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I have seen a few images being shared by underwater photographers of "inflated" pufferfish on social media.

In one case, the photographer was actually celebrating the fact that he had sold a print-which happened to be of an inflated pufferfish!

When questioned, the photographer stated: "i understand your initial questioning of the photo. if you believe what we've been told about puffer fish puffing up being bad for them ,this "puffers can only puff up one time" is a load of balls lol this guy was inflating and deflating when any fish came near it in the same way a trigger puts up its trigger. In open water this is a very common state to find these little guys in. i now have a lot of puffed up puffer pics. when they are supper small its hard to find them not like it"

While I would suggest that in general, capturing and sharing images of any animal while it is stressed is not a great idea ethically, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to discover where the theory comes from that suggests that inflation is bad for the animals. 

I tracked down a study done by James Cook University (https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/pdf/10.1098/rsbl.2014.0823) that suggests that it takes 5.6 hours for a fish's metabolism to return to normal after an inflation. So while it is indeed incorrect to assert to state that causing a fish to inflate will kill it, this suggests that it is not good for them!

Does anyone else have any science that documents the effects that inflation has on these animals?

 

 

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@adamhanlon

In addition, a stressed puffer usually does not eat until it has "deflated" by a significant amount while also losing a majority of its mobility while in an inflated state.

These are all interconnected - without mobility a puffer is not able to easily move around to feed on invertebrates or algae, exposing themselves to predators during this period, etc.

The actual inflation/deflation mechanism isn't deeply harmful to the animal, however research has shown that the energy deficit created by repeated inflation does drain the animal of energy reserves, which is not beneficial to the fish.

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What about "yawning" fish photos. As I know it's also a stress response.

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As a photographer, I wouldn't harass a puffer fish to make it puff. However, if I come across one that has already puffed of its own accord, I don't think taking a few shots is unreasonable. The problem arises when a train of 30 photographers all take turns for a few shots, when it turns into a collective over-harassment. The same applies to most subjects.

As far as the biology is concerned, there are many species of pufferfish. Any report on the biology needs to be clear on the species concerned and why the observations can be generalised to other species. Data such as 'time before it can eat' needs to be qualified by how frequently and what time of day a species would normally eat.

 

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Just to spice the discussion, is this different than baiting, shark feeding, have the lion fish following and using the diver/photographer lights on the night dives for hunting, etc.?

Edited by pbalves

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@JohnLiddiard

Actually - the various family members of Tetraodontidae & Diodontidae that swallow water (or air) as a defense mechanism are all limited by the same physics - the amount of time to "deflate" their bodies is a function of body size. Because of this (and the related physiology) various summary statements can be made with a fair level of accuracy.

A healthy animal may go a few days between larger meals, but for those that "graze" on algae they will usually be looking to graze daily (or multiple times of day depending on availability). 

The one constant across these families is that (some time) post deflation it has been observed that feeding becomes a higher priority (vs pre-inflation). This is believed to be due to the energy deficit caused by physiology involved in inflation.

BTW - this was initially observed in aquarium kept fish, then later studied in the wild on the GBR. 


 

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11 hours ago, JohnLiddiard said:

As a photographer, I wouldn't harass a puffer fish to make it puff. However, if I come across one that has already puffed of its own accord, I don't think taking a few shots is unreasonable. The problem arises when a train of 30 photographers all take turns for a few shots, when it turns into a collective over-harassment. The same applies to most subjects.

As far as the biology is concerned, there are many species of pufferfish. Any report on the biology needs to be clear on the species concerned and why the observations can be generalised to other species. Data such as 'time before it can eat' needs to be qualified by how frequently and what time of day a species would normally eat.

 

I think there are a couple of issues Taking a shot of an already puffed fish probably doesn't do much additional harm to that fish, though it probably delays the fish relaxing and de-puffing.  However when you publish that image it creates a desire in some individuals to also get that shot which may be an issue worth considering.

As far as the need to have data in multiple species etc. to prove it - from a scientific point of view that may be useful data but from a diver behaviour perspective I suggest totally unnecessary, puffing is a response to stress and stressing out any marine creature should be avoided. 

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Perhaps we should pivot slightly.

Given that (I assume) our role is to be advocates for the marine environment and to show ourselves as responsible image makers, should we share images of stressed animals? 

The yawning frogfish is a great example. When I capture a picture of one yawning, my first thought is that I have got too close. So I would never share that image. I know frogfish yawn for all sorts of reasons, but equally, I know that if I stick my lens into its face, it will yawn. If I share images of it yawning, the viewer will never know if it was spontaneous or caused by me stressing it.

Sharing images of known stressed behaviors can also normalise them, to the extent that other less scrupulous (or simply less knowledgeable) image makers may attempt to emulate them. This is detrimental for the animals involved.

