed raise a black poisonous back fin in defence, and swim away clumsily two meters of so and wriggle themselves back into the sand. They can be a hazard occasionally for anyone wading in shallow sandy areas, divers should take care if it is necessary to rest on the seabed.
WRASSE (family: Labroides)
It is almost impossible to dive in these waters without seeing or being followed by the colorful Turkish RAINBOW WRASSE (Coris julis). Like many wrasse this species is hermaphrodite and the first stage, which is female, is distinguished by a blue spot on the bottom edge of the gill and a yellow streak running from the snout towards the tail. The male phase is distinguished by spiny rays and and a blackish spot on the dorsal fin. These wrasses have been quick to learn that some divers cause some disturbance to rocks and the like and quickly move in to find any tidbit that might have been exposed. Their maximum length here rarely exceeds 18cms.
Some species of wrasse have an unusual cleaning relationship with other fishes. At ‘cleaner stations’, cleaner wrasse remove ectoparasites and other debris from other fish, often very large fish to whom they would otherwise be prey. Fish offering themselves for cleaning announce a ‘truce’ by hovering motionless in an unusual vertical position while one or more wrasse attend to its requirements, often entering the gaping mouth for dental cleaning.