Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Fish cleaning stations like in Miri Attwater and All That Glitters really exist!

fish cleaning station
A dragon wrasse being cleaned by Rainbow cleaner wrasses on a reef in Hawaii. By Brocken Inaglory via Wikimedia Commons
When I started writing the Miri Attwater books, I wasn't planning on doing any research. They were fantasy, after all. I could make up anything I wanted. But when I started writing the underwater scenes, they felt flat and dim. They didn't have the vividness I remembered from my snorkeling trips. It seemed like a great excuse to do some research! So I started watching movies about ocean life.
One of the things that delighted me in the underwater footage were fish cleaning stations, places on reefs where fish would gather to clean and be cleaned.

In the video below, a tiny striped wrasse cleans a much bigger fish. It's amazing how it will go inside the bigger fish's mouth and not get eaten! Wrasse were the type of fish that cleaned Potato in Miri Attwater and All That Glitters. Watch for the tail of one of the wrasse poking periodically out of the mouth of the bigger fish. Cleaner fish will even do this for fish that are predators of other fish. Fish cleaning fish, fish cleaning sharks, fish cleaning rays, shrimp cleaning fish, and fish cleaning turtles. In this video, fish clean algae off the back of a turtle, just like in Miri Attwater and All That Glitters. Surgeonfish, also often called tangs, are one of the types of fish that do this type of cleaning. Doesn't it look like the fish are kissing the turtle? That's a lot of love! Fish cleaning stations are many and varied, and at each cleaning station different protocols have developed. At one turtle cleaning station I saw in a video, the turtles signal their desire to be cleaned by swimming on their heads! And shrimp have even cleaned the teeth and fingers of willing scuba divers.

The idea for the scene where Miri and Fisk let fish eat algae off of them came from these fish cleaning stations. But when I started looking for videos to show in for this post, I realized I'd made a slight mistake in that scene. I'll talk about it in next week's post.

Want to learn more? Check out my posts below.

(I make every effort to make sure the links below go to pages that don't have too much advertising that might be inappropriate, but websites do change. Kids if you want to learn more or need to write a school report about fish, ask your parents before you go to the following attachments.)

Read more about the yellow tang at
Read more about the goldring surgeonfish on
Read more about wrasses on and about Mutualism and The Cleaner Wrasse from UH Biology.
Cleaner Fish wear Uniforms on is also about wrasses.
Sea Turtle Facts on AquaZone.
Green Sea Turtles on
Not to leave out the sharks and rays, check out Sharks and Rays gather in fish cleaning stations on


  1. We LOVED this post! My daughter thought it was the best ever. Thanks for putting this one together.

  2. Oh, yeah! Glad your daughter liked it! I really used to wonder what the pull of marine biology was. Slimy fish, yuck! :) But the creatures in the ocean are so bizarre and amazing.