Photo by Jürgen Buchelt

Photo by Guido Zsilavecz

Photo by Guido Zsilavecz
Smooth horsefish Congiopodus torvus
Horsefish are unusual, infrequently seen fishes, preferring deeper waters further offshore. They occur on both sides of the Peninsula, and are most often seen on wrecks, such as on the Smitswinkelbay wrecks, the Maori, and similar. The closest inshore I have ever seen any was at Coral Gardens, although for some odd reason during one summer season we saw many at Bakoven, Camps Bay (see Anton Koornhof's Divesites of South Africa book - on page 84 is a photo by a friend).
The behaviour of these fish varies from individual to individual. Some are quite skittish, while others are so "tame" they allow themselves to be picked up carefully, often emitting a soft "tok tok tok" sound, before getting bored and swimming slowly off. In New Zealand photographer David Doubilet even burried some (of a related species) partially into soft sand, tail first, so they wouldn't swim off while photographing others! Photos of this can be found in a National Geographic somewhere.
There are two species of horsefish in our waters, the other being the spinenose horsefish, Congiopodus spinifer which has a much bolder colouration, but a less tall dorsal fin-crest, and seems to be less common.
The top photo by Guido show an adult of about 50 cm length, and a juvenile below it. The juvenile has a very bumpy skin, and has less bold lateral bands than the adult. As can be seen from the photo, the dorsal fin is very tall, becoming even taller in adults - a very impressive sight!
Horsefish prefer reefs with many cracks and crevices, in which they seek shelter. During a dive at D-Frame we saw one crevice of at most 3 m length with at least half a dozen large horsefish packed quite tightly together, and many more in crevices in the area. On wrecks look under plates and into dark corners.

See "Coastal fishes of the Cape Peninsula and False Bay", available from SURG, for more details.
Coastal fishes of the Cape Peninsula and False Bay, a divers' identification guide, G Zsilavecz, 2005.
Smiths' Sea Fishes, MM Smith and PC Heemstra, 1986.
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