A visit from the Triggerfish

Distinctive fish returns to Royal Adelaide wreck each year

Author: Pat
5th February 2012

An overlooked wreck off Portland draws in a very special visitor once a year, as Martin Rishton discovered.

Every weekend, during the summer months, scores of divers head over to Portland and Weymouth to enjoy the underwater delights of the Dorset coastline. This is no surprise – after all there are many fantastic reefs and shipwrecks in the area. However one little wreck in particular seems to be overlooked and if you dive it at the right time of year you will be in for a very big surprise.

I’ve always wanted to dive the Royal Adelaide wreck ever since hearing about it some years earlier over a post-dive beer. Not only does it have one of the best sinking stories I’ve ever heard but it is also a temporarily home to some very extraordinary visitors towards the end of every UK summertime.

they come back to the Royal Adelaide year after year

Grey Triggerfish are normally found swimming around the warmer waters of the western Atlantic and are known to be poor swimmers, so how do they end up on a shipwreck just off the coast of Chesil Beach? Nobody really knows but it is suspected that they are washed along in the Gulf Stream and end up in Dorset with no way of returning home. Quite sad when you consider that the fish are all but gone by the end of October when the waters become too cold for them to survive. It is also unknown as to why they come back to the Royal Adelaide year after year.

The first thing you notice as you descend towards the wreck is the sound. The waves make a fabulous noise as they hit the pebbles along Chesil Beach. You may’ve heard it from the shore but as sound travels faster underwater the effect is stunning, creating an ambience and background track to the dive that enhances it in a way that has to be experienced be fully appreciated.

The wreck itself is now quite small, diminished over the years by strong tides that are notorious to this particular stretch of coastline. Considering she was sunk in November 1872 it is quite extraordinary that so much of the boat remains at all. The bow is still recognisable but the rest is just an outline of the former structure.

Within the plates and scraps of metal you will find the usual array of UK wreck-critters including crabs, lobsters and blennies – the blennies are incredibly tame and can even snap at fingers if you get a bit too close, but they aren’t the only tame fish on this dive site.

The Triggers are about the size of a medium-sized dinner plate and swim with a hypnotic action using just the dorsal and lower fins. On our visit, at first they were a bit shy and were only in the periphery of the action but as the dive progressed they became more and more curious.

Initially only coming in close enough to perform a quick ‘swim-by’, whilst eyeballing you, their confidence soon grew.

By the end of the dive we had congregated into a small circle of around 4 or 5 divers and were being amused by the very close attentions of a few of the triggers. By this stage they were approaching and even taking friendly nibbles at masks and cameras. This wasn’t something I was expecting and during the brief I was even told this would not happen. So you can imagine my initial scare when a trigger (with teeth showing) approached me and starting ‘pecking’ at my fingers and mask! I soon realised the fish were not aggressive but simply being friendly and they were incredibly gentle. Once I’d calmed down I really enjoyed the experience. I was even able to stroke them after all this attention but unfortunately gas and tides meant the dive had to end, not one of us wanted to leave the water!

If you haven’t dived the Adelaide put it on your ‘to dive’ list now.



Martin is Branch Secretary of Clidive, the renowned London BSAC club.


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