Kevin Cullimore recalls the excitement of capturing on film these dramatic pictures of lion fish hunting food
Occasionally, divers are privileged to witness nature in its best and most brutal form. Recently, a fellow photographer and I dived the pinnacle in Eilat - a column of coral that sticks up from a gentle, sandy slope in about 14m of water.
We had dived this Red Sea site many times over the preceding days, so we knew what to expect. I was after photographs of a large shoal of sweepers, with a diver silhouetted against the sun, and was going to use a Nikon 801 with a 16mm fisheye lens to get the shot. I also had with me another 801 with a 35-70mm zoom, which I always take with me for close-up shots.
The sun flickered over the sandy bottom as we reached the edge of the plateau and dropped over the edge, down the slope to the pinnacle which could be clearly seen 30m away.
From this distance, we could see something was happening. As we got close, we realised that lion fish were hunting for food. Lion fish are cunning predators of small fish. Hanging in mid-water, their frilled shape and irregular banding may lead to their being mistaken for floating pieces of seaweed. Small fishes may fail to notice the danger and pass too close. Some may even try to seek shelter within the lion fish's pectoral fins, mistaking them for algal fronds.
Another technique often used by the lion fish is to spread their pectoral fins and use them like a pair of arms to shoo small fish into a corner on the reef and capture them. On this occasion, though, the lion fish were pursuing the massive shoal of sweepers that had taken shelter on the pinnacle. Unusual behaviour... and exciting to photograph.
The lion fish took no notice of us. Instead they pursued their prey relentlessly, even working together to herd a small group of sweepers away from the main shoal before suddenly darting forward to swallow hapless individuals.
My buddy, having used all his film, signalled he was ready to model for my shots, so I signalled for him to get right in with the shoal and fired away. We counted over 30 lion fish attacking the sweepers - an enormous number. It was with some reluctance that we dragged ourselves back to the surface, hoping we had captured some of the action on film.