A California Icon — The Garibaldi

One of the first things I learned when I moved to California in 1975 was that the garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus) was California’s official state fish. It was something I heard over and over again. The problem was that although widely believed, this information was not true. And to some degree there has been and still is some confusion about the status of this iconic fish.  Today, the garibaldi is indeed officially recognized as California’s state marine fish. The golden trout (Salmo aguabonita, also written as […]

The Secret Lives of SoCal Rockfishes

With more than 100 rockfish species worldwide, about 60 live in the ocean off the SoCal coast. Some are closely related and look very much alike. Colors of the same species can vary and at least some of the fish are chameleon-like, changing color to match their surroundings. Additionally, rockfishes are evolving and forming new species at what Dr. Milton Love calls “a frightening rate.” So is it any wonder many of them are a challenge to identify? I sought out Dr. Love’s expertise and […]

Giant Sea Bass: Are They Really Back From the Brink?

My first giant sea bass encounter occurred off San Nicolas Island in the 1970s. I sensed something overhead and looked up. A gigantic Goodyear blimp hovered over me.  A cartoon I‘d seen recently popped into my head. Two large fish were face to face. A scuba diver’s legs and fin-clad feet protruded from the puckered mouth of one wearing a sour expression. The other fish was saying, “I told you to peel them first.” I was a new diver and didn’t know if giant sea […]

Sheephead: The Bold Rogue of the Kelp Forest

When I first came upon a male California sheephead, I thought I had wandered into the neighborhood of the local bully. The adult sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher) are bigger than many fish of the Central and Southern California rocky reefs and kelp forests. With a big, blunt, black head, red mid-section, and black tail he looks at you with alert eyes, a sense of cool detachment and a mouthful of long, crooked teeth. Itʼs not just his appearance that is a bit intimidating, itʼs his attitude. […]

Yellowfin Fringehead

Those with patience and good eyesight are frequently rewarded with glimpses of exceptional beauty. California has many tiny invertebrates and fishes that are difficult to find, even though they are brightly colored and quite common. The yellowfin fringehead may be one of the cutest and hardest to find little fish a California diver will ever encounter. Yellowfin fringeheads have three pairs of massive, multi-branched cirri between and above their eyes. Their “Marty Feldman eyes” can be used to distinguish them from other native fringeheads including […]


The most common California reef fish, both by number of individual animals and number of species has got to be the rockfish (genus Sebastes). On every dive you are likely to see dozens of these fish and over a dozen different species. They come in many colors and fill an important niche in the reef community. The fossil record of rockfish from California goes back to the Miocene, some 5 to 30 million years ago; and they have changed little since then. Rockfish belong to […]

One of the Cutest Fishes Found All Around the World

Almost everybody would call snipefishes cute. Perhaps a major reason for this is that the approximately one dozen species of this family Macrorhamphosidae all have big noses. Technically called “snouts,” these protruberances can be as much as a third of the fishes’ entire body lengths and are usually tube shaped. And way at the far end of these snouts are the small toothless jaws. Snipefishes are also so cute in the way they move. They are not powerful swimmers and often just end up sort […]

Farming Fishes

In recent years, fish farming has taken off big-time, becoming a virtual “blue revolution.” The theory is rather than exploit the wild stock of fish species, it is better—and more convenient—to raise food fishes in controlled conditions, be that on land and pens at sea. Fish farming has impacted the market to such a degree that now aquacultured fish has become the forth-largest source of farmed meat. But, as expected, fish farming is not as easy as it might seem. Besides all the environmental and […]

Fishes Who Are Much More than a Bunch of Hot Air

Pufferfishes and porcupinefishes are members of two closely related families—the Tetraodontidae and the Diodontidae—that are known throughout the world. But not always for the same reason. One of those reasons is because in some cultures they are highly prized for food. The only trouble is that the members of these two families contain one of the most deadly toxins around. The poison is largely confined to the visera, gonads and skin, and thus when properly prepared, these fishes can be safely consumed. Usually. But for […]

California’s Fish-of-Steel

Look! Up in the stream! It’s a bird-it’s a plain (trout)—no, it’s Super Fish! Oh, you don’t recall Super Fish from your comic book days? Well, why not? After all, there is Super Dog, Super Horse, Super Cat and Super Monkey, so why shouldn’t the Man-of-Steel have a Fish-of-Steel? But, you’re right, he didn’t seem to, or if he did, it certainly was not one of the most popular of the super animals that was thought of over the past decades of story telling. However, […]

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