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Just about every warm-water diver has a triggerfish attack story, and many have scars and chewed fins to prove it.
Nikon D200 digital SLR set on aperture priority, centre weighted metering and -2 exposure compensation, Tokina 10–17mm zoom lens at its widest end, ISO 125, f6.3 at 1/90th, in Subal housing, Inon Z40 strobe.
But avid underwater photographer Steve Grigg has a different tale to tell and this photograph to back it up, because this particular titan triggerfish followed him round like a puppy as it tried to chew its reflection in the dome port of his camera housing.
He was stopping on the northwest coast of Mauritius, the island in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar, and took the shot at a depth of about 10m at a site called Coral Gardens with a dive guide named Burton from Atlantis Divers.
Describing the encounter, Steve said: ‘The dive guide told us to take some bread down with us if we wanted to attract fish to us. My girlfriend, Lucie, put a roll in her pocket and broke it up in the water. Immediately fish began to gather.
‘Out of the corner of my eye I saw the triggerfish approaching. I was wary because when we went to Koh Tao in Thailand to learn to dive, we encountered between 20 and 30 titan triggerfish during our time underwater. They were very aggressive and we found it quite scary. I distinctly remember our dive instructor Dan getting attacked from two specimens on one dive and that encounter has stayed with us.
‘Compared with those we saw in Thailand, this particular triggerfish was big but, fortunately, it seemed quite tame. It swam right up to me until its teeth were touching the dome port. It seemed fascinated by its reflection and kept following me around as I was taking pictures. It also kept on nibbling at a yellow strap on the handle of the housing, making it difficult for me to concentrate on the images I was trying to obtain.’
The fish also swam to the guide who held up his hand and then opened it to show that he was not holding any food. Then it swam up to the other divers in the group. One by one they opened their hands to show that they did not have any food, so it returned to Steve and its reflection in the port.
Steve, who is 39, works in IT in London. He became fascinated with underwater photography two years ago and took the plunge in dramatic fashion, buying a top of the range digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera, the widest-angle zoom lens on the market and a housing popular with some of the world’s best shooters.
‘My first love was scuba diving and I have always been enchanted with the ocean from a very young age. I wanted to chart our dive expeditions using still photography which is really how I got hooked onto it. I find taking pictures on land not very exciting, the results just don’t seem to have the same colour, contrast and nature as photographs that can be taken underwater.
‘The colours fascinate me. The reds and blues are wonderful. When I show my photographs to my friends they are blown away by the colours – they are so vivid. I also find the challenge of underwater photography very exciting; trying to get a good shot through bad visibility, with a constantly moving target, while trying to stay still in the current is immensely satisfying, especially when a good result is achieved.
‘Mauritius is surrounded by coral reefs and the fish life is prolific. We encountered large numbers of lionfish, sergeant majors and yellowfin snappers on every dive and saw about ten to 15 triggerfish while we were diving there. I went to Mauritius particularly because Gerald Rambert, an award-winning underwater photographer, lives on the island and I wanted to seek his advice to improve my own work. He works out of Sun Divers, on the southwest coast near Flic-en-Flac, and was very helpful. He gave me lots of good tips and advice.’
What should you do if you find yourself under attack from a titan triggerfish?
Surprisingly, in most cases, the last thing you should do is head up towards the surface. Instead, you should try swimming away maintaining the same depth. This usually works because, when they are guarding their nests, their territories extend upwards in a cone rather than outwards.
If you see them guarding their nests, the wisest course of action is to avoid them but frequently the first indication you are under attack is when you think your buddy is tugging at your fins to attract your attention. Instead, you will usually find a triggerfish biting them.
If you are unfortunate enough to be bitten – they have sharp teeth and strong jaws – you need to wash the wound and apply an antiseptic cream as quickly as possible. If an infection develops you might even need antibiotics.
Interview by Colin Doeg