Zanzibar is famous for its abundance of reef fish and large variety of small marine life. Sea creatures such as nudibranch, leaf fish, frog fish, crocodile fish, sea horse, mantis shrimp, octopus, are very common to spot. This makes Zanzibar a great place for macro photography.
Zanzibar is not a diving destination for big pelagic such as shark, manta, whale shark, though encounters with dolphins and turtles are widely common here.
Discover what is special about Zanzibar’s sea creature. Understand what is unique in their behavior. Those facts will change the way you see these creature, when spotting them on our reefs.
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.
In fact, 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.
The Green turtles name comes from the color of their fat and not their shell despite the common belief.
The green turtle is the second largest after the leatherback. They can weight up to 225 kg and reach 1.2 m in length.
These turtles are able to hold their breath for hours at a time.
Green Turtles are very common in Zanzibar. They are used to seeing divers and will not run away if you happen to get closer of a better shot.
Sea horses might not look like a typical fish but they are classified as a fish.
Seahorses mate for life. In fact, 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 such as the Spiny Seahorse. You are most likely to see them in Magic Reef or Tumbatu.
Mantis shrimp have the best color vision on our planet. Their eyes mounted on mobile stalks and constantly moving about, independently of each other. Obviously, 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 on all dive sites.
Nudibranchs are sea slugs. 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 such as 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.
There are many different types on Zanzibar including the famous Spanish Dancer which if your lucky you can find dancing (swimming) during one of our night dives.
Octopus is 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 in order to retrieve prey from a container.
Octopus are common on all our dive sites, especially on night dives as they are out hunting.
Humpbacks are acrobatic and can breech their 40 tons completely out of the water.
Humpbacks are known to sing. Their songs are complex while each population singing its own unique song. Their songs are not inborn, they learn them from each other.
Humpbacks feed on krill as well as small fish. They can eat up to 1.5 ton of food a day.
Humpbacks migrate through Zanzibar in August-September. Thus, they can be seen from the boat occasionally in these months, mainly in Mnemba and Leven Bank.
Harlequin Shrimps spend their whole life with the same partner. Together they hunt and defend their homes.
As you can see in the picture, they have a very specific diet, eating only starfish. They use their sense of smell for hunting. When they locate an 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. Though, you are more likely to see them at night.
Frogfish don’t usually swim, they use their fins to walk.
A Frogfish’s mouth can expand to 12 times its regular size. Therefore, it can swallow an animal twice its own size!! And since a Frogfish does not have teeth, it will swallow it in one piece!!
To disguise itself from it’s prey, a Frogfish resembles sponges and corals.
Frogfish have a retractable lure on their dorsal fin that resembles a shrimp. They use it to attract their prey. In case their lure is eaten or damaged it can be regenerated.
You can find them on almost any dive site as long as you’re sharp enough to spot them.
Morays hunt an night. They have poor vision, so 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 such as Peppered Morays, Giant Morays, Honeycomb Morays, Ribbon Eels, Snake Eels and many many more.
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.
White Tip Reef Shark
The White Tip Reef Shark is a very social fish. They often lay on the ground in large groups.
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.
White Tips can be seen in Mnemba although in recent years they are not very common and we might spot them 3-4 times a month.
Trumpet fish are true killing machines. In fact, one of its most spectacular method of hunting is Shadow Stalking. The trumpetfish will find a large herbivore, such as 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
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.
The Hawksbill Turtle is named for its narrow head and sharp, bird-like beak. They can reach into cracks of coral reefs looking for food.
In the wild, Hawksbill turtles can live from 30 to 50 years.
Just as other sea turtles, they are solitary for most of their lives and only meet to mate.
Hawksbills are very common around Zanzibar.
The Napoleon is one of the largest fish on the coral reef. In fact, 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, sea urchins, star fish, as well as other fish including smaller species of wrasse.
You can often spot these giants in Mnemba Atoll or Leven Bank.
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.
You can find Stonefish in almost all our reefs.
Lion Fish have between 13 and 18 venomous spines on the back side of their body. However, the venom is used only in self defense.
They are either solitary or in group containing one male and a few female. The male lion fish is highly territorial and will protects his territory pretty fiercely.
Lion fish are very common on all dive in Zanzibar.
The Crocodile fish is a bottom-dwelling ambush hunter. It feeds largely on smaller fish.
It 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.
Bluefin Trevally are extremely strong swimmers and swim long distances in search of food.
They are fast aggressive fish when it comes to hunting and have even been known to even take food from the mouth of feeding sharks.
While mostly solitary, they can also be found in small groups or pairs.
You are very likely to see these fish hunting around the Mnemba Atoll.
As one of the largest fish on the coral reef, the Grouper can live for up to 40 years!!
Individuals first born as females, but as they mature some of the females will change in to males.
The grouper is mainly active at dusk. Very shy when it comes to divers, it will often hide between the rocks.
You can find them in Mnemba Atoll and Levenbank.
The Weedy Scorpionfish use their camouflage to blend into their environment. remaining undetected by both predators and prey.
To move they use their pectoral and pelvic fins to drag themselves along the floor.
When hunting they lay motionless for unsuspecting prey to pass within striking distance.
You may find them in Magic Reef, swaying on the floor like a piece of seaweed.
Ghost pipefish are masters of disguise. They can look like leaves, algae, sponges and even seagrass, making them very hard to spot.
Here in Zanzibar we are lucky enough to have a few different species, such as ornate ghost pipefish, Seagrass Pipefish and Slender Ghost pipefish.
They are not easy to see so keep your eyes open.
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.
Indian Ocean Walkman
The indian ocean walkman is closely related to the scorpionfish & the stonefish.
It is normally 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 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 and Magic Reef.
Blue spotted Ray
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.
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.
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.
The scorpionfish is a large group of bottom dwelling predatory fish. There are more that 200 recognised species. A number of them can be found in Zanzibar.
The scorpionfish is a nocturnal predator and spends the daylight hours blending in with the corals, rocks and sand .
You can eslily find scorpionfish on all our dive sites.
The Razor fish get their name due to the razor like shape of their body. They are closely related to the seahorse.
Razor fish normally swim in small groups with their nose pointing downward. They tend to hide in the spines of sea urchins or over long seagrass.
You can find these strange creature hovering in Magic Reef and the Nungwi Reef.
Pegasus Sea Moth
The Sea moth is a bottom dwelling creature and lives on sandy beds.
They feed on whatever they can find on the seabed. Their body armour provides protection from predators. 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.