Mudskippers in Gurney Drive

Penang’s famed Gurney Drive has a new slippery attraction for locals and tourists – thousands of spotted brown mudskippers can be seen flipping and hopping around the 100m-long mudflat just beyond the embankment wall over the past several months.

The presence of the amphibious fish is believed to be a telling sign of the cleanliness-level in the coastline.

Dr Aileen Kan Shau Hwai, a senior lecturer at Universiti Sains Malaysia’s School of Biological Sciences, said it was unusual for so many mudskippers to be seen at the popular seafront promenade.

“It used to be quite sandy from Tanjung Tokong all the way to Gurney Drive.

“However with human activities, construction and land reclamation, the natural coastline has changed and become a mudflat,” she said yesterday.

Dr Kan said the mudskipper was drawn to muddy ecosystems.

“My guess is that there were few mudskippers living there originally and as they breed quite easily, their numbers multiplied as the mudflat expanded,” she said.

She said the hardy fish were territorial with each other but were quite harmless to people.

“You can probably see them shaking their heads at each other or flipping around but they normally disappear into the mud when people come near,” she said, adding they sometimes looked like they were singing when they breathed through their mouths.

Some of the mudskippers were relatively large and Dr Kan said this was a favourable indication of the cleanliness level in the area.

“In some countries, mudskippers are used as a pollution indicator. Something in the pollutants and heavy metals found in polluted areas stunts the growth of mudskippers.

“So, larger mudskippers are actually a good indication of the cleanliness level,” she said, adding the normal length of the fish depended on the species but was around 15cm.

Engineer Clara Kim, 24, who was in Gurney Drive yesterday observing the agile fish, said there were definitely more mudskippers now compared to the last couple years.

“They’re quite mean-looking creatures, but it’s interesting to see so many of them here,” the Penangite said. - By ANDREA FILMER (The Star)

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