Can Fish Tell When A Diver Is Armed With A Speargun?

Recreational spearfishing is a popular activity in the Mediterranean, but can the fish tell when a diver is armed?

Off the Spanish coast, a diver gripping a speargun leaps into the sea. From a dozen meters away, he spots a white seabream and with a kick of his fins, rapidly closes the distance between them. Yet before he can shoot, the fish darts off, disappearing into the blue-green Mediterranean haze.

The diver didn’t intend to impale the small, striped fish—at least not this time. Instead, he wanted to see how close he could get before it swam away.

Recreational spearfishing is a popular activity throughout the Mediterranean, and common wisdom holds that fish species frequently targeted by spearfishers can tell whether a diver is holding a speargun or not. Recreational spearfisher Valerio Sbragaglia is familiar with this belief, but he is also an ecologist at the Berlin-based Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries. He and his colleagues decided to study whether the axiom stacked up scientifically. According to their new research, it seems to.

Between May and October 2016, the researchers dove into the Mediterranean and chased more than 1,300 fish, sometimes carrying a speargun, other times unarmed.

Photo: Amy Humphries/Unsplash

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