Surgeonfish Spawning

Paul & Kelly & I were just finshing up our drift dive in Fakarava, and were almost at the restaurant pier when I noticed a remarkably active school of yellow Convict Surgeon fish at the entrance of the channel. I took a deep breath and free dove down to film them. They were much more frenetic that usual… something was happening. The school moved around erratically and clouds of “dust” seemed to emanate around them, with gray sharks diving in suddenly with wild energy. The fish were spawning their eggs, and the sharks were trying to feast!

The coral wall that frames the South pass of Fakarava atoll is an incredibly vibrant and colorful underwater playground. From the hard and soft corals to the abundant variety of fish, there’s never a dull moment. Aside from the hundreds of sharks that makes this pass famous (“Wall of Sharks” dive site), the snorkeling is out of this world. We often joke it’s like swimming through our Fish Identification book, that shows every tropical fish in the South Pacific. Our favorite “usual” suspects include the massive (~4ft) Napolean Wrasse, the schools of snapper that live under the docks, and of course the blacktips that swim in the shallows with their fins cruising above the surface.

I stared intently at the unusual school of yellow Convict Surgeonfish darting about in the 10-20ft water, trying to make sense of the situation. While the scene captivated me, I also noticed there were 2 scuba divers in the shallows with HUGE underwater video cameras. Looks like we had just swam into a professional documentary video shoot!

When I surfaced, an angry and stressed out Dive Guide was yelling at us to get out of the water — “you’re in the way of the camera men!” They hollered. In our confusion, I shrugged my shoulders, “To where??” Sharks were in a frenzy below us, people were barking orders above us. This was no time to panic. We later discovered the divers had come from France to attempt to capture this unusual spawning event which we happened to drift right in the middle of all the action.

Then I noticed Kristian and our dinghy were tied up around the corner (he had also got yelled at by the disgruntled Dive Guide) and beckoned Paul & Kelly to follow. We climbed onto the Lambordinghy…. and with masks still on, proceeded to submerge our heads over the edge and continue to watch the mayhem unfold below. To our great surprise, we discovered that the school of yellow surgeon fish had moved just below us — along with a pack of sharks in tow! So we spent the next 20 minutes leaning over the edge of our dinghy looking at the Chaos of Life and Death below, both the eggs spawning and shark feeding.

Experiencing life in such a raw unexpected way is truly a gift. We hope we didn’t ruin the footage from the camera men as we swam right through the middle of the action… but maybe we’ll make it into the documentary, who knows !

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