PNWScuba
Home

Critter
Watchers
Home

Upcoming
Fishinars

Study
Resources

Quickstart Guide

Experience
Levels

Critter of the
Month

Cool Critter
Sightings

Join our monthly
email list

-------------------

All text and photos
© 2002 - 2011

 

Critter of the Month Archives - 2008

Back to Main Critter of the Month Index

2008

December 2008

photo © 2008 Janna Nichols

If you guessed Red Irish Lord, you're right!!
Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus
(no, I'm not stuttering)
Sculpin Family

Description and color: Large head, with tapering body, often found in shades of red, pink and maroon. Dorsal fin has three sections to it. (you can see that in the photo above). Mouth has fleshy flaps in the corners. A distinct band of rough scales about 4-5 scales wide runs just below, and makes a U-turn around the front of the dorsal fin.
Range: Bering Sea, Alaska,
to Monterey Bay, California.
Size: Up to about 20" long
Lifespan: About 6 years

Reproduction: Spawns in winter, females and males guard pink, yellow, purple or blue eggs found in higher current areas.
Hangouts: Pilings, rocky reefs, artificial reefs.
Depth: Down to about 160ft.
Behavior: So well camouflaged that they hold quite still for photos, probably thinking that you can't see them. Allows a nice close look.
ID Tips: Look for the row of scales below the dorsal fin, as well as the flap at the corners of the mouth. The color is also a good clue.
Other things to remember: Be sure to bring your dive light and shine it on this fish to restore all the beautiful red tones. Otherwise it can look a boring brown. We recently saw three of these fish in close proximity with an egg mass in a very high-current area off Lopez Island.

- contributed by Janna Nichols, REEF Level 5

back to the top


November 2008

photo © 2008 Pete Naylor

Candy Striped Shrimp
Lebbeus grandimanus
Arthropoda phylum

Description and color: Transparent body with very bright bands of blue, yellow and red.
Range: Bering Sea to Puget Sound
Size: Up to about 1.5" long (pretty small)
Hangouts: Under the tentacles of certain types of anemones, its favorite being the Snakelock / Crimson Anemone (Cribinopsis fernaldi)
Depth: 20 - 590ft. Not 591ft though. Go check. I dare you.
Behavior: They are pretty good about holding still and modeling for photos, as Pete Naylor can attest in his excellent shot this month.

ID Tips: You really can't mistake these for any other kind of shrimp. Very unique.
Other things to remember: These little guys are almost always associated with Snakelock, Painted, Fish-Eating, and Columbia Sand Anemones. So can someone please explain to me why I saw them once at Edmonds UW park on regular old boring PLUMOSE anemones?? Shrimp do the darndest things.

- contributed by Janna Nichols, REEF Level 5

back to the top


October 2008

photo © 2008 Janna Nichols

Rock Scallop
Crassadoma gigantea
Mollusca phylum

Description and color: Large round ribbed shells, often covered with other invertebrate life. All you can usually see is an orange edging (mantle) with a pattern of blue dots. (which are its eyes. Yeah, you're being watched!)
Range: Alaska to Baja California
Size: Up to 10" in diameter
Hangouts: Rocky habitat, attached sometimes in cracks and crevices.
Depth: down to about 150ft.
Behavior: When you get near it, it clamps down.
All those blue eyes detect motion and shadow, so if you want a photo of it open, act fast or super stealthy.
ID Tips: Look for the orange 'smile'.
Other things to remember: Rock scallops are extremely slow growers and can live up to 50 years old! They can't replenish their numbers quickly, and can only reproduce when there are many mature individuals in close proximity, so think twice before legally harvesting these guys! (and preferably don't do it at all) An area can quickly become depleted of Rock Scallops. Gone are the days when divers were able to harvest these with little impact to their abundance.

- contributed by Janna Nichols, REEF Level 5

back to the top


September 2008

photo © 2008 Janna Nichols

Sailfin Sculpin
Nautichthys oculofasciatus
Sculpin Family

Description and color: Browns and grays to cream colored, mottled and lighter on belly, sometimes yellows to oranges. Dark, thick band runs through eye. Foredorsal fin is very long and sail-like.
Range: Bering Sea to Southern California
Size: Up to 8" long, but typically 2-6"
Hangouts: They take this literally, and often can be found hanging UPSIDE DOWN in caves and crevices during the day. At night they're active swimmers and come out of their hiding places.
Depth: 3 - 360 ft.
Behavior: Watching these fish swim is a real treat, because their dorsal fin flutters gracefully in ripples. VERY cool.

