Subject: A couple of Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus) are removing dead skin and tissue (it is unclear from this shot if they also removed parasites) from the body of a Pink Whipray (Himantura fai) on a sandy area next to a reef in Mauritius..
The Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse inhabits the waters of the Indo-Pacific region, where it provides cleaning services to "client" fish from Africa's East coast to French Polynesia.
The Pink Whipray in this underwater video clip pays regular visits to specific areas on the reef where these black and blue-striped slender cleaners are waiting to provide their cleaning and parasite removing services. These specific areas are called "cleaning stations" and are visited by a lot of different species, some in the need of a good cleaning, and others, mostly juvenile reef fish that are cleaners too at this stage of their lives, see here an opportunistic chance to get a little part of the feast. It is not unusual that also cleaner shrimps share a cleaning station with cleaner fish.
A cleaning station consists of several Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse, often a group of females accompanied by a dominant male. Other species of reef fish often refer to cleaning activities when they are at the juvenile state. So it is not unusual to see a variety of different fish populating a cleaning station. When potential clients arrive at such a station, the cleaners perform a welcome dance in an effort to secure the food source and cleaning opportunity with the client. Upon recognising the cleaner and successfully soliciting its attention, the client fish adopts a species-specific pose to allow the cleaner access to its body surface, its gills, and sometimes allow the cleaners inside the mouth.
In this way, the Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse contribute to the general health of the reef's fish population. Although it is commonly believed that these cleaners are after dead skin and little parasites, they are primarily seeking to extend their diet with the more nutritious mucus of the client's skin. Taking only little bites in the mucus of clients would scare these away so they advertise themselves to potential clients as cleaners. If you observe these Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse for a while, you will notice that now and a while so often a little bite is taken which seems, looking at the client fish's reaction, to be rather uncomfortable and painful.
Some species of blennie mimic the form, shape and behaviour of the Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse, the only difference is that these so called “false cleaners” are only after the mucus of client fish and actually never remove parasites or dead skin.
Technique: Cleaning stations always make interesting subjects for underwater videographers and photographers alike. Fish always show and expose themselves completely differently than usual on the reef. The behaviour of the cleaners and their clients often results in interesting video footage and or beautiful pictures. It is however always tricky to come very close to these rays as they are despite their size quite wary. Fleeing the scene at the slightest sense of insecurity is their way of dealing with impatient underwater videographers and photographers. The scene was also filmed without lights to avoid frightening this quite large stingray, which resulted in a lot of editing work to revive the colours.
For a more in-depth description about the Pink Whipray please go to our vlog post 176 or click on this link: https://www.beyondscuba.com/post/a-pink-whipray-himantura-fai-swims-over-the-wreck-of-the-tug-ii
For a more in-depth description about flight distance please go to our vlog post 70 or click on this link: https://www.beyondscuba.com/post/flight-distance
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