The Middle Eastern country of Jordan has some very recognizable bodies of water like the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. The Jordan River also flows along the western border, starting in the Mount Herman Mountains, between Lebanon and Syria, twisting and turning southward to the Dead Sea where it empties. Further south, the border of Jordan has a coastline on the Sea of Aqaba that leads into the Red Sea.
While you will find plenty of spectacular fish in the Jordan River, the Sea of Aqaba and the Red Sea there are no living fish species in the Dead Sea due to the high salt content, it is even saltier than the ocean. Much of the landscape of Jordan is also desert and mountainous, also not friendly for fish, but the fish that do live in the waters of Jordan are diverse. Let’s take a look at 8 spectacular fish found in Jordan!
1) Jordan Bream
One of the spectacular fish you will find in the Jordan River basin is the Jordan bream (Acanthobrama lissneri). These small silvery fish are bottom dwellers that can be found in the Jordan and its tributaries. Although they are not very big, with an average length of 3 inches, they can reach 5 inches. As a part of the cyprinid family that includes carp and minnows, they are more closely related to minnows with a streamlined body. What makes them spectacular is seeing a whole school of these silvery fish swimming in unison!
A quick glance at a physical map of Jordan and you will see much of it is covered in desert with very few lakes, rivers and streams. However the Jordan River and its tributaries do have some of the most common fish that have a worldwide distribution. Tilapia are one of those species that thrive in a variety of settings and are also a common food fish. They have a classic fish shape, similar to a crappie, and can get to be 16-20 inches long. Besides the Jordan River they can be found in several of the tributaries including the Zarqa River and the reservoir at the King Talal Dam in NE Jordan. Across the border in Israel the Tilapia are called “St. Peter’s Fish” referring to the Biblical story of Peter that caught a fish with a coin its it mouth, just enough to pay the temple tax.
3) Mesopotamian Barb
Another common freshwater fish found in the Jordan River basin is the Mesopotamian barb. These barbs are in the cyprinid family as well and are heavily scaled with a small triangle dorsal fin and forked tail. They are typically in the 10-14 inch range with some reaching 18 inches as a max. Mesopotamian barb can adapt to both fast and slow moving rivers as well as lakes and streams. They usually are found at the bottom of waterways feeding on algae, detritus and invertebrates.
3) Red Sea Clownfish
Now on to some of the spectacular fish in Sea of Aqaba! Aqaba is the port city of Jordan located on the coast of the Sea of Aqaba. There are 16 miles of coastline along the southwest border. What is truly amazing about the Sea of Aqaba and the Red Sea is the elaborate coral reef system that is home to thousands of fish, crustaceans, sea turtles and marine mammals.
The Red Sea clownfish are one of the most recognizable fish off the coast of Jordan. You are probably familiar with them as the star from the movie Finding Nemo. While Nemo was not specifically a “Red Sea” clownfish he was a clownfish, in the same family as the Red Sea clownfish. The Red Sea clownfish is bright orange to brown with two white vertical stripes which is why they are sometimes called the two-banded anemonefish (more on the anemonefish part in a second).
They are in the 4-5 inch range with the females being a bit larger than the males. One of the most spectacular things about the clownfish is their unique “relationship” with sea anemone. While sea anemone are typically venomous the venom does not affect clownfish. The clownfish use the sea anemone as shelter and the sea anemone rely on the clownfish to protect them. A great example of synergy in nature!
If you are scuba diving off the coast of Jordan and see a silvery torpedo-shaped fish it is most likely a barracuda. They prefer swimming near the surface and don’t shy away from divers or anything shiny for that matter. Barracuda are big too…with some reaching 5 feet long! Most are in the 3-4 foot range but still an impressively sized fish. The heaviest ones reach 100 pounds or more. Barracuda have a mouth full of needle-sharp teeth and although they look intimidating they are not harmful to humans. It is very rare that they attack unprovoked. They do use those sharp teeth to tear into flesh and attack other fish. Barracuda are one of the top predators in the Sea of Aqaba and Red Sea.
5) Masked Pufferfish
One of the most spectacular looking fish found in Jordan is the masked pufferfish. What is spectacular about these fish is they can suck-in water to “puff” themselves up, making them look intimidating. The masked pufferfish of the Red Sea does not have spikes like some other pufferfish species, but they are toxic if eaten. These oblong fish have molted skin of tan and dark brown with a dark mask around the eyes. They have a pouty mouth that is also darker in color. One of the reasons they use the “puffing” technique to defend themselves is because they are too slow to get away. They really just float along moving quite slowly, occasionally directing themselves with their fins. Quite a unique sight!
6) Emperor Angelfish
The emperor angelfish is a stunning fish with a background color of electric blue with vibrant yellow horizontal striping. Their tail fin is also bright yellow and they have a blueish anal fin. Emperor angelfish have a flattened shape that allows them to easily fit in between some of the most dense coral formations in the Sea of Aqaba and the Red Sea. Quite frequently you will see them in pairs.
Most are around 12 inches long but some can reach 15 inches so they are a decent sized fish. One interesting transformation of the emperor angelfish is as juveniles they have quite a different coloration. They start out with a background color of black and instead of bright yellow stripes they have white concentric circles. As they grow older the new pattern gradually fades in. When they mature and display their bright colors they become a coveted fish in the aquarium trade, one look at them and you understand why!
7) Blue-Spotted Stingray
Wait, before we dive into the blue spotted stingray we need to know if stingray are actually fish? Yes! Stingray are a species of fish that are related to sharks, both having bodies made of cartilage vs bone. They have a pancake-like body and long skinny tail with a sharp barb. The barb releases a toxic venom so be sure to stay clear of a stingrays.
Stingray prefer the bottom of the ocean and are frequently found around coral reefs. The blue spotted stingray is olive-green to brown with bright electric blue spots! Along their long thin tail are two skinny blue lines. They are sometimes called ribbontail or fantail stingrays. Their eyes are located on the top of their bodies and their mouths are underneath which they use to eat clams, mussels, shrimp and small fish. While young emperor angelfish look quite different than the adults, the newborn blue-spotted stingray looks just like their parents…bright blue spots and all!
8) Whale Shark
As we mentioned above, both stingrays and sharks are considered fish. The whale shark is the biggest fish in the world! They can get to be 41.5 feet long and weigh 21.5 tons. You know the reputation sharks have, but there is no need to be fearful of the whale shark. They are a slow moving, wide mouthed shark that eats plankton, krill, shrimp and algae. Their mouth can be as wide as 4 feet, about the size of a common kitchen table. Whale sharks are a migrating species so they move from place to place. They make their way to the Sea of Aqaba each year most frequently during June and July. Be camera ready if you get the opportunity to see a spectacular whale shark off the coast of Jordan!
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