IT’S SPRINGTIME and the sea is full of colour and life after a cold winter. All of our most colourful fish have returned from the depths to shallow warm waters.
Like many other animal species, our male fish become intensely preoccupied with looking their best during spring.
They also spend a considerable amount of time scouting and building an attractive territory to impress the females and lure them into it. So spring is a great time to watch some of nature’s wonders and get closer to fish that are normally shy.
Even the not-so-colourful black goby (Gobius niger) turns itself into a brighter and more vibrant creature during spring. The male’s body becomes a darker shade of black,
while the fins on his back are dressed in red and blue stripes.
If you get too close to the hole that he has carefully picked out, he will get out of his territory and display all his mighty colours. This is his way of scaring off any intruder and getting
the female attention he’s after.
The mating appears to be between May and August. After that, the male stay put to guard the eggs.
The goldsinny wrasse (Ctenolabrus rupestris) is a fish we see on most dives, except in the wintertime. It generally mates in summer, and during this time the male’s power is fully displayed. Like the black goby, he finds himself a hole as its territory.
By displaying his teeth in a threatening manner, the male shows anyone who gets too close who’s in charge – no matter how big you are!
He will even try to show himself off when he gets a glimpse of his reflection in your camera port. And sometimes he gets so frightened that he will scare himself back into the hole!
A fish sometimes mistaken for a goldsinny wrasse is its cousin, another member of the wrasse family the rock cook (Centrolabrus exoletus). This species grows bigger than its cousin and at first sight appears quite bland, but if you illuminate it, it will shimmer blue and red.
The male rock cook builds himself a nest of plants in springtime and will then do his best to attract females to his impressive home.
If all goes well, the female will lay her eggs in the nest and the male will stay there to guard them.
The most colourful fish living in our waters is probably the cuckoo wrasse, but the corkwing wrasse (Symphodus melops) comes a close second, especially during the mating season.
The male, dressed in bright red with blue and green dots, is an extraordinary sight. His preoccupation with nest-building makes him easy to approach. He darts forward and back, swimming away with pieces of plant and gravel that won’t fit into his nest. It’s unending work, but he who puts in the most effort will be the lucky one with the females.
But in case his nest is not enough, the corkwing also performs a dance to attract as many females as possible.
The male cuckoo wrasse (Labrus immaculatus) has colours, principally reds and blues, that would let him fit into any coral reef. In spring he usually has a whole harem of red females to look after, but is also preoccupied with his territory, watching carefully to ensure that no other males sneak in.
Should the male die, the biggest female in the harem will transform into a male. This is common among wrasse.
In the mating season, between May and July, the male’s colour becomes even more vibrant, and he gains a light blue dot in his forehead.
If you approach him, he will probably swim away, but if you wait patiently at the spot he will soon be back. Little by little, he will get more confident, and will eventually swim closer to you.
The same approach applies with the ballan wrasse (Labrus bergylta),
our biggest wrasse and, like the others, great-looking all year around.
In spring these too have a territory to watch over and a nest to build, but this is when they are easiest to approach.

THE TWO-SPOTTED GOBY (Gobiusculus flavescens) is very small, and one of the most commonly seen fish, but in spring it becomes particularly colourful.
As with most fish, it’s the male that dresses up, and like the cuckoo wrasse this goby goes for blue and red. Mating season is between May and August, after which the grown animals will die.
The male common dragonet (Callionymus lyra) is another fish that uses his blue hues to attract mates. When a female approaches, he folds up his dorsal fin like a big sail and shows off all his colours in a mating dance. Dragonets mate in early summer.
The snake pipefish (Entelurus aequoreus) looks good all year round, but it’s during spring that you can watch the dance during which the female delivers her eggs to the male to carry until they hatch.
As with their relatives, the seahorses, the male is the one that is pregnant.
While spring is an interesting time of year, with the sea brimming with life and the fish easy to approach, bear in mind that a lot of energy is put into their mating, so don’t stay too long with any one fish or pair.
Give them space to carry out their important work for the next generation.
If taking pictures, get your camera setting ready before you move in on the fish. Do some test shots on a patch of seabed with comparable light. This way you may only have to fire the flash at the fish five times instead of 10.
Show them some respect so that we can enjoy this show year after year.