Animals

Diver Forms Amazing 2-Year Friendship With Tiny Racoon Butterfly Fish Who Recognizes Her, Swims to Say Hi

TIMEJanuary 17, 2022

Rachel first met Sonny under the sparkling turquoise waters of French Polynesia. To say she “met” Sonny, you might think him to be a person, but Sonny is not a person at all, but a tiny, bright-yellow racoon butterfly fish, who became her “friend” over the last two years.

The research diver from Ventura, California, who’s sailed and dived all around the world, shared how their unusual and enlightening underwater friendship formed and blossomed.

“We had just arrived in Moorea and it was one of our first dives there and immediately I saw this little fish just come straight up to me, and I thought that was weird,” Rachel told The Epoch Times. “Other parts of the island where they’re diving that we visit, sometimes they feed fish and the fish are very friendly; they come up looking for food. But on this dive site, they don’t feed the fish.

“It was just unusual to have a wild animal approach you like this. And he followed us for almost 45 minutes. It was a unique experience.”

This unusual encounter with a butterfly fish might have been just a one-off accident of nature, but on her next dive outside the reef, where she first met Sonny, he appeared again.

(Courtesy of Rachel Moore)

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Rachel Moore)

“It was about a couple weeks later, three or four weeks later, we went back and sure enough the same little fish comes up. And at first, I didn’t believe it was the same one, and my husband was like, ‘There’s no way it’s the same fish,’” she recalled. “I compared his markings to the video from the first dive, and sure enough, it was him.

“Then after that, we just kept going back to visit him and he’s always there after two years. So even when we’re gone for six months, we’ll come back and he’s just as eager to see us.”

Rachel examined the markings on Sonny’s head taken in several videos, and Sonny had a unique yellow spot on his forehead and lines that were straight on other racoon butterfly fish’s temples but weren’t on Sonny’s.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Rachel Moore)

“I think originally he liked me and because I had very bright orange fins and a yellow tank. But since then, over the last two years, I’ve switched out equipment and now I have white fins and a silver tank, and he seems to recognize me just fine,” she said. “I think it’s probably because I’m the only one that talks to him and waves at him. I always wave. So, I think as soon as he sees the wave I do, he just comes swimming super fast to say hello.

“He goes from my fins straight up to my chest, and will look me in the eye. And usually, he’ll just hang out right in my lap. I’ll kind of curl up into a little ball and he just will sit right next to my chest.

“That whole dive, I just couldn’t believe what was happening,” she added. “And I have close to 2,000 dives all over the world, and I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s a gift every time I see him. It’s a special memory, and I’m so thankful for it; because I’ve never fed him. He just chooses to come and interact because he seems to enjoy it as much as I do.

“If I hadn’t experienced it, I would think I was crazy. But after two years, I still can’t believe it. I love getting to dive with him.”

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Rachel Moore)

And just like any other friendship, Rachel and Sonny’s developed over time. In fact, as unbelievable as it sounds, Sonny even took Rachel and her husband on a tour of his underwater home.

“After a while, I started noticing his behaviors, I would see what was normal and what wasn’t, and every once in a while, he would do this weird behavior,” she said. “He turned on his side kind of and he went really fast through the water column, straight down to the reef. I followed him down and then he moved his body away from this hole, and right inside of it was this little baby eel. And he’s taken us to show us turtles and all kinds of other little critters on the reef.”

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Rachel Moore)

Rachel, who likes to collect shells from the ocean floor, had once shown Sonny one of her shells, and to her surprise, one day he brought her right to what she was looking for.

“At the end of my dives ,I usually like looking for seashells—dead ones that have washed up on the bottom. And so usually when I find a seashell, if he’s around, I’ll hold it in my hand and show it to him. And after several months of doing this, one day, he was doing this weird dancing thing down on the reef, and I followed him down there and sure enough, there’s a seashell like right next to my hand that I didn’t see. I don’t know if I’m crazy or if he’s actually learning my behaviors or trying to show me things on the reef. But I spent a lot of time with other raccoon butterfly fish and they don’t seem to do this. So, I don’t know if he’s just special or I’m crazy.”

(Courtesy of Rachel Moore)

(Courtesy of Rachel Moore)

That a little fish, with a tiny brain, could form a friendship and change someone’s life as much as Sonny has Rachel’s is remarkable. It’s even changed her perspective on life.

“He’s changed my beliefs on so many things. Part of that feels like he’s a little soulmate. It’s really hard to describe, because I’ve taken other people out to meet him. It seems like we have a really special connection,” she said. “I don’t know if it was predestined or something that we just created. And I don’t know how many people would go out over two years to hang out with a fish, but maybe because I am willing to go and spend the time with him. He’s willing to spend the time with me.”

(Courtesy of Rachel Moore)

Share your stories with us at emg.inspired@epochtimes.com, and continue to get your daily dose of inspiration by signing up for the Epoch Inspired newsletter at TheEpochTimes.com/newsletter

Epoch Inspired staff cover stories of hope that celebrate kindness, traditions, and triumph of the human spirit, offering valuable insights into life, culture, family and community, and nature.