20 Common Fish of False Bay

The many shy and inquisitive fish you may see while diving in Cape Town.

11 July 2020

By Danel Wentzel

People thinking about diving in Cape Town may be scared away by the cold water or limited visibility, but they would be missing out on the unique biodiversity that inhabits the coastal waters of False Bay. A thick wetsuit, some gloves, booties and a hood will sort out the cold factor and following good buddy procedures will minimise the issue of reduced visibility.

Now to find out what there is to see and trust me there is so much!


Cape Town is an extraordinarily special place to dive, as it is surrounded by two distinct ocean currents: the Benguela and the Agulhas. The Benguela current brings the cold water up from Antarctica and the Agulhas brings down warm water all along the east coast of South Africa where they both meet at Cape Point. This mixing of currents creates the opportunity for incredible biodiversity.

© RhinoAfrica.com

Identifying Fish

Fish come in different shapes, sizes and colours which makes them all unique. We can also use characteristics like their habitat, behaviour and the shape of their caudal fin (their tail) to narrow down which fish family they belong to and further classification.

So if you have been diving before and want to know what was that fish you saw or if you just interested in what lives beneath the waves - here are 20 common fish that we see while diving in False Bay.

Hottentot Seabream

Pachymetopon blochii

Zebra Seabream

Diplodus cervinus

Strepie (Karanteen)

Sarpa salpa

Cape Knifejaw

Oplegnathus conwayi

Red Roman

Chrysoblephus laticeps


Boopsoidea inornata

Longsnout Pipefish

Syngnathus temminckii

Bareheaded goby

Caffrogobius nudiceps

Cape Horse Mackerel

Trachurus capensis


Dichistius capensis

The Galjoen is South Africa's national fish.


Cheilodactylus fasciatus

Speckled Klipfish

Clinus venustris

Super Klipfish

Clinus superciliosus

Twotone fingerfin

Chirodactylus brachydactylus

Marley’s Butterflyfish

Chaetodon marleyi


Chorisochismus dentex


Parascorpis typus


Gymnocrotaphus curvidens

East Coast Sole

Austroglossus pectoralis

Smooth Horsefish

Congiopodus torvus

I love knowing what every animal I saw underwater is called, especially the Latin names. Once you have been diving in the waters of Cape Town you will realise the incredible biodiversity living just beneath the waves, out of sight from passersby. By learning more about the animals that you see underwater, you will turn to being more appreciative when you encounter a less common or even rare fish.

I find its easiest to start learning by either taking a mental image of 2 or 3 fish (or use your underwater camera) and then after the dive find out what you saw through this helpful fish guide or if you have a field guide. Even if you didn't see anything, going through the pages and matching the fish to the name will make the next time even easier.

At the beginning it may seem quite overwhelming with so many different fish and not everyone has access to an appropriate fish field guide, but it doesn't have to be. iNaturalist is a citizen science platform where you can upload a picture of the fish (or any living organism you saw) and then have the community of experts identify it for you, plus you will be contributing to science so that is cool too.