Everyone loves frogfish, and I can’t think of anyone in the word who can teach me more about them then frogfish expert and marine biologist, Daniel Geary. So I hit him up and had a long conversation about the world’s grumpiest fish.
-Whats going on Dan? Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from, and what are you doing now?
Hey Justin. I was born and raised in Orlando, Florida, but I’ve been based in the Philippines full-time for the past 4 years, and most of the past 7 years. I’m currently employed at Atmosphere Resorts and Spa in Dauin, Philippines. I am their in-house marine biologist, and a dive instructor and underwater photographer as well. I’m obsessed with frogfish, wrote my own PADI frogfish course, and speak at dive shows about frogfish.
-So you studied marine biology, in US, but when and how did you make that decision? What made you want to get into this field?
I originally was going to school for sports medicine and athletic training at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. I played soccer in high school and was always injured so I fell in love with that job…until I started going to school for it.
I hated it and remembered that I love the ocean, especially sharks (at that time), so why not make a career out of that instead? I transferred to Auburn University in Alabama, and changed my major from sports medicine to marine biology.
They offered a summer school marine biology curriculum at a marine lab in the Gulf of Mexico with hands-on, lab-based courses and professors employed by NOAA, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, part of one of the branches of the United States government.
One of my professors even helped discover a new species of hammerhead. As I was transferring to marine biology, I thought it would be a good idea to become a scuba diver, considering I would be studying something involving the ocean.
-You told me you studied whale sharks in Leyte and Oslob right? I love whale sharks, i bet it was the dream job swimming or diving with them everyday as a job.
I worked in Oslob for eight months and Leyte for two months. I preferred the whale sharks in Leyte since they are there naturally without being fed and because it is not very busy there.
I wouldn’t describe it as a dream job, but it was a great experience. It involved lots of fast sprints after deceptively-fast whale sharks and sometimes freediving down to 15-20 meters, but it mainly was photo identification and guest outreach.
A lot of people think research like that is just fun or a vacation, but its long days and hard work, sometimes weeks at a time with no day off. In addition to that, we were living in the most basic accommodations (think bucket showers, no toilet seats), and in the case of Leyte, no phone or internet except for an internet cafe that could barely load email.
No one becomes a marine biologist to live a lavish lifestyle!
-So now your main focus and interest is frogfish right? Thats pretty unique. I can see why someone would fall in love with those guys, but when did you first get interested in them?
Frogfish are definitely my thing. They’re so incredible. I didnt’ know what a frogfish was until I had already visited the Philippines. I was in Malapascua at Chocolate Island and the guide pointed out a black Giant Frogfish on a big rock.
I called it grumpy fish and thought it was funny. I saw an 8mm juvenile Clown Frogfish in Bali a few weeks later and thought it was a nudi, so I ignored it after a few photos. It wasn’t until the next year when I was in Oslob that I became obsessed.
I was diving next door to the whale sharks and found a purple Giant Frogfish with orange encrusting algae sitting on a seafan. It was at that moment that I realized how much I love frogfish and that I wanted to know everything there was to know about them.
-So you are based in Philippines now, does that have anything to do with the huge amount of frogifish in the country?
100% it does. I wanted to move here to Dauin because of the amount of frogfish and luckily found a job here right away. I currently base my travels around finding species of frogfish that I haven’t seen or rarely see. I travelled to Ambon, Indonesia just to see a frogfish and go to Malapascua almost every year in search of a Marble-Mouthed Frogfish with eggs.
-I’ve dove with you a few times in Dauin and was amazed about how many different frogfish species there were, almost all of them completely new for me. Are you somehow documenting all the species in the area, or anything like that?
I’m not officially collecting data at the moment, but I keep track of almost every frogfish that I photograph in case my photos are needed at some point. I was collecting data on an undescribed frogfish species (Antennatus sp.), referred to as Lembeh or Ocellated frogfish, for two years, and ended up being contacted by one of the world’s leading frogfish scientists about one of my photos.
I sent him plenty of photos and data and he used a lot of what I gave him in his paper that was published in December 2017, redescribing this species as Nudiantennarius subteres. They even put my photo on the cover of the scientific journal where the paper was published, which is awesome.
-So you are now based at the Atmosphere Dive resort there in Dauin, and have created a “frogfish Specialist” course with PADI, which divers can take with you. I took the course and it was awesome. Can you tell us a little more about the course and what my readers would learn from taking it?
