Fish You Might Not Want To Meet in Belize

A good rule of thumb when diving or snorkelling in the tropics is "look but don't touch".   There are so many toxic animals around that you've got a good chance of having an unpleasant encounter, with jellyfish, stonefish, crinoids and even the coral itself, which typically leaves scratches and scars that are easily infected and take a long time to heal.

However, just a little bit of respect is almost always all that's required to ensure that you never have a problem, and the encounter that people fear most - a meeting with a shark - is unlikely to happen at all, and if it does happen it is very unlikely to have bad results (though an exception to this is given below!).

In fact, then, none of the fish on this page are really ones you wouldn't want to meet!   But hey, would you really have come to this page if I hadn't sensationalized it?

spotted eagle ray

There are lots of different types of ray, this one is a spotted eagle ray.  They're fairly shy, I had to snorkel pretty hard to get close to this one, which wasn't very keen on having me around.   I'm sure, though, that it could have flapped away from me easily enough if it had wanted to.

This particular ray has lost part of its tail.

This is a lucky shot - an attractive ray and a barracuda in the same place at the same time. As you can see, we're in only 8 or 10 feet of water, which just goes to show that you don't have to scuba dive to see plenty of neat things.
spotted eagle ray and barracuda
This barracuda was shadowing me while I was swimming around inside the Blue Hole.   It was probably attracted by the shining metal on the bulky underwater camera which I was using.   Barracuda have been known to attack people wearing bright jewellery while swimming. barracuda
I never felt even faintly threatened by a barracuda, but the fish in this photo could be excused for feeling a little bothered. barracuda
Southern stingrays like the ones below have vicious barbs on their tails which they sometimes use on people to inflict very painful wounds.
southern stingray
However, attacks of this kind almost always happen when someone steps on them while walking around in shallow water - for this reason it's recommended that you shuffle your feet along the bottom so that you don't bring your foot straight down on top of a ray! southern stingray
southern stingray

In fact, all of the rays here are very friendly, they're regulars at Shark and Ray Alley, five minutes South of Hol Chan, which is a spot where tourists go out in boats and feed the local inhabitants. 

While taking these photos, I had stingrays sliding over my back at the same time as others were bumping along underneath me.

southern stingray
stingray which has been bitten by a shark

Now, here's evidence that not every fish in the sea is so friendly!

It looks like a shark did a taste test on this stingray, and if you use your imagination and extend the bite mark out a bit further, you can see that it must have been a good sized shark.

Yikes!  Could this vicious maneater be the villain?   Surely this is a fish that you might not want to meet! 

But, alas no, this 7 or 8 foot nurse shark is also a pussycat.   His teeth are so small, the worst he could do to you is suck you to death.

nurse shark   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)
nurse shark

These nurse sharks are just more freeloaders at Shark and Ray Alley, so as soon as another boatload of tourists drops by they, along with 7 or 8 stingrays, come scooting over, snuffling around on the bottom for the sardines which are thrown overboard.

Sharks nuzzle stingrays, stingrays nuzzle snorkellers and a good time is had by all.

two sharks I used to be paranoid about sharks when snorkelling on coral reefs, but the reading I did made me realize that the biggest dangers are the innocent looking but poisonous animals mentioned at the top of this page.  Truth is, the shark which people are most afraid of, the Great White, is a cold water shark which never ventures near tropical waters.   Their diet is mostly seals and sealions, and when they attack humans they often take only one bite before deciding they've made a mistake.   Still, the big ones will eat people, and that's a good reason not to swim around seal colonies.   There are dangerous warm water sharks like blue sharks and hammerheads, but they stay in open water away from coral reefs, because the fish they hunt can escape too easily into holes in the coral.  Finally, the sharks which do swim around reefs are almost always only interested in fish, and the only people they attack are spearfishermen carrying bleeding fish.All of this put me at ease about sharks, but then I started reading about Tiger Sharks.   They get about as big as Great Whites, but they live in tropical water and they're utterly indiscriminate in what they eat - fish, turtles, stingrays and people.   And unlike open water sharks, they're very comfortable swimming around coral reefs, and even in water so shallow that their dorsal fins are sticking right out of the water at the same time as their bellies are scraping along the bottom.However, big tiger sharks are rare and not something I think about while snorkelling.  Still, I can't go along with the current fashion for television documentaries to portray all sharks as our fluffy friends who are utterly misunderstood.  The truth lies somewhere between the horror stories and the anthropomorphic eco-babble.
green moray eel in the open

There are dozens of varieties of moray eel around the world, but this is the biggest of them all - a green moray.

Morays aren't fast swimmers, so they usually move around the reef at night sniffing out food, and spend the daytime holed up, so it's not common to see one right out in the open like this.

Oh, The Horror, The Horror.

Fish you definitely don't want to meet.

The emotional trauma of meeting fish as ugly as these Sand Divers, a type of lizardfish.   The distress of realizing that you've spent thousands on your dream trip to paradise.   You wanted to see pretty fish, sweet little fish, not these monstrosities.   Even they realize how ugly they are - the one on the left is so ashamed, it's half buried itself.

I apologize for making you look at such ugly, ugly fish.   How ugly.   How terribly ugly.   Ugly.   Ugly.

two sand divers