5 reef fish you’ll find in SA

It’s not just the Great Barrier Reef where you’ll find amazing sea creatures. Here’s what’s in South Australia.

Marine life in South Australia is actually more varied than the Great Barrier Reef and many species found here can’t be seen anywhere else in the world.

In the waters around Adelaide alone there are fish with striking colours, unusual names that sound like evening wear, and others that grow old enough to be great-great-grandparents.

Here are five fish to look out for on your next underwater reef adventure:

1. Harlequin fish

This colourful fish has been spotted all the way from Encounter Bay in Adelaide’s south to the Great Australian Bight in the state’s west.

They can live for more than 40 years and grow to about 76 centimetres.

Harlequin fish have a special tactic for catching their dinner – hiding from it and waiting for it to pass by, then jumping out to attack it.

The harlequin fish has also been credited with helping to create SA’s marine sanctuaries – so it’s a special fish.

 Dr Bryars and Harlequin fish
Marine Biologist Simon Bryars with a harlequin fish about to be released alive as part of a marine parks fish tracking study

2. Southern blue devil

This vibrant fish can grow to up to 35cm, has personalised markings, and can live up to 60 years.

They are a cave-dwelling fish, found along the southern Australian coastline.

You’re likely to find southern blue devil fish in Encounter Bay, part of Encounter Marine Park, as well as in the Aldinga Reef Sanctuary Zone.

Blue Devil
(Image courtesy of Anthony King, Flinders University Underwater Club)

3. Western blue groper

Western blue gropers live up to 70 years old and can reach 160cm – but it takes them 15 years just to reach 60cm. They also change sex as they age.

The age of the fish can influence where and how deep you can find them but generally they can be found anywhere from 1 metre to 80m underwater in caves or rocky reefs. 

Western blue groper

4. Banded morwong

If you thought 70 years old was old for a fish, then you’ll be surprised to discover that the banded morwong can live to 95.

This fish can be found between south-east SA and the Great Australian Bight, and grows to a maximum of 1m, but more often only 75cm.

The number of stripes on the banded morwong is surprisingly specific – it’s either seven or eight. 

Banded Morwong
(Image courtesy of Erik Schlögl, © Australian Museum)

5. Blue-tailed leatherjacket

With a name that sounds like a piece of clothing you pull out for a Saturday night on the town, it’s only fitting that the blue-tailed leatherjacket looks so cool.

This fish is one of many different leatherjackets that can be found in SA’s waters such as the brown-striped and the horseshoe.

You can spot this timid fish between 3m and 20m underwater. It grows to approximately 42cm and will look different depending on its size, age and sex.

Bluetail leatherjacket
(Image courtesy of David Muirhead, © Australian Museum)

There’s a good chance you’ll need to go diving to discover these amazing fish, so why not hook yourself up with a tour or go snorkelling with a professional instructor? And if you want to get the heads up on some of the quirkier species you might see while you’re there, check out our blog: 6 of SA’s weird-looking underwater creatures.

This story was originally posted in January 2017.

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