Inkfish are very unusual creatures. I really like them because of how interesting and strange they are, and that they are not scared of people, giving you a way to get a close look. Denying their name, inkfish are not fish but cephalopods. All cephalopods can release ink and all have a shell. All cephalopod shells (except the nautilus’s shell) are underneath the skin. Cephalopods are classified as mollusks. Inkfish are related to sea slugs and sea snails. They are very small, not much bigger than the average adult’s hand. Living up to their name, inkfish do release ink when they feel like they are in danger.
Sooty inkfish, which are the inkfish I’m going to talk about in this post, like to eat mainly algae. They may occasionally eat other forms of plant growth that are similar to algae.
Sooty inkfish can be found in several different habitats. They are more common in bays than along the beach, and cannot be found offshore. They are commonly found swimming by docks and pilings, where they have plenty of algae to eat, but they are also often found in shallow grass beds and mud bottoms.
The range of the sooty inkfish isn’t known that well. They have been spotted many times in the Gulf of Mexico around Florida waters, but the range in other places is uncertain.
Inkfish do release ink. Some people think they squirt it out but it really just oozes out.
Inkfish only release their ink when they feel like they are in danger. If they become stranded on the beach they may release their ink, so if you find a stranded inkfish and notice the sand around it looks purple, that is probably the inkfish’s ink.
Inkfish ink can stain bad. Its purplish color can really stain any light colored fabric, and white fabric is going to have the worst damage. So when you’re around inkfish with a white shirt or bathing suit on be careful about how you handle the inkfish so you don’t get a bad stain on your clothing. Also, if you have a boat with light colored seats you do not want to put the inkfish on that to examine it. It will feel like it is in danger and release its ink, giving your boat a really bad stain. (Believe me on this! I’ve seen it happen!)
Harmful Or Harmless?
Many people are scared to touch sooty inkfish because they think they might be poisonous. Even boys who go and pick up roaches are scared to handle an inkfish for this reason. But sooty inkfish and their ink are completely harmless to people. They can’t bite, whack, or sting, so if you see one swim by you can either pick it up in a net or with your hands and examine it. You never know what you might learn from looking closely at an aquatic animal. Just remember not to keep the inkfish out of the water too long or it might die.
Snorkeling And Swimming With Sooty Inkfish
Though inkfish may not look like something exciting to swim with, when you give it a try you may find it’s really fun! Snorkeling or swimming with sooty inkfish is not against the law, so you don’t have to worry about that.
Snorkeling with inkfish can be very interesting. It gives a clear look at how beautifully they swim and a really good look at the details of their body. They are very slow swimmers and don’t mind people being around them. You can get right up to them and touch and examine them as they continue with their natural behavior. As you touch them you may discover their thin skin against their mushy body makes them feel like jelly. One snorkeling trip with sooty inkfish can be very educational.
Sometimes sooty inkfish may wash up on sandbars and/or mud islands and become stranded. Normally they will become stranded when they are swimming in shallow water and the tide goes out leaving them exposed. They are then in real danger because seagulls will eat them even when they’re still alive. The normal tides can keep them out of the water too long, but when the spring tides come inkfish have an even bigger risk of death by stranding because they can be kept out of the water for up to four or five hours hours.
You can help save stranded inkfish. It’s very simple. All you have to do is this:
Let the inkfish swim for a minute in shallow water so that it can breathe. If the inkfish is dead it will sink, but if it is still alive it will begin to swim.
If there is a grass bed nearby, take the inkfish to that area but as far from the shore as possible. If there is not a grass bed take it into three to four feet of waer.
Let the inkfish go heading away from the shore. If you have it going towards the shore it may become stranded again.
Other Good Resources On Sooty Inkfish
The sooty inkfish (sea hare) page by Marine Invertebrates Of Bermuda has some good information on sooty inkfish.
The sooty inkfish page at iloveshelling.com has a video and picture of a sooty inkfish releasing ink.
Snorkeling with a wild sooty inkfish may bring the best information. And it’s really fun too!!
To watch a video I took of a sooty inkfish swimming, click here.