Aquatic Life of Zanzibar

Diving Nungwi Zanzibar Fish ID

Find out what is special about Zanzibar’s sea creature!! Learn what is unique in their behavior. Look for them, the next time you go underwater. Those facts will change the way you see these creature, the next time you run into one of them 🙂
Find out where you can spot these creatures on Nungwi Reefs and Mnemba Atoll Marine Park.
View images of these fabulous sea creatures, in our Photo Gallery.

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale diving in zanzibar
Did you know: Humpbacks are acrobatic and can breech their 40 tons completely out of the water.

They are known to sing and their songs are complex with each population singing its own unique song. Their songs are not inborn, they learn them from each other.

Humpbacks feed on krill and small fish. They can eat up to 1.5 ton of food a day.

Humpbacks migrate through Zanzibar in August-September and can be seen from the boat occasionally in these months, mainly in Mnemba and Leven Bank.

Bottlenose Dolphin

Dolphin dive zanzibar

Did you know: The bottlenose calves normally stay with their mother until the age of 1.5 – 2 years but can stay for as long as 5 years. They have a life span of more than 40 years.

They travel up to 100 km a day in search for food.

There are two ponds who lives between Nungwi and Mnemba Atoll and are very commonly spotted. When seen in Mnemba we will try to jump in and snorkel with them if they are in a playful mood.

Green Turtle


Did you know: The Green turtles name comes from the color of their fat, not their shell, as commonly believed.

The green turtle is the second largest after the leatherback. They can weigh up to 225 kg and reach 1.2 m in length.

Green sea turtles are able to hold their breath for hours at a time.

Green Turtles are very common in Zanzibar, They can be found in Mnemba, Tumbatu, Turtle House, Magic Reef, Leven Bank and other sites. They are very used to divers and will not run away if you happen to get closer of a better shot.

Hawksbill Turtle


Did you know: The Hawksbill Turtle is named for its narrow head and sharp, bird-like beak. hawksbills can reach into cracks and crevices of coral reefs looking for food.

Hawksbill turtles are believed to live from 30 to 50 years in the wild.

Like other sea turtles, they are solitary for most of their lives and only meet to mate.

Hoksbill Turtles can be found in Mnemba, Tumbatu, Turtle House, Magic Reef, Leven Bank and other sites.

White Tip Reef Shark


Did you know: The White Tip Reef Shark is a very social fish. They often lay on the ground in large groups. Many divers who see this phenomenon say it looks like a bunch of logs lined up side by side.

White tips can lie motionless on the bottom and actively pump water over its gills for respiration, unlike most other sharks who need to be in constant movement.

If you an advanced diver we may be able to take you down to see the white tip reef sharks doing just that inside the marine park area at 30m.

Napoleon Wrasse

Mnemba zanzibar

Did you know: The Napoleon is one of the largest fish found on the coral reef. It can measure up to 2.3m in size and weigh up to 190 kg.

This wrasse is a true eating machine! They feed on giant clams, eels, crustaceans, sea urchins, brittle stars, sea stars, as well as other fish including smaller species of wrasse.

You can often see these giants of the reef fish world passing by in Kichuani and other dive sites around the Mnemba Atoll or Leven Bank.

Crocodile Fish


Did you know: The Crocodile fish is a bottom-dwelling ambush hunter and feeds largely on smaller fish and crustaceans.

It’s got it’s name due to it’s resemblance to the reptile.

The crocodile fish is easy to approach and is indifferent toward divers.

Crocodile fish are very common in Zanzibar but you are most likely to see them in Hunga and Magic Reef.



Did you know: Octopus are considered as one of the most intelligent of all invertebrates.

As a master of camouflage, an octopus can change the color of its entire body in just three-tenths of a second.

They can observe, learn and even solve problems, They have been seen to remove a plug or unscrew a lid to retrieve prey from a container.

Octopus can be found on all our dive sites especially on night dives when they are out hunting.

Moray Eel


Did you know: Morays hunt an night. They have a poor vision and they mostly rely on their keen sense of smell to hunt.

Moray eels are one of the few species of fish that can swim backwards.

To breathe, moray eels must continually open and close their mouths to move water over their gills. Scuba divers often incorrectly interpret this behavior as threatening.

There are many different kinds of moray eel in Zanzibar including Peppered Morays, Giant Morays, Honeycomb Morays, Ribbon Eels, Snake Eels and many many more. You can see a moray/eels on almost every dive.

Bluefin Trevally


Did you know: Bluefin Trevally are extremely strong swimmers and can swim long distances in search of food.

They are fast aggressive fish when in comes to hunting and have even been known to even take food form the mouth of feeding sharks.

