View Full Version : Needlefish | Escape behaviour

Abhishek Jamalabad
27-11-2012, 07:44 PM
Perhaps one of the most amazing sights I have yet witnessed at sea is the behaviour of a needlefish when alarmed, and the method it employs to escape.

Needlefish (family Belonidae) belong to the same group as another famous sea acrobat, the Flying fish. These fish are surface-swimmers and are very active. When alarmed by an approaching boat, they leave the water at an angle, and using the tail for propulsion, they skim the surface of the water, with their entire body (except the tail) outside. Then they drop back in, and make 2-3 leaps clear of the water, in a dolphin-like manner. They then repeat the entire exercise, at least 2-3 times. In this manner the fish very rapidly covers a distance of 200-300m.

Also heard from the locals in Malvan that this fish, when alarmed by a net, panics and often grievously injures the fisherman by leaping towards the boat and hitting out with its sharp beak. Elsewhere in the world, a few deaths have also been attributed to frenzied needlefish. In certain parts of the Pacific, they are considered an even greater danger to fishermen than sharks.

This record was made during a dolphin population survey near Malvan, Maharashtra, at a distance of about 3-4 km from shore. This specimen was about a foot long, but we also sighted much larger specimens, up to about 3 feet long, exhibiting this behaviour. Needlefish were sighted from inshore waters up to at least 12km into the sea, younger fish being found further out than adults, in schools of 10-15.

Included here is a record image of the fish skimming the water using its tail.
Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 70-300mm IS USM
SS 1/800
Av 6.3
ISO 100
Subject distance 44.8m
Cropped image, shot hand-held from a moving boat.

Roopak Gangadharan
27-11-2012, 07:56 PM
Didnt know this, thanks for the detailed description of this intresting behaviour abhishek.nice image to go with .wish it had been a little closer. If im not wrong this fish is regularly sold in the markets. Never seen one alive though.


Atul Sinai
28-11-2012, 10:22 AM
Lovely documentation Abhishek. Thanks for sharing the detailed info. Are they solitary like in the image here or do they move in groups as well

Abhishek Jamalabad
28-11-2012, 01:24 PM
Thanks Roopak & Atul.
Roopak: Yes, this fish is sold in the markets, but it is not a major target species in India. In certain Pacific islands it forms one of the most important fishery resources locally.
Atul: All the adults sighted were solitary. Younger ones (15-20 cm long) were seen in shoals of 10-15 and did not exhibit this escape behaviour, they simply swam away from the boat.

Sabyasachi Patra
30-11-2012, 08:22 PM
This is a nice image and description. I have seen these fish sold in the markets. Didn't knew that people can be harmed by them. How far from the coast did you find them? Thanks for sharing.


Abhishek Jamalabad
01-12-2012, 05:47 PM
How far from the coast did you find them?

We sighted from inshore waters up to 10-12 km out, juveniles being found relatively further out than adults.