[slideshow] "Lionfish!"

The mixture of emotions that this one word evoked was evident: anticipation, excitement, respect.

This exotic-looking fish was unintentionally introduced to The Bahamas as a result of hurricane Andrew in 1992.  Apparently, a few red lionfish escaped from a home aquarium into the ocean during the destruction caused.  Without any natural predators in the local area, the lionfish population has exploded.  Part of our research is to better understand how this invasive species is interacting and possibly influencing our local environment.

Today, after careful preparation, our task is to live-capture a lionfish.  We hope to dissect a few lionfish during our next class to learn more about fish anatomy.  This species is particularly interesting for dissection because it is covered in spines that release venom into their victim.  Though there are no known fatalities due to lionfish stings, their sting is extremely painful.

After receiving the call of alert, we immediately jump into action.  Skylar grabs two heavy vinyl nets that have specifically designed to resist puncture from the venomous spines.  Matt grabs two weight belts to aid in staying underwater long enough to capture the fish.  The rest of our research group are asked to keep a safe distance until we can put our plan into action.

The plan:

1.     Attach weight belt.

2.     Freedive four meters to lionfish location.

3.     Gently coax the lionfish between the two nets.

4.     Rapidly close the gap.

5.     Transport to the boat for safekeeping.

6.     Don’t get stung!

Skylar makes the first attempt.  Due to strong current and medium winds, it takes a lot of energy to get to the bottom and has to surface quickly.  Matt makes the second attempt, but approaches too quickly, startling the fish into the reef.  Third time is the charm.  Skylar coaxes the lionfish between our two nets and expertly closes the gap.  Success!

We surface to show the group our lionfish, which is large for this species.  All of us are carefully amazed by the beauty of this fish.  We swim to the boat and cautiously put the fish into our improvised live-well (a 5-gallon bucket).