An injured White-spotted puffer (Arothron hispidus) is swimming in a cavern-like canyon on a Mauritian reef. This medium to large-sized puffer fish can reach a length of 50 cm and is wounded on its left side. A gaping wound exposes the fish's flesh. From this underwater footage it is impossible to tell how this unlucky puffer got injured, but looking at the shape of the open wound, it appears that something took a bite out of the puffer.
This White-spotted puffer, like all puffer species (Tetraodontidae), is extremely poisonous and has a toxin in its skin and liver, which it releases when highly stressed or injured. The poison, named tetrodotoxin, is so potent that when released, it is able to kill other fish swimming in its very close vicinity. The animal that attacked and took a bite out of the puffer is probably even more unlucky, as the toxin in the puffer's skin and flesh will most likely kill it.
Tetrodotoxin is a deadly neurotoxin that blocks nerve signals between muscles and the brain, thereby paralysing the muscles while the victim remains fully conscious. It is found in different aquatic animals like the blue-ringed octopus, flatworms, starfish, and newts. Many of these species use it to keep potential predators away or, in the case of the blue-ringed octopus, to deliver a lethal bite when preying on crustaceans like crabs.
In Japan, pufferfish often end up on the table in the form of sashimi, as the famous "Fugu" dish. It can only be prepared by chefs who have qualified after a rigorous training of at least three years. These Japanese chefs carefully prepare the fish and remove all toxic parts to avoid contaminating the meat. Restaurants serving "Fugu" to customers are strictly controlled by law in Japan. Besides being very tasty, eating "Fugu" adds a special sensation to the mouth of the consumer; it numbs the lips and tongue. It also creates a sensation of generalised warmth and flushing, as well as a feeling of euphoria and exhilaration. A traditional Japanese verse states the following: "Those who eat Fugu are stupid. Those who don't eat Fugu are also stupid." A fun fact is that the Japanese Emperor is not allowed to eat "Fugu" for fear that it could cause his death.
When filming under water in a semi-enclosed area like a cavern, a canyon or inside a wreck it is important to create space for yourself so that you can easily manoeuvre with your camera and for your subject so that it doesn't feel trapped and can easily escape if it wants to. By respecting its space, I allow the pufferfish to maintain a sense of autonomy, preventing it from feeling trapped or restricted in any way. Although the area is more like a canyon with different escape paths than an enclosed area, it is always important to take all necessary measures to avoid the fish going into a panic. Although this puffer doesn't pose a threat to me as an underwater videographer, it is always possible that other less docile species can attack the underwater filmmaker or scuba diver when they feel trapped and don't see a clear way out.
This short underwater videoclip has been filmed in Mauritius 🇲🇺
For other pufferfish insights please go to these vlog posts:
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