Suckers

by Natalie Novak  (July 2012)

Around this time of year, I need to add a little more information to my dive briefing. Remora or shark suckers do not act like other fish.

Most of the animals that we see diving from Akumal just keep doing their thing as we swim by. They are busy looking for food, or chasing away a rival, and they do not pay that much attention to us. The only fish around Akumal that I have seen intentionally swim straight up to divers are called remora.

Remora mean you no harm. In fact, when you see them approach you, it is because they are very happy you are here. They seem to feel insecure when we find them without hosts. From their hosts they get protection and food. Remora normally eat the waste produced by their hosts, and the bigger the host, the more food likely to be produced. So they naturally hang out on and around the biggest animal they can find. And sometimes that is us. They remind me of excited puppies. When one is following me, I can almost hear him saying, Are you going to feed me now? What about now? I am ready now. You gonna make food now?

It can be a little scary when a remora approaches you for the first time, especially if you do not know what this fish is or what they want. Remora often want to clean you. A fish our size in the ocean may have some parasites and the remora love to eat parasites. If a remora approaches you and you want him to try and clean you, move up away from the bottom and sit still; they are often shy. If you would rather observe this fish from a distance, stay close to the ocean floor. You can swat in their direction; I have seen turtles do this to remora when the turtle wants the remora to move, and the remora gets the message.

In spring and summer we often see grey remora that can be almost three feet long. They look like a small shark and that is because they are a relative of the shark family. They often look like they are swimming upside down. They also do not have teeth like a shark. And they do not have a dorsal fin either. Instead they have oval-shaped suckers on their heads. I have had only one attach to me, and the suction was so light I did not feel it. But I was worried that having a baby remora attached to my hand might make my student uncomfortable, so I grabbed its tail and tried to pull the poor little guy off. Then I felt something like a hickey on my hand, so I stopped and swatted in front of the little guy and he backed off. There was no mark on my hand when I got back to shore.

In thousands of dives, Ivan and I each have had only one remora attach to each of us. They cannot hang on when you push them upwards from the tail so they are easy to get off if they do attach. But be sure to get some pictures before you scare them away.

Year-round you can see medium-sized green remora on turtles in Akumal Bay. A remora with a host has it made, and is very unlikely to leave its host on purpose. This time of year we see remora in the open ocean that have been left behind by hosts even bigger than us—hosts like whale sharks!

 
Dive with Natalie & Ivan


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