Diving in Cleaning Stations
One of the achievements of modern society is hygiene. What is relatively new to us, is long established in the water. Some of the world most famous dive sites are cleaning stations, or have them integrated in their ecosystem. It seems that for animals it is very important to be cleaned. But how does the communication between the cleaner and the ‘costumer’ work?
Very easy, fish, who want to get the service, swim up to the cleaning station and put themselves in a vulnerable position, opening up the mouth to full extension, or their gills and wait till it is their turn. It usually works out good.
Scientists recently discovered that regular costumers are not treated the same way as new ones. Cleaning animals (shrimps and fish the same) give a better service to new ones and tend to neglect the regular ones.
In the Maldives, where I used to work, we used to have a cleaning station just off our house reef, in front of our dive center. In this area is where most of the diving off to the house reef was done, so the cleaner fish and shrimps got so used to us. We didn’t just get our gils (the fish thought our ears were the opening for the gils…) and our mouths (yes! they tried to get past the regulator!) cleaned. By the time, we were also cleaned on the hands, arms and legs.
The interesting part was, how they did it: first the cleaning fish hovered very close above the fingers and caressed them with their fins. It is one of the most nice feelings I got ever from a animal, really soothing! Then they started their cleaning process, meaning they picked any skin rest, which was not to be on my body, also inside wounds. This was everything but nice, in the ear it tickles, in the mouth, well so and so, but inside the wounds… ouch! Funny enough, the fish did seem to know, because then the caressing started again. And the healing process of my wounds was a lot faster than with normal healing creams!
Is it the same with animals? Scientist found a fish was not known to be a cleaner fish on a spot in Mozambique which went strait for Manta Rays, who were injured to take care of the wounds.
Nature is not as uncivilized as much as we thought in the first place!
Story by Jörg Delacher