They are mostly solitary animals but they can be found in small groups or pairs.

You are almost guaranteed to see these fish hunting in and around the Mnemba Atoll. They also frequent such dive sites as Shetani and Mwana Wa Mwana.

Marbled Grouper


Did you know: The marbled grouper is one of the largest of the fish predators on the coral reef.

They can grow to a very large size and live for up to 40 years, which is an amazingly long time for any fish.

Individuals first function as a female and as they grow at least some of the mature female change in to males.

The grouper is mainly active at dusk and is very shy when it comes to divers and will often hide between the rocks. You can see these giants of the sea in the Mnemba Atoll, as well as Levenbank.

Lion Fish


Did you know: Lion Fish have between 13 and 18 venomous spines on the back side of their body. The venom they produce is used only in self defence. The lion fish do not use these spines for hunting.

The lion fish are usually solitary or in group containing one male and a few female that the male lion fish mates with.

The male lion fish is highly territorial and protects his territory pretty fiercely.

Lion fish are very common and can be found on every dive in Zanzibar.



Did you know: Frogfish don’t usually swim, they use their fins to walk.

A frogfish’s mouth can expand to 12 times its regular size.

To disguise itself from it’s prey a frogfish resemble algae, sponges and corals.

Frogfish have a retractable lure on their dorsal fin that resembles a shrimp and is used to attract their prey. If their lure is eaten or damaged it can be regenerated.

You can find them on almost any dive sight if you’re sharp enough to spot them.

Weedy/Mauritius Scorpionfish


Did you know: The Weedy/Mauritius Scorpionfish use their camouflage to blend into their environment and remain virtually undetected by both predators and prey.

To move they use their pectoral and pelvic fins to drag themselves along the floor. You will rarely find them swimming.

When hunting they lay motionless for unsuspecting prey to pass within striking distance.

These fish are rare to find but if you look closely in Magic Reef you may find one swaying on the floor like a piece of seaweed.



Did you know: Nudibranchs are sea slug. They have a foot and they leave a slimy trail.

There are more than 3,000 species of colorful nudibranchs.

They get their bright colors from the food they eat which includes sponges, anemones and corals. They have a poor vision though and can not see their own colors.

Nudibranch have both male and female reproductive organs and can mate with any mature individual of the same species they happen to find.

You can find many different types here on Zanzibar including the famous Spanish Dancer which if your lucky you can find dancing (swimming) during one of our night dives.

Leaf Fish


Did you know: The leaf fish regularly occurs in pairs.

A leaf fish will rock from side-to-side or back and forth to mimic a piece of plant material resting on the sea floor.

When feeding, it awaits an unsuspecting small fish or moves toward it slowly, taking it with a sudden gape of the huge mouth.

Leaf Fish are very common on Zanzibar but you are most likely to see them in Magic reef, Hunga, Mnemba Atoll and Tumbatu.



Did you know: Sea horses might not look like a typical fish but they are classified as a fish.

Seahorses mate for life. They are among the only animal species on Earth in which the male carries the unborn young.

Sea horses main predators are crabs.  

There are a number of species of seahorse in Zanzibar including the Spiny Seahorse. you are most likely to see them in Magic Reef.

Mantis Shrimp


Did you know: Mantis shrimp have the best color vision on our planet. Their eyes mounted on mobile stalks and constantly moving about independently of each other and are considered to be the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom.

The mantis Shrimp has a striking punch that can reach the same speed as a .22-caliber bullet. It kills it’s prey with a deadly strike. so keep your fingers away!

Mantis Shrimp is very common on Zanzibar and can be found on all dive site.

Ghost pipefish


Did you know: Ghost pipefish are masters of disguise. In fact they may have some of the best disguises in the sea, They can look like leaves, algae, sponges and even seagrass, making them at times very hard to spot.

Here in Zanzibar we are lucky enough to have a few different species including the ornate ghost pipefish, the Seagrass Pipefish and the Slender Ghost pipefish. They are not easy to see so keep your eyes open.

Flying Gurnard


Did you know: The Flying Gurnard has huge, round Pectoral fins. It normally sits on the sand with its fins held against the body.

The flying gurnard cannot fly as the name might suggest but when threatened they expand their fins/wings to scare off a predator making it seem like they are gliding through the water.

The pelvic fins act as legs as the fish walks along the bottom of the ocean.

You can see this fish on almost every night dive and often during the day at Magic Reef and Mnemba.

Indian Ocean Walkman

Diving in Mnemba with Indian Ocean walkman
Did you know: The indian ocean walkman is closely related to the scorpionfish & the stonefish.

