David Muirhead and I were approached by a mother and child prior to our dive at the Trimmer Parade end of West Lakes. The lady asked us if we were aware of a “mid-size, bluish fish that would swim at the surface of the lake, taking in breaths of air every now and again before submerging once more”. She made several attempts at describing this strange creature to us. She was adamant that it was a fish and that it was bluish in colour. She tried to indicate its size and shape to us, insisting that it was very fish-shaped, like a ‘Nemo’. She added that she would see it regularly and that she felt sorry for it because it seemed to be solitary and searching for a mate.

We were both intrigued by her descriptions and could only speculate on just what it might have been. One of our suggestions (David’s?) was that it could have possibly been a male cowfish. We explained that a cowfish is a kind of boxfish with ‘horns’. Our description didn’t sit well with the lady at all.

The area of our dive at West Lakes

(Taken by Steve Reynolds)

We finished gearing up for our dive after she had departed. We were aiming to check out the area in the vicinity of the buoy system for the artificial reef located in the lake. It had been suggested that some of the buoys had collapsed or submerged.

Signage showing the buoy system

(Taken by Steve Reynolds)

Although we entered the water together and planned to approach the first buoy before submerging, we never saw each other again during the dive. I, myself, stumbled upon the mooring for one of the buoys and proceeded to take a few photos in the low visibility water.

One of the buoys

(Taken by Steve Reynolds)

I soon realised that there was a large male Ornate cowfish swimming under the buoy. It allowed me to take several photos of it. I quickly gathered that this may well have been the ‘bluish’ fish that the lady had been enquiring about. It was quite colourful.

Male Ornate cowfish

(Taken by Steve Reynolds)

I later came across a large female Shaw’s cowfish in a similar position, alone under a buoy. I came across some more cowfish during my dive. Some were single Ornate cowfish (male & female?), whilst others were single Shaw’s cowfish (male & female?).

Close-up of a male Ornate cowfish

(Taken by David Muirhead)

So much for the lack of a partner, although each fish seemed to prefer their own company. I managed a few average shots of some of them.

Female Shaw’s cowfish

(Taken by Steve Reynolds)

David also came across a few cowfish, which he also photographed, although he never actually saw any buoy moorings at all.

A male Ornate cowfish
(Taken by David Muirhead)

After our dive, we saw several cowfish surface close to the bank of the lake, seemingly taking in air. We also saw a couple of toadfish species behaving similarly.

A few days later, I went kayaking solo on the upper reaches of the Port River. I came across a female Ornate cowfish in the river at Glanville.

A female Ornate cowfish
(Taken by David Muirhead)

It had been a revelation to find so many cowfish occurring in both West Lakes and the Port River.

My thanks go to David Muirhead for assisting me in the dive, and also for his photographs.


By Steve Reynolds

Steve Reynolds is the current President of MLSSA and is a long-standing member of the Society. Steve was a keen diver, underwater explorer & photographer before illness struck. He is chief author of the Society's extensive back catalogue of newsletters and journals.

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