Probably the first time I recall encountering a Milk Fish is about 15 years ago and it was in limited visibility and initially, I thought I had come across a pair of sharks because of the size of the fish. Asking around and describing what I saw, I discerned they were milk fish. Since then, I have on occasion encountered one or a pair but never been close enough to get a decent picture. They are big fish and not interested in me getting too close!!
In the last couple months, I have been seeing one now and then at a cleaning station but never with good lighting and close enough to bother photographing. About a week ago, I came across three of them and took the shot even though the conditions and distance was very poor. If you look real carefully, you can make three out in the image below.
I doubt I will ever get a decent shot of them but you never know.
Today, 8-30-09, I was out on the reef looking for one of the small frogfish when I had a small eagle ray show up below me. It swam in a couple circles under me and then came up towards me. I dove down to get closer and it started swimming away.
I surfaced and went back over the frog fish. The eagle ray hung around a bit and then took off north. Possibly two minutes later, another and much larger eagle ray swam under me headed north and at a slow pace. I decided to follow it a bit and noticed that it would slow down and then speed up. At some point, I realized it had a fish hook in its mouth with leader trailing underneath it. I followed it for a ways trying to figure out if there was anyway I might be able to at least cut the trailing line away. I dove down to it a few times but clearly it was not going to stop or come to the surface for my help! I certainly wouldn't want it to think it needed to use its barbs on me either! Below, a cleaner wrasse came up and started on the underside of its wing. If only it could do a hook removal for the ray!
In the pic below, the sand background helps illustrate the leader hanging down and behind the ray:
So what about the milk fish?!?! Well as I followed this ray, we came up on another cleaning station and there was a milk fish being attended to. The ray passed the milk fish with no concern evident in either party. I hovered over the milk fish hoping to be able to drift in close and maybe get a decent shot. Unfortunately we have some surf right now and the water is not that clear. It's fine if you can get within a couple feet of the subject as I did with the rays above but no chance of such proximity to the milk fish.
It seemed that if I had the sun behind me that I could get in and above the milk fish. It left the station many times just to return and I realized that as much as it wanted the attention of the cleaner wrasses, they were either too aggressive or the milk fish was too sensitive! It would all of a sudden dart away as if it had been shocked, literally or figuratively. It would return though. I am more optimistic now that should I again encounter one at a cleaning station with better water and light conditions, I might just get a decent shot.