If you’re going to be spending any time in Grand Cayman snorkeling, you’ll want to know what you’re looking at or looking for during your time in the water. I went into my trip without any major knowledge of what I could expect to encounter, outside of stingrays of course. Here’s a photo-heavy Grand Cayman marine life guide based on my time swimming around the island.
I’ve broken this guide into two parts, the first focusing just on the fish I saw, starting with the most common. The second half of this guide will feature the more exotic animals I saw in the water.
One of the most ubiquitous species of fish you’re likely to see while you snorkel. They can range from a lighter blue color to a dark, almost black. They’re oval shaped and you’ll often see them in large groups. I think I saw at least one blue tang at every place I snorkeled.
This fish is a native of the western Atlantic Ocean and very common in the Caribbean. This was another prevalent fish and I often saw schools of them hunting invertebrates around coral formations. They have yellow and silver striped bodies and are very easy to find.
These guys seemed to hang around the French grunts—I rarely saw one without the other. They are a sort of light orange hue with large dark coloring around their eyes. They look a little menacing because of their eyes and what appear to be spiny fins.
Needlefish are shallow marine fish and tend to lurk near the surface of the water. I saw a needlefish at about half of my snorkeling locations. They’re easy to spot because they’re long, skinny, a brilliant silver color, and have a distinctly pointed snout.
Sergeant majors are found throughout the tropical regions of the Atlantic and swim in schools. They are easily noticed by their yellow and blue bodies with vertical black stripes. Here are some swimming around with some snapper.
Tarpon are large and silver fish that are not really fished for the same way snapper are. Snapper are somewhat smaller, although silver, and run in larger schools of fish. You can see some snapper in the foreground of the above photo, swimming along the coral.
The bluehead wrasse is a small, colorful fish that is a cleaner fish that spends a lot of time in and around coral reefs. I never saw any in schools, but they usually travel in large groups. When they’re in their juvenile stage, they’re yellow and white but they turn blue when they enter terminal phase; these fish only live for about two years. I saw one in at least three different locales but they were always on their own and always in terminal phase.
This was one of the most beautiful fish I saw during my visit to Grand Cayman. When it’s in initial phase, it’s a lighter colored orangey-red and almost looks like a large koi. When it’s entered its terminal phase, it turns into this blue and green kind of color-shifting hue with a red tail (hence the name). The interesting thing about a lot of fish is that they’re hermaphroditic and change sex from female to male.
This was an abnormal looking fish that I spotted amidst a group of blue tang. It has a narrow snout, large oval body, and a substantial tail fin. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that it was not your average snapper or wrasse and I later found out that this spotted grey swimmer was a scrawled filefish. I was lucky to have seen these in a pair because they usually travel solo.
I only saw a beaugregory once and I was way out in the water on a snorkeling excursion so I’m not sure if these fish frequent the coral around the shore. This was a juvenile one so it has a yellow body and bright blue back. It’s a smaller fish, probably only about four or five inches long.
The less risqué scientific name of this fish is halichoeres bivittatus, more commonly known as the slippery dick. This fish I saw was in its less colorful initial phase and is a breed of wrasse.
This little guy was a juvenile French angelfish that I caught sight of at the Wreck of the Cali. He was on his own and not in a larger school. This one was black and yellow striped—very vibrant.
Butterfly fish were a little bit more difficult to find and subsequently, more exciting when you did see one swimming by. I saw two kinds of butterfly fish: a four-eyed butterfly fish that was swimming around the coral at Eden Rock and a banded butterfly fish at Rum Point.
The four-eyed butterfly fish was yellow and grey with a black dot or “eye” on the back of its fin. Here it is swimming with some particularly darkly colored blue tang.
The banded butterfly fish looks kind of similar to the French angelfish but its body shape is distinctly butterfly fish shaped and is more of a faint yellow than dominantly black like the former. Again, this one was on its own. I didn’t see a large group of them.
Saying "know before you go" sounds cliche but in this case, it's very true. Know your fish and you'll be a more informed and enthusiastic snorkeler.
Make sure you go and read my previous posts reviewing snorkeling on Grand Cayman!