Colorful mandarin fish spotted in Singapore waters for the first time, likely from aquarium trade

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SINGAPORE — A pair of mandarin fish — colorful reef fish known to divers for their exotic moonlit mating dances — have been spotted for the first time in Singapore.

The fish species is not known to be found naturally in the Republic, although it does occur in nearby waters, such as the Philippines, as well as Borneo and Java in Indonesia.

Fish scientists the Straits Times spoke to on Tuesday (June 21) think it’s likely the pair have been released from the aquarium trade.

Hospital care coordinator Venus Tan, 49, spotted the two Mandarin dragonets (Splendid Synchiropus) at One°15 Marina on Sentosa during a recreational dive around 5:30 p.m. on April 22.

Speaking to the Straits Times by phone on Tuesday June 21, Ms Tan said: “I hadn’t used my camera in a while so I was hovering near some rocks on the seabed trying to adjust the settings. , when I saw a dark shape coming in and out of the rubble.”

Visibility that day was not great, Ms. Tan said.

She slowly moved closer to the pile of rocks, trying not to startle the fish, and shined a faint beam of light from her dive torch on the rubble. It was then that she saw flashes of the characteristic mandarin fish coloration – wavy patterns of bright blue and orange.

“My first thought was, isn’t that a mandarin fish? I quickly set up my camera and took a few snaps,” Ms Tan said.

There were two of them, she added, although she did not see them doing their nuptial dance.

The courtship ritual between pairs of mandarin fish is a sight to behold. The show usually takes place after sunset, when the females gather to watch the males perform a dance.

“If the female likes a male, she will join him resting on her pelvic fin and as they float above the reef they will spawn, releasing a cloud of eggs and sperm,” explains the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on its website.

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