Acanthuridae (a family comprising surgeonfish -or tangs- and unicornfish) have in common scalpel-like thin sharp blades located at the base of their tail. In case of danger, they draw those blades and use their tail to defend themselves.
Though middle-sized (15 to 40 cm at most), they are some of the most colorful reef fish. They mostly feed on algae and play a crucial part in the reef ecosystem as they leave room for coral to grow.
Surgeonfish can be observed alone, in small groups, and sometimes in impressive schools of hundreds of fish.
The most famous surgeonfish undoubtedly is the palette surgeonfish (or blue tang). Kids and grown-ups know it as Dory, the unforgettable yet forgetful sidekick in Pixar’s “Finding Nemo”. The best places to spot palette surgeonfish while snorkeling are the Western Indian Ocean (Zanzibar, Coromos, Madagascar and Seychelles) and the Great Barrier Reef.
You’re most likely to spot the convict surgeonfish with its black vertical stripes, very common from Eastern Africa to the Pacific area. In Hawaii, the yellow tang is unmissable, while the razor surgeonfish can be easily spotted in the eastern Pacific, including the Galápagos Islands.
Only 3 surgeonfish species live in the Caribbean, including the Atlantic blue tang that can be seen at most spots.
Atlantic blue tang
Powder blue tang
Indian sailfin tang
Pacific sailfin tang
Orange band surgeonfish
Our underwater life experts are here to help you identify a species you've seen. Please specify where you saw this species and, if possible, attach a photo
Want to learn more about the species you’ve observed or photographed underwater?
The identification guides are true treasures for those curious to know about the underwater world, and a beautiful way to dream about your future snorkeling explorations!
Get monthly updates on trending destinations, amazing snorkeling trips, useful snorkel gear tips, and so much more.