Marine Life & Species of the Mediterranean Sea

Picture of by Mikela Borg

by Mikela Borg

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Fish Identification Wall
Post-dive hype usually involves over-enthusiastic divers, relating their underwater adventures and marine life encounters. Sometimes words fail, and we cannot remember the name of the colourful fish or its local translation. During the winter months, we have been busy creating a very colourful Fish Identification Wall in our Centre, done by our in-house instructor Artist Scuba Cassie. This wall features local Mediterranean species that live and flourish in our waters. Read through for more information about the species you can encounter while diving in Malta. These fun facts will make you love them a bit more.


Octopus – ‘Qarnita’
Let’s start with one of the favourites, the eight-limbed smarty pants – The Octopus!
Belonging to the family of
cephalopods, this eight-legged beauty, has a darkly coloured soft body that can lengthen, contract and change its shape to fit and squeeze into tight spots. Lacking skeletal support, the muscular tentacles support the movement, hunting, feeding and reproduction.
Octopi have three hearts, and blue blood. The blood gets its colour from the presence of copper – which is more efficient in transporting oxygen when the temperature is low. Octopi are quite adapted to hiding and protecting themselves from predators, their primary armour is black ink that is secreted when they feel threatened. Octopi are also masters of disguise, they can collect an assortment of shells and rocks, to create an illusion of a treat or an amazing hiding spot. Parenthood is a brief affair for these aquatic beings, shortly after sperm is secreted the male octopus dies, while the female tends to her eggs, to the point of starvation. Once the eggs hatch, the female body undertakes a cascade of cellular suicide.




Parrot Fish
As suggested by their name, the parrotfish have a beak-like mouth that is used to munch away on algae and small crustaceans. The males are grey in colour, while females have bright red colouration. Parrotfish are usually found in medium-sized schools, mostly around reefs and wrecks.




Bull Ray – Għasfur The string ray family is quite extensive, in the Mediterranean. If one keeps a close look at the sandy bottom or else in the open ocean, a variety of sea ray species can be spotted! This fish feeds on invertebrates on the seafloor and water column. The Bully Ray’s name is derived from the shape of its head, as its profile is long, flat with a round snout. Other encounters from the ray family might include eagle ray, sand ray, torpedo ray, common ray and the devil ray.



Cow Bread – Xilpa
Highly recognizable due to their streaks of gold stripes, cow breams are usually found in large schools of fish, in search of moss or phytoplankton to eat. They go by many names: cow fish – due to their grazing tendencies, goldline – due to their appearance, salema – their biological name or else dream fish. In 2006, there were several media reports that claim that cow breams are unsafe to eat as they can cause hallucinations that may last to 36 hours. Interesting.



Cuttle Fish – Siċċa.  Known as the ‘chameleons of the sea’, these amazing little creatures are masters of disguise, with a set of reflectors and coloured cells, that allow them to blend in. They can also match their surroundings, as they can mimic texture using little nodules called ‘Papillae’ that extend and retract. Similar to their close relatives the octopus, the cuttlefish has 8 arms, 2 tentacles, and 3 hearts- call that abundant! There are over 100 species of cuttlefish worldwide, despite being one of the most intelligent invertebrates; their life expectancy is 1-2 years max. Just like our BCD jackets, the cuttlefish is able to control its buoyancy using its cuttlebone, the hard and brittle inner shell. The bone is a hollow structure, divided into chambers known as lamellae, containing liquid and gas. Buoyancy is achieved by varying the quantity of the liquid and gas in the bone structure.



Mediterrean Moray – Morina
Some get the freaks, others are impressed with the muscular and robust shape of the moray. The eels’ body is long and forceful, with lines and spots from its mouths opening down to its tail. The colouration varies within species – there are more than 200 species of moraenidae worldwide. The ideal habitat for the eel is in a good, strategic hiding spot, within the reef. Although it has poor vision, the eel is still a very good hunter as it has a great sense of smell.

But don’t let that wide mouth fool you …
The cleaner shrimp is more than willing to enter the moray eels mouth, for a free meal of parasitic load from the eels teeth, eyes and gills. This is known as a symbiotic relationship, by working together both species mutually benefit, the shrimp has the protection and food, while to eel tends to its pearly whites.


Painted Comber – Burqax
Found as a solitary fish roaming for food in posidonia meadows, or else on rocky sea beds, the painted comber fish is always on the lookout for small fish or crustaceans to eat. Fun Fact: the comber fish are capable of self-fertilization as they have both male and female reproductive organs.


Mediterranean Cardinal Fish – Sultan in Ċawl
Sheltered in small cavities around rocky reefs, shoals of bright orange cardinalfish, seek protection during the day from predators and light. These little fish are nocturnal, which means that their feed starts when the sunsets. Cardinalfish are conceived by internal fertilization, after which the male safeguards the balls of eggs in his mouth – this is known as a Mouth brooder fish. Curious Name Fact: in 1700, when binomial nomenclature first started (the modern system of naming organisms) there were very few tangible objects that were red. The only thing Linnaeus could think of was the bright red robes worn by the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Faith.



Ornate Wrasse – Għarus
This cute little multi-coloured fish, finds its home in the reefs of the Mediterranean sea, eating away at small crustaceans, worms and snails. Although quite small in size, 20-25cm, it has a wide range of colours mainly blues and reds. The female wrasses mainly have five blue vertical lines. The females and the juvenile normally live in small groups while the adult males are solitary.



Grouper – Ċerna.  Symbolic with the Mediterranean Sea, the dusky grouper is one of our most spotted, yet favourite species. Also known as rock cod, this fish can grow quite large in size, oval-bodied with a large mouth and a protruding lower jaw. The grouper is generally a solitary, yet territorial fish. They roam in search of food, that is mostly, crustaceans, molluscs and Octopi, swallowing their prey by sucking them whole. These ambush feeders can live from 30 to 50 years (in a protected environment)! Fun Fact: Groupers are born as females, it takes 5 years of development to reach sexual maturity, and after 10 years they transform into males- this is known as sequential hermaphroditism.


Amberjack – Aċċjola
What a sight, looking at the silhouette of a shipwreck from a distance, all is still but sleek jacks roaming in search of prey. These voracious predators feed on squid, fish and crustaceans. Several species of jacks are found in the Mediterranean such as the yellowtail amberjack distinguished by the yellow tips on their tails and the greater amberjack- with a horizontal line from nose to their dorsal fin. These fish tend to migrate in the late spring in order to reproduce.

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