Scuba diving in the Cayman Islands is a spectacular experience. The waters are crystal clear and the animal life is beyond beautiful. White sand stretches between walls of breathtakingly beautiful coral. Scuba divers come from all over the world to see the abundance of underwater life.
On a large sand bed fifty feet below the waves, these divers met up with a large hogfish and had the rare treat of a close up experience as it dug in the sand for food. Aptly named because of its long snout that it uses to root in the sand, its feed habits are fascinating. There are several unusual things about the hogfish. The first is that it grows to a length of three feet and can weigh 25 pounds. This is a large reef fish that cruises these waters with little fear of anything here aside from sharks.
The second unusual thing is the manner in which it eats. As we can see, the hogfish scoops up huge mouthfuls of sand with its specially adapted scoop-like jaw. It has an upper jaw that closes around the lower one, allowing it to force the sand through its mouth and out the gills. It filters out crustaceans and other tiny creatures that are its food. Occasionally, it will flare its gills out wide in n effort to flush sand and other particles from them. This is an incredible sight to see.
The hogfish is a prized food source, especially for spear fishermen. The meat is claimed to be the most delicious of all reef fish, and it is said that it is even as rich as scallops with the firmness of grouper. Possibly for this reason, hogfish are usually wary of humans. It is highly unusual to get a close look at a hogfish for more than a moment and even more unusual to have a hogfish curious enough to completely circle a scuba diver, or to swim straight up to one to look, as this one did.
Incredibly, the hogfish even changes sex during its life cycle. This is one of the most bizarre characteristics of the hogfish. It begins life as a female and changes to male at approximately three years of age. Each male with have a harem of females, breeding with them and even protecting them from other predators as they grow and mature.
These scuba divers were thrilled to have such a close up show of a very relaxed hogfish eating on the sand bed near Little Cayman Island.