Run-ins with an Invader
A Chronicle of Lionfish Sightings in U.S. Waters
August 1, 2002, a team of scientists exploring
the ocean floor aboard the submersible Johnson-Sea-Link
II happened across a strange fish that
should not have been there. As pilot
Dan Boggess “flew” the Johnson-Sea-Link
II along Scamp Ridge off the South Carolina
coast, scientists Scott Meister and Dan Russ
videotaped their run-in with the invader!
Later, Scott Meister recalled the account of their strange discovery in his field journal:
began our dive in the Johnson-Sea-Link II at about 4:30
pm. We'd been slowly hovering along the reef for
a few hours when we came across a high rock ledge teeming with
life. Schools of tomtate intermixed with vermilion snapper flashed
above the feature, while small damselfish and wrasses darted in
and out of the small holes in the reef.
we came closer and checked out the
spines, an odd-looking fish rose above
the mound and turned to see what all
the commotion was about. My heart jumped
into my throat as I realized it was
a lionfish! Everything about
this fish seemed out of place when
compared to the species we
had observed so far. Long, sharp spines
ran up its back, nearly twice the height
of its body. Its pectoral
fins resembled wings, which were
also lined with sharp, slender spines.
Its color contrasted strongly with
the surrounding reef,
with a zebra-like pattern of brown-and-white
vertical bars along its body and dark
circles imprinted on a translucent
tail. This invader didn't dive for
cover as many other fish its size did,
but instead seemed to assume a defensive
posture and moved toward us. Maybe
their poisonous spines present a formidable
defense against potential predators,
but they are no match for a 26,000-lb
seated in the front of the sub with
Craig, had high hopes we would capture
a live lionfish. We didn't have to
wait long. Only 30 minutes into the
dive, we sighted another lionfish.
We had plenty of battery power this
time, so the lionfish was as good as
Scientist #1: We have a lionfish here at a depth of 180 feet.
Scientist #2: Let’s stop and focus on that and record that right there. I wrote, “transect” for that, Dan, because it’s a lionfish. Ah, it’s really cool. Good eye there sub captain. It’s beautiful. People have been letting those go out of their aquariums see.
Scientist #1: Ah!
Scientist #2: It’s a Pacific fish.
Scientist #1: Yea.
Scientist #2: All in the papers. Divers have been spotting them.
Scientist #1: Very nice.