The Scariest Fish in the Sea

Titan Triggerfish

Let me introduce you to the scariest (to me) fish in the sea.

This is a kind of fish that I have nicknamed Bucky (or Buckette – the sex of this fish is not easy to discern by its colouration) – a Titan Triggerfish. Bucky (& Buckette, when she is not nesting) are big, beautiful, and generally benign fish – they grow up to 30 inches in length, and are pretty beefy. Like parrotfish, Titan Triggerfish use their not inconsequential teeth to rip up chunks of coral and crunch spiny urchins as part of their diet.

In this photo, this (non-nesting) Titan Trigger is being groomed by that little black, white & blue striped cleaner wrasse on its side – these little fishes populate the reef and provide cleaning services for many of its denizens. The wrasses eat little parasites off the fishes/turtles/rays/eels/sharks’ etc bodies, and even do dental hygiene duty and clean inside their mouths! The fish being groomed somehow know not to eat them. It’s quite entertaining to camp out for a while near a cleaning station and watch the fish lining up for their turn to be detailed.

But back to Buckette – in her non-nesting state, she is a pretty chill fish. But once she is nesting, she becomes a terrorist. Titan Triggerfish excavate large, shallow pits in sandy areas on the bottom, where their eggs are laid and fertilized, and then it’s open season on any creatures daring to approach the nursery. Titan Triggers are hyper-vigilant, and will chase off any critters (including divers) that come into range. The problem is that they consider their zone of protection to be a large area, flaring out and up from the areas around their nests on the bottom, extending in a wide conical shape, all the way to the surface above – even when it’s 50 or more feet away! Flying overhead, you see them turn, eye you with their deranged eyeballs (which, unlike most fish, can move independently), and then they charge, swimming at hyper-speed as they come straight at you, mouths agape, ready to chomp. And it’s not just for show, they actually will and do bite divers.

On a past trip to Indonesia, Mr G took a hit from one of these big fish on his leg, behind his knee. He didn’t see it coming as we flew over a minefield of occupied nests on a crazy 6+ knot current dive that we were in the process of aborting. We were bailing on the dive because we were concerned that we would be blown a long distance from the boat, in a very remote part of the world. This is how divers get lost at sea.

Anyhoo, the fish grabbed Dave from behind, on the tendon on the back of his knee, and shook his leg ferociously. At first Dave thought it might be a small shark that got him (even though it would be highly unusual for a shark to attack a diver), but turning to wrest the assailant off, he saw that it was one of these maniacal fish. He punched it and the fish let go, leaving him with a couple of puncture wounds (it bit him right through his wetsuit!) and a big bruise. Some of our dive buds are docs and they made sure the wound was cleaned up properly to avoid infection. Another diver on the same trip took a hit to her head!

And on that same crazy current dive, I had one come after me too, and I’m pretty sure I screamed like a 6 year old as I fended it off by turning on my back and whacking at it with my fins. I had a big steel muck stick in my hand too, and if it persisted I wasn’t opposed to shish kebabbing it down the gullet to make it quit. Fortunately it didn’t come down to murder, but if it was me or the fish, I wasn’t going to lose.

Early on our recent trip to the Tubbataha reefs in the Philippines, we noticed some Titan Triggers building nests and doing some courtship dances. Ruh Roh we thought, and sure enough, within days the females were nesting and becoming belligerent. I kept a good eye out for nests and took great care to avoid any I saw, but one late afternoon dive, drifting in current in the darkening blue above the reef, I saw nests – several of them – and then… the dreaded charge. Muck sticks are not permitted in Tubbataha Marine Park, and so I felt somewhat defenceless. The guides had advised whacking your fins in the fish’s face if under attack, and I did, which thankfully eventually discouraged it.

Non-divers fear sharks. In my experience, having dove with thousands of them over the years, I’ve never felt threatened by a single one. But these maniacal (when nesting) fish? These are worthy of your fear…

About Judy G Diver

Born and raised on the west coast of Canada, I have always felt a strong connection to the sea. But for many years, I stayed on the surface, afraid of what lurked down deep. When I was in my early 30's, with three young children (aka the P's), my husband (aka Mr G) signed us up for a SCUBA certification course, as a surprise. Although I had my fears, my stubbornness prevailed, and somehow I made it through four murky, frigid, cold water dives in Vancouver to successfully pass the course. Soon after we went diving off the west coast of Mexico, in the Sea of Cortez, where my eyes were opened to the beauty and other-worldliness of the life down under. And the rest, as they say, is history. I currently have well over 2000 dives under the belt, and I have been fortunate to travel and dive in Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, Fiji, Palau, Philippines, Galapagos, Costa Rica, Hawaii, California, Egypt, Mexico, several islands in the Caribbean, and here in British Columbia. In addition to this blog and my personal website (, which is linked at the top of the blog, my stuff has been published in a variety of magazines and websites, including a regular monthly feature for Scubadiving Magazine for several years. All links to this work can be found in this blog.
This entry was posted in All About Scuba Diving, Pic of the Day, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.