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Malta Sea Life – Discover the Fish of Malta – 1

discover malta marine life with snorkeling

Eager to know the fish of Malta? Want to learn more about Malta sea life?
You can start from here.

First of all, let me say that we are not writing a scientific paper about marine biology, that is the job for scholars and biologists.

This series of short articles are meant to help you in recognizing the fish you might encounter while snorkelling in Malta.

Some people might consider the Mediterranean a “deserted” or “boring” sea, but this is absolutely not the case! The Mediterranean is only more discreet than the overflowing tropical seas.

The Mediterranean has a feature that is unmatched throughout the world: its conformation. Looking at the geographical map, through the Strait of Gibraltar in the direction of Sicily, we can clearly see a shape: well protected from Gibraltar the Mediterranean look like a bag or a bucket.

This means that the marine flora is not disturbed by powerful currents, tides, and storms that are typical traits of the oceans.
Furthermore, the shallower seabed facilitates exposure to the sun’s rays, resulting in an environment rich in phytoplankton and a well-balanced marine ecosystem.


Having the chance to explore the sea often, and if you got a little luck, you can see really amazing fish (even Sun-fish). But more likely, while snorkelling, you are going to spot the most common species. To start here the list of the fish that it is really impossible to miss.

The Blenny family is a wide family of coastal fish. Blennies live among the rocks and algae, characteristic features of the family are the ridges and skin lobes arranged on the head.. Many species of Blennies have mimetic coloring, others instead have very bright colors. The dimensions are generally small to very small.

Brown Cromis
The Brown Cromis is one of the most common encounters. Clouds of Brown Cromis fill the surface layers of the sea. This fish, in fact, lives in shoals of hundreds of individuals, hovering rocky seabed to capture the tiny planktonic crustaceans.

The Flounder is another fairly common species everywhere in the Mediterranean. It populates sandy bottoms and is frequently encountered in very shallow waters. It has the typical flattened appearance of flatfish with both eyes on the left side of the body, which is very wide. There is an evident sexual dimorphism: the male has very distant eyes, more than the female. The Flounder might be not so easy to spot as it has the same colors of the sandy bottom where it lurks.

This is the most numerous family of bony fish. Goby almost always keeps in contact with the substrate. Most of the species are adapted to soft-bottom environments but they can be found also among the rocks and between the seagrass. All Gobies use to build nests in which the eggs are laid by the female and which is then looked at by the male.

The Common Mullet can easily withstand wide variations in salinity. That’s why this fish can be found regularly in marine, sweet or brackish waters. The Mullet is even able to live in polluted environments, in fact, it is frequently found inside harbors and marinas.

Painted Comber
The Painted Comber belongs to the large Serranidae family (such as the Grouper). It prefers the rocky or Neptune Grass seabeds. It is an almost exclusively coastal fish. The Painted Comber is a solitary species, distinctly territorial and it aggressively defends its territory from the intrusions of its peers. When it is about to attack the Painted Comber assumes a characteristic oblique position with the head turned upwards.

The most striking feature of this fish is the mouth, which is equipped with a bone beak formed by welded teeth. The female is very colorful: bright red with a large greenish patch bordered with yellow. The male is brownish, with a lighter color in the belly.
Parrotfish are VERY important for the environment as they feed mainly on harmful algae on the surface of the rocks. They are also the biggest producers of sand in the sea, Humphead parrotfish can produce almost 400kg of sand per year. Even if it can be found in the warmest parts of the Mediterranean Sea, Parrotfish is not endemic and is considered an alien species coming from the Red Sea.

Rainbow Wrasse
The Rainbow Wrasse inhabits rocky seabeds and Posidonia forests, it is strictly a coastal fish.
Commonly found also in the less busy marinas and small harbor. The Rainbow Wrasse is a protogynous species, this means that individuals are born females and as they grow older they become males (changing also their livery in the process). Studies have shown that all individuals over 18 cm are male.

Red Starfish
It is the most common type of star in the whole Mediterranean, reaching a maximum of 30cm in diameter. Voracious predator of bivalve mollusk: the Starfish ejects the stomach and digests the prey directly into its shell. Starfish are capable of self-amputating their arms and generate a completely new individual.

Saddled Seabream
It is not difficult to meet shoals of hundreds of Saddled Seabream over the submerged shallows and the rocky drop-off. Easy to recognize, thanks to the black spot on the tail, they feed on algae and small animals that live on rocks.

Sarpa Salma
It is present throughout the Mediterranean. It is a coastal species that normally do not drop below 20 meters. It populates rocky bottoms within the growth of aquatic plants and Posidonia meadows. The Sarpa Salma is a gregarious fish that forms wide and well-disciplined shoals, able to move very quickly among the rocks. All Sarpa Salma born as males and then became females during the growth. Avoid eating this species as it might give you hallucinations.

Sea Bream
The Sea Bream (Common, Sharp-snout, Zebra, White) is very common all over the Mediterranean The general appearance of all the bream is very similar, but they differ in the coloring. The young specimens live in shoals, while adults tend to isolate themselves. It’s a gregarious species, so it often forms shoals which are even composed of a different kind of fish. Sea Bream shoals often stand in mid-water without moving.

Surmullet or Goatfish
The Goatfish wanders in small patrols hunting for clams, mollusks, and crustaceans which they identify thanks to the very sensitive whitish barbels. It lives on rocky and sandy bottoms. Females are usually larger than males.

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