It is normally very well camouflaged and you can often find it partially buried in the sand.

It has a row of sharp venomous spines running down its back but as yet it has no know natural predators. As a defense the Indian ocean walkman prefers to hide but if disturbed it fans out its pectoral and caudal fins which are really brightly colored.

It is unable to swim efficiently and prefers to drag itself along the sand using 4 rays (legs) located on the pectoral fins.

You can find the indian ocean walkman in Mnemba, Magic Reef and the Nungwi Reef but look carefully because its hard to spot.

Blue spotted Ray


Did you know: Unlike other rays the blue spotted ray rarely buries itself beneath the sand and you are more likely to find it hidden under a rock.

It gets its name from the bright blue spots and its back. These spots are to warn predators to keep away.

You can find these rays on every dive site in Zanzibar. Just look in all the gaps and under all the rocks.


Zanzibar Cuttlefish on a dive

Did you know: Cuttlefish are know as the “chameleon of the sea” and rightly so. They have the extraordinary ability to change color to match their surroundings. The cuttlefish use this amazing talent to hide, hunt, communicate and even to attract a mate.

Unlike a fish that uses its fins for propulsion the cuttlefish use their fins mainly for stability and steering and use a water jet system for propulsion.

They are regarded as the most intelligent invertebrate.

You can find cuttlefish on all the dive sites even during one of our off shore night dives. But look hard because they are very hard to spot.


Mnemba stonefish diving
Did you know: The Stonefish is the most venomous fish found on the Coral Reef.

They are not aggressive and tend use camouflage as a means of defense.

It usually sits amongst Coral rubble or stones, with which it blends incredibly well.

Sometime they bury themselves in the sand with only the top of the head and the eyes exposed. They are very hard to spot and are often overlooked by divers.

You can find Stonefish in almost all our reefs but especially Mnemba and Magic Reef.

Harlequin Shrimp

Diving with harlequin shrimp Zanzibar
Did You Know: Harlequin Shrimps spend their whole life with the same partner and together they hunt and defend their homes.

As you can see in the picture they have a very specific diet, eating only starfish which includes the famous crown of thorns. They use their sense of smell for hunting and when they finally locate the unlucky star fish the male and female work as a team to overturn it and disable it, often carrying it back to their hiding place where they can spend days feeding from it.

Although rare you can see harlequin shrimps on the Nungwi Reef as well as Magic Reef. You are more likely to see them at night.


Did you know: The scorpionfish is a large group of bottom dwelling predatory fish. There are more that 200 recognised species of which a number of them can be found in Zanzibar including the bearded scorpionfish, the decoy scorpionfish, the devil scorpionfish, the yellow spotted scorpionfish and many more.

The scorpionfish is a nocturnal predator and spends the daylight hours blending in with the corals, rocks and sand and is a master of camouflage.

You can find scorpionfish on all our dive sites. Just look closely at all the corals and you will be sure to find one.


scuba-zanzibar Trumpetfish
Did you know: Trumpet fish are true killing machines. They have a number of different way to hunt but one of the most spectacular method is Shadow Stalking. The trumpetfish will find a large herbivore, something like a parrot fish which is nonthreatening to the smaller prey and will ride a long the side of it using it as a blind. Then when the unsuspected prey get close the trumpetfish darts out catching its dinner.

You can find trumpetfish on all our reefs and you often see them displaying this behaviour.

Porcelain (Anemone) Crab

Scuba with Porcelain Anemone Crab Zanzibar
Did you know: The porcelain crab has 2 large claw which are simply used for defending their territory and not typically used for hunting lunch. If threatened the porcelain crab can drop a claw. But don’t worry it will grow back in no time.

The female crab is relatively small but is able to carry up to 1600 eggs at a time.

You can find these crabs on most dive sites. Just look carefully into all the anemones you come across.

Razor/Shrimp Fish

Did you know: The Razor fish get their name from the razor like shape of their body and is closely related to the seahorse.

They normally swim in small groups with their nose pointing downward. They tend to hide in the spines of sea urchins or over long seagrass for protection and camoflage.

You can find these strange creature having out in Magic Reef and the Nungwi Reef.

Pegasus Sea Moth

Mnemba dive with Pegasus sea moth
Did you know: The Sea moth is a bottom dwelling creature and lives on sandy beds from 5 – 90m of depth.

They feed on whatever they can find on the seabed. Their body armour provides protection from predators and curiously they shed this bony external armour in a single piece in an effort to rid themselves of offensive organisms.

If you have a keen eye you can spot these special little creature in the Mnemba Atoll and Magic Reef on a sandy area.

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