Interview with Neville Ayliffe, Pomene, Mozambique

We met Neville and his wife Wendy at Pomene Lodge in southern Mozambique. Along with being two of the most generous-spirited people we have ever met, Neville is an expert on ocean life, born of his love of the sea and years of being a dive master all over the world. We were excited to find out that Neville had actually discovered a new species of fish, a (delicious, rare and, may I add, intelligent) goatfish that is now named after him.

Interview by Bea (10) and Mila (8).

What is your fish called?
Mulloidichthus ayliffe. (Neville’s surname is Ayliffe)
The first part of the name is the genus, then the species (lowercase).

Where are they found?
They are found all the way up the east coast of Africa, and as far as the Red Sea.

Where did you first see it?
In the Coral Gardens in Sodwana Bay in northern Zululand near Mozambique, with schools of flame goatfish.

How did you discover it was a new goatfish?
I wasn’t sure if it was a different fish, or just a flame goatfish trying to look different from other flame goatfish. The blue banded snapper also lives with flame goatfish. Predators like kingfish prefer to eat goatfish and ignore any fish with blue lines. The Ayliffe goatfish has blue bands so it looks like a snapper, and so is left by kingfish. Ayliffe goatfish are slightly bigger than flame goatfish because they live longer.

What does it eat?
It’s a special fish. It’s got a beard, that’s why it’s called a goatfish. The beard is an external tongue that it uses for fluffing the sand, where it will find something to eat. It eats crustaceans.

Is it a yummy fish?
It’s said in Roman times goatfish were traded for their weight in silver because they are sooo delicious. (Neville looks especially chuffed to be named after a scrumptious fish)

Would you eat it?
No! I wouldn’t eat a fish named after myself!

Were you surprised when you first discovered the new fish?
No, it had puzzled me for quite a long time. They are nearly the same as other goatfish, but different, so it was not a sudden thought – the idea grew on me.

Are you trying to find out all the differences between a flame goatfish and your one?
I’m not, but the scientists are. Ichthyologists have been measuring the new fish. They count the number of scales from head to tail and side to side. They count the number of fins and teeth and look at the DNA (the DNA testing is done in Canada).

How do you get a fish named after you?
You have to prove it’s a new fish. Some ichthyologists were diving with me a few times a year at Sodwana Bay (in South Africa). I told them I thought there was a new species of goatfish. Once they saw the DNA was different from the flame goatfish, it was easy to say it’s a new fish and the scientists then got the whole naming procedure going.

Will it be in fish guide books from now on?
It will be soon, but it’s not a common species. A whole shoal has never been seen together, at most 12 or 13 are seen together.

Are you proud to have a fish named after you?
Very much so! Every dive master dreams of it.

Do you prefer being on land or water?
I love being in the water. Both though.

Do you think there are other undiscovered fish?
Well (twinkle in his eyes) I’ve been looking at the blue banded snapper. There are some with yellow eyes and white bellies, usually they have grey eyes and grey bellies. Sooooooo…..

Neville and his eponymous goatfish.

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