I just finished up a course a couple days ago, which I believe has me up to around 45 certifications. I wrote the course as soon as I became a dive instructor. It’s a great course if you like science, marine biology, fish, or just learning cool facts.
I have a classroom session that takes about two hours where I teach about all things frogfish, including biology, history, and identification. A lot of the information I have comes from my own experiences diving as well as a book older than me thats very nerdy and all about frogfish, written by that same frogfish scientist I mentioned earlier.
The goal of the course isn’t to memorize facts about frogfish, its about how to identify the individual species. There is no final exam – the exam is being able to identify frogfish down to species level from the two dives that are included in the course, although if someone wants to take a final exam I will gladly write one!
-Do you know how many different species of froggies there are in Philippines as a whole? How many of those do you have in Dauin? I know you told me about the marblemouth frogfish in Malapascua; Another one I want to see.
I have personally seen ten species and potentially an eleventh (painted, clown, giant, hairy, ocellated, freckled, spotfin, randalls, sargassumfish, bandfin, hispid?) here in Dauin, although it was so small that no one could identify it 100%. Believe it or not, I have seen all ten species just on the Atmosphere Resorts house reef! I have seen two species in Malapascua not found here (cryptic, marblemouth) and I believe there are one or two other species found in the Philippines but extremely rare.
-So speaking of rare species, I want to share your photo of the crazy looking psychedelic frogfish that you found in Ambon, Indonesia. You told me once that they can only be found in Ambon, and nowhere else in the world. Do you have any idea why that is? How are they not found on other islands in the area?
One reason they are only found there (so far) is that they are self-brooding frogfish – the female broods the eggs until they are ready to hatch, which skips the planktonic phase and prevents a wide distribution. I’m sure they exist in other places, but diving is not so popular in the areas just surrounding Ambon so no one is really looking for them.
They are usually found within holes in giant boulders in very shallow water, sometimes 2-3 meters deep. Because they are born as miniature adults, it would take a long time for this fish to be able to spread out and reach neighboring islands and would be even harder to find if it succeeded in widening its distribution.
I believe the only psycho documented outside Ambon was from Bali, but that was where it was purchased from a fisherman or aquarium trader, I forget which. There’s no data on where the fish originally came from, but many believe it was transported from Ambon.
-Are there any conservation projects going on to save psychedelics from extinction that you know of? Or have they ever been attempted to spread to other protected areas?
I have not heard of any conservation projects dealing with psychedelic frogfish, let alone any frogfish in general. Because little is known about the pyscho, it would be hard to determine its status in regards to being endangered or threatened.
I do not believe they are that threatened since they have been found around 20 meters deep on the other side of Ambon bay, away from the ‘main’ dive shop strip, so I’m sure there are plenty more, its just that they are so hard to find.
I have heard first hand accounts of a few pyschos being transferred to and kept in an underwater pen, and met a guy who was told he could only see a psychedelic if he paid $300 first, but sadly these instances were not for conservation purposes.
-This actually reminds me of some arguments I’ve seen lately online with aquarists. What is your view about domesticated frogfish being kept in aquariums, particularly rare or endangered species? A lot of tank owners argue that by captive breeding them, they are making sure their numbers grow. Is that how it is? Can fish species be saved this way?
I support aquariums if animals are captive bred, but as of this moment and some internet research I think only a few species of frogfish have been successfully bred to adulthood in an aquarium.
I can only find literature on one species that was bred successfully and a few hobbyists on aquarium forums who have hatched frogfish eggs, but stop posting before they get to breeding size.
It is incredibly hard to mimic the necessary conditions for the newly-born frogfish due to their pelagic planktonic phase. The species that have had a little success are some of the rarer ones that brood their egg and don’t have this pelagic phase.
Captive breeding would not increase the numbers of wild fish, it would simply reduce the number being taken from the wild, so it would potentially slow the decrease in numbers, which are not the same thing.
-You’ve told me before, but what is your favorite frogfish?
I have a couple that are all tied. My favorite coloration is the juvenile clown frogfish (painted in the ID books but its wrong!) that is black with a blue border and yellow or orange polka dots and a bright red lure.
My favorite species is the ocellated frogfish, recently described at Nudiantennarius subteres. I just love how variable their colors are, how small they are, how rare they are everywhere else, and that I helped with the scientific paper redescribing them. My favorite encounter is, obviously, the psychedelic frogfish.
You can find Dan hanging out with loads of frogs in Dauin at Atomsphere Resorts, and see his great underwater photos on his Facebook. All the photos on the post are from him, as well as a recent photo essay we did from him HERE.