The slingjaw wrasse looks like a placid fish as it swims around in the ocean.

That is, until it extends its jaw to capture and eat its prey of choice: live fish, shrimp, or insects.

It’s the most extreme jaw extension of all the fish, a behaviour that gives the slingjaw wrasse a lot of street cred underwater (no research has been conducted on this, but we figure some things aren’t all that different beneath the waves).

Unusual behaviour takes time and a special breed of patience

As marine biologists, we like to capture the unusual and show off the unexpected, like the slingjaw wrasse’s jaw extension.

Capturing all animal behaviour takes time, but these strange behaviours require a particular type of patience.  The kind of patience that’s closely related to insanity.

Recording the slingjaw wrasse’s “cash register” mouth was no exception.  It took weeks to capture.

The challenges of being an underwater cameraman

Our underwater cameraman and marine biologist Richard Fitzpatrick is used to waiting for animals to behave.  He once spent 72 hours straight waiting for a seahorse to give birth.

But, that was comparatively easy to capture, with contractions signalling the sought after behaviour – birth – was about to happen.

With the slingjaw wrasse, there’s little indication to know when it will dislocate its jaw and disarm its prey.

“Because the depth of field is so small and the action happens so quickly –  it’s all happening in the blink of an eye – it takes a lot of tries to get everything in focus,” Richard said.

“To get the depth of field just right with the slingjaw wrasse, it took me more than 100 attempts.

“The shrimp was too in focus, then neither animal was properly in focus…there are all of these variables going on and it’s all over in a split second.”

Slingjaw wrasse in action

With persistence, Richard finally got the shot he’d been wanting to add to our stock footage library for years.  It was a momentous occasion.

One that, even slowed down with a high speed camera, was all over in 15 seconds.

It may seem like a lot of effort, but Richard said it’s worth the pay off.

“Being able to capture these kinds of behaviours on camera and share them with others so they might learn about the ocean’s creatures – there’s nothing better.”

He admits some shots resonate more than others.

“It’s a bit of a nerdy shot – fish nerds will be really into this,” he said.

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