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skin diving

Attack of Titan the Terrible

Jun 6, 2010

Attack of Titan the Terrible (Titan Triggerfish)

What's a Titan Triggerfish?
The Titan Triggerfish is the largest member of the triggerfish species. Most grow 40 - 60cm in length, although there have been reports of larger ones up to 75cm lurking around as well. The titan triggerfish is usually wary of divers and snorklers, but during the reproduction season the female guards its nest, which is placed in a flat sandy area, vigorously against any intruders. Although bites are not venomous, the strong teeth can inflict serious injury that may require medical attention. The threat posture includes the triggerfish facing the intruder while holding its first dorsal spine errect. It may also roll onto its side, allowing it a better look at the intruder it perceives at threatening its nest. The flesh of the titan triggerfish is sometimes ciguatoxic. -- Wikipedia


Menace of the Reef
It was in Masaplod Norte Marine Sanctuary when I first heard of a triggerfish. I was telling Max, a dive instructor, what relief it is not to have to worry about shark in these waters. He said they don't worry about sharks...they worry about the triggerfish. I was, "...triggerwhat? You mean something can attack you in these waters?" He showed me his head stitches and narrated about an Australian diver who suffered multiple bites along the same Dauin coastline. The bites pierced through the wetsuit and required multiple stitches. That conversation left me disturbed.

Beware, the Odd Shaped Fish with a Bright Yellow Head
About a week later, at KooKoo's Nest, I asked a marine biologist, Bryan if he can identify the triggerfish on the Tropical Fish handbook. He showed me a colorful picture of an odd shaped fish with a bright yellow head. He further added that he's been attacked himself. He almost hit the fish with his fins while taking flight. He explained that the way to deal with an attack is to swim away while using your fins to keep the fish from getting a chunk of you. He clarified that not all triggerfish attack humans...only 2 kinds, the Titan and something else (I forget).

With the promising calm waters, Rene invited me to join his family for a dive at my favorite site, Dauin District 1 Marine Sanctuary. I was looking forward to seeing the big grouper again. Rene told me there are 5 known big groupers in the sanctuary who have taken residency.

Mr. Grouper
After seeing the nearby dive sites, Masaplod Norte, Lipayo, Maayong Tubig, etc., I would say the District 1 is the best skin diving site in terms of reef size (for big fish population though, I give this to Masaplod Norte). Anyway, it was so cool to be seeing the big grouper again. I'll call him Mr. Grouper. He looks too a stern olf professor who forgot what it's llike to have fun. It doesn't seem to stray too far from it's coral home. Still shy when I got too close, it was still a highlight.

The Attack
I took repeated dives as I ventured into the drop-off. It's amazing how the colors begin to brighten up the closer I get to the corals. It was then I was startled to see a triggerfish go directly at me - no warning. It was fast I could hardly react. But I glimpsed the telltale bright yellow head. It was about 18 inches long. Of course I panicked. I just kept kicking hard with my fins from its last direction while keeping my arms close to my head. Again it grazed me as it came from a different direction. I couldn't keep track of it. It was really fast. I just kept kicking hard while frantically swimming away. I guess I got far enough, it stopped following. But I was winded out from the frenzied kicking and swimming. I had to go back to shore to recover. I was badly shaken. Good thing I didn't suffer any bite.

Rite of Passage
I relayed my harrowing experience with Rene and Nadia. Rene smiled, as if welcoming me to the club, and told me he's been attacked many times himself. He said most attacks are either on the head or the fins. He recounted that in Apo Island, his friend was nipped on the head and bled profusely.

Wannabe Braveheart
After recovering, I mustered enough sinew to go back to the water. Actually, I went to the drop-off again getting close to some scuba divers, thinking we now have critical mass. "Show your face now, Titan, I brought an army with me!" I moment I saw a big fish however, all that bravado dissipated into thin air. I didn't bother discerning if it was a titan triggerfish. I tucked my tail between my legs and went back to shore. Later, when the divers came out of the water, they were also talking about the titan. Apparently, they too had been attacked - no apparent injuries though.

The Bite Wound
Diver Alert magazine reported that a 3-puncture bite by a triggerfish on Dr. Dieter Hildenbrand appeared to heal quickly, but after 5 months, the skin appeared dark and thin, with chronic skin infection.

Ending Thoughts
The waters of Dauin will never be the same again. Before, when I see a big fish, I slowly go near it, hoping to get a closer look without scaring it away. Now, when I see a big fish, I'll hope it doesn't get too close or it will scare me away.

--- TheLoneRider

ps - no pictures? My Olympus 1030 SW, a digicam good for underwater photography up to 10m...took water inside! Read up on what it's like to claim warranty on Olympus digicams in the Philippines.

  • when it's a full moon, be vigilant against straying into triggerfish nest. They nest during the full moon. The 'crater' nest is about 50-80 cm in diameter and usually located on sandy bottoms or coral rubble. It will have a pinkish mass; the eggs. (from Alert Diver Mag)
  • when you see a triggerfish nibbling on coral and unmindful of you, it's usually safe. If you see it darting frenetically, leave the space immediately - it's already giving you fair warning of an attack. (from Alert Diver Mag)
  • triggerfish defend a cone-shaped area around and above their nest. When attacked, don't swim up because you might put yourself deeper into its conical territorial space. Instead, swim away maintaining the depth you're in. (from Marine Biologist and diver, Rene Abesamis)
  • when you swim away, do so 'backstroke' style so you see if the triggerfish is behind you. You can then kick your fins in its direction to parry its ensuing bite. (from TheLoneRider)

Dauin Poblacion 1 Marine Sanctuary Links on

How to get there from Dumaguete:

  • take a tricycle and ask to be dropped-off the jeep terminal going to Dauin (the terminal is near Robinson's Place) - P8.
  • at the terminal, board the next jeep for Zamboanguita or Siaton or Dauin. Just tell the driver to drop you off at Dauin's Poblacion District 1 Marine Sanctuary. P15, 40 minutes.
  • upon disembarking at the highway (almost immediately after Dauin's Poblacion), walk towards the beach...5 mins.
  • pay P50 (snorkeling, all day) or P150/scuba dive to the caretaker and dive!

** all pictures lifted from the internet **
titan_triggerfish2 titan_triggerfish3 titan_triggerfish4 titan_triggerfish5

Reader Comments:

Gigit SulitGigit Sulit
"How many corals are dead by the bleaching 2010?" -- Joachim Grosskopf
(July 6, 2012) Apologies for the late reply. I wanted to ensure I get you the accurate info from a marine biologist who's very familiar with the area. In his words:

"A lot of the east-facing reefs in Dauin, Zamboanguita and Siaton were badly damaged by Sendong. Worse, the eastern side of Apo Is. was also heavily destroyed. Very depressing. Hopefully the reefs will recover. But it will take a long time (decades) if ever."

Joachim Grosskopf
(June 28, 2012) Hello, I was 2007 by the Dauin Sanctuary, wonderful reefs and the terrible, but not fully big Titantrigger. But my question is, how many corals are dead by the bleaching 2010? Many thanks for information.

Jim Vandekas
(July 1, 2010) I looked up this Titan Triggerfish, the article on Wiki stated that it becomes territorial when it feels itís nest area is being threatened. I guess you were the threat!? Anyhow, good to read you were ok.

Rene Abesamis
(Jun 7, 2010) I forgot to mention yesterday that Killer Whales were sighted between Apo Island and Negros last month. Not the first time. Orcas are global (not just in cold waters), but you'd be very lucky to meet one while snorkeling. Terror on the reef still belongs to the Titan.

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