Exploring the Underwater Wonderland of Cichlids in Lake Tanganyika, Zambia

Lake Tanganyika in Africa is primarily known for its glittering scenic vistas, fantastic fishing and the coastal expanse of Nsumbu National Park but the most extraordinary part is often missed, exploring its underwater world and the animals that inhabit it.

You don’t have to be an ecologist to appreciate this experience and its fast becoming the most popular activities at Ndole Bay Lodge.

For those looking for complete immersion, SCUBA diving is the best option for you. The fish are more relaxed, showing  their vibrant colours and the only sound is the rhythmic beat of your breath as it forms bubbles that travel slowly to the surface.

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For the rest that prefer to stay on the waters surface, Snorkeling is for you. Where you can relax and float on the top looking down on the multitudes of fish in the fresh water aquarium that is Tanganyika.

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People often ask about when the best time to visit Lake Tanganyika? Of course this depends on your interests. Lake Tanganyika is deemed one of the clearest fresh water lakes in the world and underwater visibility is best in the months of November to April apart from some localized cloudy water caused by heavy downpours.  May, June and October are also the better months for clean waters. The rest of the year the water can be variably greener and cloudy from rough weather on the lake’s surface, although snorkeling and SCUBA diving can be done all year round.

The primary fish of the lake are Cichlids (Cichlidae family) and are approximately 200 years old with about 180 species, of which almost all are only found here (endemic).  The largest of this family is the ‘Nkupi’ or Yellowbelly which is commonly caught bu fishermen and known for its nice fight and clean taste.

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Nkupi or Yellowbelly – King of the Cichlids

The lake also contains one of the the only freshwater jelly fish that is endemic to Tanganyika, this also applies to various mollusks, sponges and the Storms aquatic water cobra.

 

The Frontosa fish (commonly known as the Zebra Fish) is the most sought by aquarium enthusiasts due to its unusual shape and beautiful stripes . It can only be seen by SCUBA diving as it lives in the deeper waters at around 15m+.

Our premiere SCUBA dive site near  Ndole Bay Lodge is called ‘Wonderland’, located in Nsumbu National Park. It is a collection of large rocks and swim throughs at a depth of 18m where we can feed the always hungry Frontosa fish, eels and also find large schools of Tanganyika Perch hiding in the rocks and shells coat the sandy floor.

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Our Snorkel sites are many with the best located near the lodge on the rocky shores of Kachese, north of us along the pebble villages on Chimba Rocks and of course right in front of the deck of the lodge on our local rock reefs. Here you will discover an array of colourful Cichlids of different sizes and shapes teeming in the waters.

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One of the unusual traits of the African Cichlid fish is that they are ‘mouth brooders’ meaning they keep their young safe from predators in their mouths.

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image from funnywildlife.tumblr.com

The most common and notable of these is the ‘Ventralis’, a bright iridescent blue fish with long anal fins ending with bright yellow dots. They are commonly seen snorkeling as they live at depths of about 5m and there are many around the sandy bottom of Ndole Bay. A very beautiful and industrious fish, they build sand nests that are used to attract attract mates, keeping it meticulously clean in order to do so.

 

The yellow dots on their anal fins are called ‘egg dummies’ as that is exactly their purpose. As Cichlids are mouth brooders the females will often collect their eggs into their mouths before they can be fertilized by the males.  The male will do his ‘shimmy dance’ in front of his mate so the spots appear to wave, this movement causes the female to believe she has left some eggs behind and will try to collect them. The male will then release the sperm into her mouth fertilizing the eggs. This is a very highly evolutionary trait to protect the young from the large number of predatory fish in the lake.

Watch a short clip of a dive from Ndole Bay Lodge in Wonderland – Feeding the Frontosa

 

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