WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) REMORAS: WEIRD SUCKERS
WHAT ON EARTH ARE REMORAS?
Remoras (Echeneidae), also known as Sharksuckers, Whalesuckers or Suckerfishes, are ray-finned fish that grow up to 3 feet long.
You may have noticed them in pictures of sharks and wondered briefly why they hang out with such dangerous creatures. There is filmed evidence that remoras do occasionally get eaten by their hosts…
WHAT DO THEY DO?
Remoras have remarkable dorsal fins that form a sucker-like organ with a ribbed structure. It looks a bit like the sole of a trainer or beach shoe.This bizarre organ can open and close to create or release suction, enabling it can latch onto larger marine creatures. The remora can increase suction by sliding backward, or it can release itself by swimming forward – the ‘slats’ are smooth in one direction, and rough the other way. They have been known to attach themselves to boats. And scuba divers. Even with hairy legs…
WHAT KIND OF CREATURES DO THEY GET ATTACHED TO?
Remoras associate with specific host species. They commonly attach themselves to sharks, manta rays, whales, turtles, and manatees / dugongs. Smaller remoras may latch onto fish such as tuna and swordfish, and some travel in the mouths or gills of large manta rays, ocean sunfish, swordfish, and sailfish.
WHY WOULD THEY WANT TO DO THAT?
The relationship between a remora and its host is known as Commensalism, specifically ‘Phoresy‘. The host to which it attaches for transport gains nothing from the relationship, but also loses little. The remora benefits by using the host as transport and protection, and also feeds on morsels dropped by the host. Controversy surrounds whether a remora’s diet is primarily leftover fragments, or the feces of the host. Maybe it’s a healthy mix of both.
WHERE CAN I FIND ONE?
Remoras are found in tropical, sub-tropical and temperate waters, including the mediterranean. You will definitely find them in the Bahamas. Melinda’s photos were all taken in the waters south of Grand Bahama.
CAN YOU CATCH ONE?
YES! This late addition (Nov 2016) comes courtesy of Cinda Parks… a remora caught in Cherokee Sound. It’s the first image of a live one out of the water that I’ve come across!
ARE THEY USEFUL TO MANKIND IN ANY WAY?
Yes, but not in a good way, some may think. Some cultures use remoras to catch turtles. A cord or rope is fastened to the remora’s tail, and when a turtle is sighted, the fish is released from the boat; it usually heads directly for the turtle and fastens itself to the turtle’s shell, and then both remora and turtle are hauled in. Smaller turtles can be pulled completely into the boat by this method, while larger ones are hauled within harpooning range. This practice has been reported throughout the Indian Ocean, especially from eastern Africa near Zanzibar and Mozambique, from northern Australia, Japan and even the Americas.
Because of the shape of the jaws, appearance of the sucker, and coloration of the remora, it sometimes appears to be swimming upside down (see above). This probably led to an older name reversus, although this might also derive from the fact that the remora frequently attaches itself to the tops of manta rays or other fish, so that the remora is upside down while attached.
THANKS FOR THAT. BUT WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFO ON THESE SUCKERS?
RIGHT HERE – AN EXCELLENT VIDEO WITH PLENTY OF LIVE REMORA ACTION
OH! FINAL QUESTION. ARE REMORAS EDIBLE?
I though someone might ask that, so I’ve checked it out. Here is the best recipe I have found, expanded slightly from a blokey Australian chat thread:
Recipe for cooking Remora
- put a 12 ltr pot on to boil
- when the pot is bubbling violently, add 2 whole remora, 2 garden rocks, 1 carrot & a large turnip
- add grandfather’s boots to taste, and turn heat down after 3 hours
- simmer for a further 6 hours
- turn off heat and drain carefully
- remove and discard remora, and serve the rest on a bed of tin tacks
Credits: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; Cinda Parks for the freshly caught remora 2016; Wikimedia; meaty Wiki chunks & assorted pickings