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Balistidae Aka – Triggerfish, speak to any experienced diver and usually, they will have a few tales to tell!

There are approximately 40 different species in this family ranging in colour and size. While generally fairly docile, they can sometimes become aggressive when defending their territory.

Putting your forefinger and middle finger together in the shape of a gun and using your thumb to pull the “trigger” is the accepted sign for these species and can sometimes be met with wide eyes or even prompting divers to go back the way they came.

The larger Titan or Yellow Margin trigger can cause some divers (yes even dive masters and instructors) to wash their wetsuits after the dive, if you catch my drift!

900 x 600 Trigger 3It needn’t be so and in this article I will try to give some tips and advice of how to handle encounters with these “Bad Boys” and what to watch out for.

Triggerfish are amazing and truly fearless creatures and are rarely scared off by other fish or even divers who in the case of the red tooth triggerfish can be 50 times their size!

I have even witnessed a small Titan chasing off a nearly 2 meter barracuda!

Triggerfish get their name due to the fact that they have a unique feature on their dorsal fin, which allows it to lift up and stay upright. If this dorsal fin or as we divers would call it the “trigger” is up, it is a good indication that the fish feels threatened and mostly occurs when another animal has invaded their territory, particularly when they are nesting.

Protecting our young is a natural instinct for most species of animals and triggerfish are no different!!

900 x 600 Trigger 1So what to do, if you happen to encounter one of the larger types while scuba diving?

Firstly, try to give them a wide berth and avoid swimming head first directly at them. Second, watch for signs indicating that they feel threatened i.e. the extra dorsal fin behind the head (trigger fin) becoming erect.

In order to move you out of their territory they may make short dashes at you to get you to move. These guys do have teeth and can pack a fairly good punch. I should know as I have been on the receiving end a couple of times, most notably being bitten in the head, twice!!

Don’t worry folks I’m still alive to tell the tale! If you find yourself in the situation where you have to “dance” with a triggerfish remember these things.

  1. stay calm
  2. stay close to the bottom (their territory goes in a cone shape getting wider closer to the surface. If you go up they will usually chase you for longer)
  3. swim backwards and present your fins to the triggerfish. This way if they decide to bite they will get your fins and not you.

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Also you may have a cool bite mark that you can use to impress your dive buddies or as a sign of proof of your encounter!

Some people say they are not too fond of bubbles so you can try taking your octopus and purging in their direction to try to stop their advances. Just be careful not to empty your tank!

I haven’t found this helps personally, so it may be a bit of an old wife`s tale. Also never look a trigger in the eye… did I made that one up!!

If you follow these tips you should be able to exit the territory with minor damage.

As with all creatures in the sea we are visiting their natural habitat and should respect the fact that we are enjoying a great privilege in doing so.

Even if I have been on the receiving end a few times on the whole, I consider these guys my friends.

Except that one at White Rock in Koh Tao!!!

Article by Orca Scuba instructor Matt Headen:  Want to meet a triggerfish or Matt in person?  Book a dive trip to Rawa Island now by contacting us on [email protected]