Super klipfish in the sea lettuce likes to be tickled

Article: Aeon on sailfish and other marine encounters

Tim Ecott, author of much beloved (by me, Tony, and the many friends we’ve lent it to) diving book Neutral Buoyancy, writes for Aeon Magazine about sailfish. Or, he seems to. What he has really written is a beautiful description of encounters with marine life, and how these meetings often seem imbued with great significance – something more than “human meets fish”. For me, Ecott’s writing best captures what it feels like to dive, and if you have someone close to you who longs to understand your attachment to the underwater world, I’d let them read something like this.

Ecott experiences being underwater – the place where by his own admission he is happiest – as catharsis, and it has helped him to deal with the deaths of both his parents, for example.

For me, it is a release from anxiety. It is also an opportunity (arrogantly, I sometimes think) to be truly seen – once every few tens of dives – by a stranger, another living creature that has no obligation to pay any attention to me, and whose natural instinct in many cases would be to flee. These experiences keep me thinking for months afterwards. The first time I felt as though I’d been “seen” by a fish was at Long Beach in Simon’s Town, while Tony did some Open Water skills with a student. It must have been my thirtieth or fortieth dive since I’d qualified. I hovered on the sand, and met a green klipfish (pictured – he was awesome) who was fascinated by my fingers wiggling in my gloves.

Super klipfish in the sea lettuce likes to be tickled
Super klipfish in the sea lettuce likes to be tickled

Ecott writes:

In my experience, the connection that I make with marine life is something other, with just a thin thread of recognition. It certainly, on occasion, goes beyond the normal confines of a wildlife encounter. The very term ‘encounter’ smacks of pseudoscience, or the affected dispassion of the wildlife filmmaker. There are times when I feel strongly that these meetings underwater carry all the implied wariness, negotiation and unfulfilled, unknowable expectations that we have when we meet human strangers.

In this description there’s no hint of the pretentious foisting of human upon shark, dolphin, manta or turtle that goes on in many of the more highly publicised encounters between humans and marine animals. It doesn’t matter if no one was around with a camera to document the event – it still happened, and is probably all the more significant for it.

Read the full article here. And look at that magnificent sailfish in the accompanying photograph…

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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