The paper referenced in my original post states that there is a 5-6 hour drop in pufferfish's metabolic rate "post inflation." This would suggest that the defence mechanism is detrimental to the fish. 

Shark feeding does not stress the sharks!

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22 hours ago, adamhanlon said:

Perhaps we should pivot slightly.

Given that (I assume) our role is to be advocates for the marine environment and to show ourselves as responsible image makers, should we share images of stressed animals? 

The yawning frogfish is a great example. When I capture a picture of one yawning, my first thought is that I have got too close. So I would never share that image. I know frogfish yawn for all sorts of reasons, but equally, I know that if I stick my lens into its face, it will yawn. If I share images of it yawning, the viewer will never know if it was spontaneous or caused by me stressing it.

Sharing images of known stressed behaviors can also normalise them, to the extent that other less scrupulous (or simply less knowledgeable) image makers may attempt to emulate them. This is detrimental for the animals involved.

The paper referenced in my original post states that there is a 5-6 hour drop in pufferfish's metabolic rate "post inflation." This would suggest that the defence mechanism is detrimental to the fish. 

Shark feeding does not stress the sharks!

Agree Adam,

But I have observed frogfish yawning immediately post a meal. That would probably be the best time I imagine to take the image. I never knew that if one keeps pointing their lens to its face the same behaviour is observed ? ( no I won't be trying this). 

As far as puffers go, I have seen one puffed up and missing an eye at the beginning of a dive and in the same place towards the end of the dive. It may probably have been attacked. BUT personally I would not invite this behaviour from them. Its a defence mechanism, and we are in their environment which we need to respect, irrespective of the repercussions to the fish being harmful or not.

Just my personal thoughts.

Diggy

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2 minutes ago, diggy said:

Agree Adam,

But I have observed frogfish yawning immediately post a meal. That would probably be the best time I imagine to take the image. I never knew that if one keeps pointing their lens to its face the same behaviour is observed ? ( no I won't be trying this). 

As far as puffers go, I have seen one puffed up and missing an eye at the beginning of a dive and in the same place towards the end of the dive. It may probably have been attacked. BUT personally I would not invite this behaviour from them. Its a defence mechanism, and we are in their environment which we need to respect, irrespective of the repercussions to the fish being harmful or not.

Just my personal thoughts.

Diggy

Sorry I forgot to add. In Ambon I came across several juvenile puffers, all puffed up ( I think). Nothing was done to entice or invite them in to puffing up. Is this something common in juveniles ? 

The last image was on a huge sand bank and it was just floating about as debris.BTW are these all puffed up ?

Diggy 

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@diggy

The problem with sharing any yawning frogfish photo (or inflated puffer) is that the audience does not know the circumstances behind the image's capture. Even extensive captioning often get removed due to images being shared and search functions not displaying captions. 

While there definitely are occasions in which frogfish yawn spontaneously, they can also be persuaded to yawn by simply approaching closer than the animal is comfortable with.  Less ethical photographers may seek to emulate these types of pictures, without a regard (or knowledge of) the negative aspects for the animal's welfare.

It also misinforms the audience who may come to expect their puffer fish to be inflated, orr their frogfish to be yawning!

As a community, we went through this a few years ago with the shots of wonderpus in the water column, many of which were "created" by getting the dive guide to pick them up off the bottom and then drop them. Do wonderpus occur in the water column? Yes! I have seen them spontaneously do so. Would I ever share an image of them doing so? No...as the behaviour occurs so rarely that it is hard to replicate, and this leads people to cheat to create similar images.

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On 1/17/2022 at 3:44 PM, adamhanlon said:

@diggy

The problem with sharing any yawning frogfish photo (or inflated puffer) is that the audience does not know the circumstances behind the image's capture. Even extensive captioning often get removed due to images being shared and search functions not displaying captions. 

yes agree. I would hesitate too.

While there definitely are occasions in which frogfish yawn spontaneously, they can also be persuaded to yawn by simply approaching closer than the animal is comfortable with.  Less ethical photographers may seek to emulate these types of pictures, without a regard (or knowledge of) the negative aspects for the animal's welfare.

While its good to know, am not trying this out :-)

It also misinforms the audience who may come to expect their puffer fish to be inflated, orr their frogfish to be yawning!

Agree, but I was still wondering as to why those tiny puffer babies were all puffed up ?

As a community, we went through this a few years ago with the shots of wonderpus in the water column, many of which were "created" by getting the dive guide to pick them up off the bottom and then drop them. Do wonderpus occur in the water column? Yes! I have seen them spontaneously do so. Would I ever share an image of them doing so? No...as the behaviour occurs so rarely that it is hard to replicate, and this leads people to cheat to create similar images.

In the Andaman Islands (India) I came across one that just took off as I approached it. Went all the way to the surface which was 11 meters (approx) high and then gently floated down. Did not really post the images though. 

 

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