Hiding amongst weeds, a pair of Robust Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus) moves to the rhythm of the ocean’s pulse. These cryptic bottom dwellers are related to seahorses and pipefish and feed mainly on little crustaceans.
Their shape and colour, a palette of autumn-leaf colours often with mottled patterns on their fins, makes them almost invisible amongst seagrass and seaweeds for predators and prey. Specimens that are found on deeper reefs or areas are more often brownish-red or blackish coloured. They are mostly found in pairs, swimming slowly head downward and close to each other.
Feeding happens by darting down on little bottom-dwelling crustaceans, usually shrimp, oblivious to the danger of being sucked up in the long toothless tubular snout.
Although not rare, they are often missed by scuba divers, underwater videographers, and photographers due to their excellent form of camouflage called phytomimesis (= when an animal tries to resemble a plant or a part of a plant). These little, strange-looking fish are found from Africa’s east coast in the Indian Ocean, including the Red Sea, to Fiji in the Pacific Ocean, and to Japan in the north and Australia in the south. Living near the bottom in shallow coastal reefs, protected bays, lagoons, and weedy areas, their preferred habitat includes coral reefs, algae beds, or seagrass meadows and sandy areas.
Females are larger than males and are skin-brooders. Unlike seahorses, where the males carry the eggs, it is the larger female that possesses a sizeable brooding pouch, made out of the merging of her two pelvic fins, which can carry up to 300 eggs and larvae in different stages of development. Once the relatively well-developed larvae hatch, the female releases them to the mercy of the ocean currents, which explains their large distribution. After having released her offspring, the female usually dies. Robust Ghost Pipefish have a relatively short life. A pair stays under normal conditions together for their entire life.
The Robust Ghost Pipefish is the largest member of the ghost pipefishes genus (Solenostomus), which comprises six members in total. The other five members are the Long-tailed Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus armatus), the Delicate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus leptosoma), the Roughsnout Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paegnius), the Ornate Ghost Pipefish or Harlequin Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus) and the Halimeda Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus halimeda).
The near perfect camouflage makes it very difficult for the viewer to distinguish these little ghost pipefish from the seaweeds they are hiding in. The purpose of editing and colour correcting in this case is to enhance the visibility of the subject for the viewer. By reducing the saturation of the background, the ghost pipefish becomes more noticeable and easier to distinguish from its surroundings.
This technique is commonly used in nature photography and documentary making to bring attention to the subject while still maintaining a natural and realistic appearance. However, it is important to note that the extent of post-production manipulation should always be within ethical and responsible limits, and not mislead the viewer about the authenticity of the image.
The ultimate goal of nature and underwater videography is to capture and convey the beauty and diversity of the natural and underwater world, and editing should be used as a tool to enhance and share that beauty, not to deceive or misrepresent it.
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