Latest observations of Fish

iSpot FISH

Fish don't receive as much attention as some other groups of wildlife. So unless you're an angler it may be a surprise to learn that there are around 280 different species of fish in our freshwaters, plus 24 alien fish species. There are many more in our coastal waters and seas, with estimates of about 2200 species.

To watch fish in the wild is of course a bit more difficult than for many land-based groups. Some species can be readily observed in shallow, clear waters such as chalk streams or the edges of lakes, or you may be lucky enough to see or catch salmon or trout.

Geographically most freshwater species are found in the hotter eastern portions of southern Africa, but the Fynbos Biome contains the highest proportion of endemics, and some ancient Gondwana links. Along the east coast, the Zambesi system has 134 species, the Limpopo 50, Phongolo 30, Tugela 12; in the west, the Cuneni has 66 species, the Orange 16, Olifants 10 and Berg 4. There are 8 endemics in the Olifants (80%), 6 in the Orange, 2 in Limpopo and 23 in the Zambezi (17%). Most of the Fynbos species are threatened on the IUCN Red List.

The largest freshwater families are the Barbs (Cyprinids) (40%) and Cichlids (17%), with “Barbus” being the largest genus (23%). The Fynbos genus Galaxias, a Gondwanan relict, may in fact comprise many new species.

For information on freshwater fishing, for which a licence is needed, see your local provincial conservation agency.


Important characters for identifying fish include their overall size, colour and shape, the number, shape and distribution of their fins (especially the fins on their back), and the presence or absence of 'barbels' (fleshy 'whiskers' near the mouth).

Useful links for the UK. South African links coming soon.

Marine fish

  • Marine fish are recorded as part of the MarLIN project, which has online identification resources and recording forms.
  • The Marine Biological Association promotes research into marine life, publishes a range of journals and other resources, and runs events and courses.
  • Seasearch works with volunteer divers to record marine habitats, as well as running projects on particular species.
  • The Marine Conservation Society promotes the conservation of marine habitats and species.

Fish group links

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