When I started writing the Miri Attwater books, I wasn’t planning on doing any research. They were fantasy, after all. I could make up anything I wanted. But when I started writing the underwater scenes, they felt flat and dim. They didn’t have the vividness I remembered from my snorkeling trips. It seemed like a great excuse to do some research! So I started watching movies about ocean life.
One of the things that delighted me in the underwater footage were fish cleaning stations, places on reefs where fish would gather to clean and be cleaned.
In the video below, a tiny striped wrasse cleans a much bigger fish. It’s amazing how it will go inside the bigger fish’s mouth and not get eaten! Watch for the tail of one of the wrasse poking periodically out of the mouth of the bigger fish. Cleaner fish will even do this for fish that are predators of other fish.
Fish cleaning fish, fish cleaning sharks, fish cleaning rays, shrimp cleaning fish, and fish cleaning turtles. In this video, fish clean algae off the back of a turtle. Surgeonfish, also often called tangs, are one of the types of fish that do this type of cleaning.
Fish cleaning stations are many and varied, and at each cleaning station different protocols have developed. At one turtle cleaning station I saw in a video, the turtles signal their desire to be cleaned by swimming on their heads! And shrimp have even cleaned the teeth and fingers of willing scuba divers.
The idea for the scene where Miri and Fisk let fish eat algae off of them came from these fish cleaning stations. But when I started looking for videos to show in for this post, I realized I’d made a slight mistake in that scene. I’ll talk about it in next week’s post: Cleaner Fish – more than you thought you wanted to know. (Link won’t be live until post is published.)
Want to learn more?
Check out my post on Do Fish Really Come in That Color?
Read more about the yellow tang at iNaturalist.org.
Read more about the goldring surgeonfish on iNaturalist.org.
Cleaner Fish wear Uniforms on NationalGeographic.com is also about wrasses.
Not to leave out the sharks and rays, check out Sharks and Rays gather in fish cleaning stations on Discovery.com.