Britain’s Grumpiest Fish?

It’s always a joy to come across a marine creature that you haven’t seen for a while. Last weekend we spotted nine John Dories, after nearly a year of failing to find any. We saw them on the seabed around wrecks of the Scylla and James Egan Layne out of Plymouth Sound.

John Dories are wonderfully distinctive. Their down-turned, mournful mouths and long, spiky dorsal fins conjour up an image of Victor Meldrew crossed with Johnny Rotten. Sideways on they are like a circular plate. They have a large black spot in the centre of each flank which may help confuse predators by looking like an eye.

According to legend, the spot is St Peter’s fingerprint, made when he took a coin from the fish’s mouth. Seen front-on the John Dory’s thin body almost disappears, and they use this to good effect when stalking prey or hiding from predators.

The John Dory’s mouth is protrusible, extending out to engulf its prey. I spent much of my dive watching one stalking a shoal of two-spotted gobies. Being a night-time hunter its efforts were rather half-hearted, but I was pleased that it was comfortable enough in my presence to think about dinner!

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