ID Tips: The long foredorsal fin and the band through the eye are dead giveaways.

- contributed by Janna Nichols, REEF Level 5

back to the top


August 2008

photo © 2008 Janna Nichols

Red Sea Urchin
Strongylocentrotus franciscanus (that's a mouthful!)
Echinoderm Phylum

Description and color: Red, to deep purplish red, with many spines.
Range: Alaska to Mexico.
Size: Shell size up to about 6" in diameter
Hangouts: Rocky reefs
Depth: Intertidal down to 300 feet.
Behavior: Well, they don't do much, but if you put a finger in between a few of their spines, they'll give you an 'urchin hug'.
Favorite Snacks:
Kelp, kelp, and more kelp.
ID Tips: Don't confuse the purple individuals with another different species, the Purple Sea Urchin (which is smaller, and found on coastal, wave-crashed areas)

- contributed by Janna Nichols, REEF Level 5

back to the top


July 2008

photo © 2008 Janna Nichols

Pacific Snake Prickleback
Lumpenus sagitta
Prickleback Family

Description and color: Long, snake-like appearance, grays to grayish-browns. Darker patterns along back.
Range: Alaska to central California.
Size: 6 - 10 inches long
Hangouts: Sandy, silty bottomed areas. Most abundant in Summer to early Fall in shallows. Can be found in deeper water in winter and spring.
Depth: 3 - 680 feet
Behavior: Very skittish and will dart away when approached, but if you hold still, they eventually come back to you to check you out.
ID Tips: Dashed markings along its body in regular intervals. Don't confuse these with a Bay Goby!

- contributed by Janna Nichols, REEF Level 5

back to the top


June 2008

photo © 2008 Janna Nichols

Orange Sea Pen
Ptilosarcus gurneyi
Cnidarian Phylum

Description and color: Thick orange base, with a large orange feather plume. Many small polyps along each branch. Young, small sea pens can be lighter, almost white.
Range: Alaska to central California.
Size: Up to 18 inches high
Hangouts: Sandy or gravel bottomed areas.
Depth: Subtidal to 300 feet or more
Behavior: Not able to enjoy evenings by the fire or long walks on the beach, they settle for filter feeding in the passing current instead. They can curl up and retract down into the sand.
Food for Thought: Striped nudibranchs love to munch on these, as well as Tritonia nudibranchs. Some sea stars also enjoy Orange Sea Pens as part of their diet and you can sometimes find what appears to be a large white toothpick in the sand - that's all that remains after the Orange Sea Pen has been stripped of its polyps.

- contributed by Janna Nichols, REEF Level 5

back to the top


May 2008


photo © 2008 Penelope St. John

Decorated Warbonnet
Chirolophis decoratus
Prickleback Family

Description and color: Mottled or barred in shades of brown. Dark bands extend below eyes and large dark bars on each dorsal fin. Pectoral fins have dark expanding semi-circular bands. Large bushy cirri between and in front of eyes and on first four dorsal fin spines. Dorsal and anal fin are separated from rounded tail by a shallow notch.
Range: Alaska to northern California. Also Siberia, Russia and occasional Aleutian Islands.
Size: Up to 16 ½ inches long
Hangouts: Rough rocky areas with caves, crevices and recesses. Often perch in entrances of sponges or protected crevices.
Depth: Subtidal (5 feet) to 300 feet
Behavior: Shy, usually recess when approached. May allow close viewing with slow, non-threatening movements but once frightened they seldom reappear.
ID Clues: More extensive festooning cirri, highlighted by the tree-like bush between its eyes distinguishes it from the Mosshead Warbonnet.

- contributed by Sarah Hillebrand, REEF Level 3

back to the top


April 2008


photo © 2008 Janna Nichols

Whitespotted Anemone
Urticina lofotensis
Phylum Cnidaria

Description and color: Squat scarlet column with vertical rows of white spots and long yellow tentacles with pink tips.
Range: SE Alaska to Southern California AND Northern Atlantic coast
Size: Up to 6 inches high and wide
Hangouts: Usually found on exposed rocky coast.
Depth: Intertidal - up to 50 feet
Behavior: The anemone is able to extend its column and tentacles and carry captured food to its mouth. When threatened the anemone will pull in all of it’s tentacles resulting in a blob like appearance.
ID Clues: May appear like other anemones but the white spots arranged in vertical lines are a dead give-away! Don't confuse with the bumpy or protruding white spots on the Columbia Sand Anemone, or on the Painted Anemone.
Comments: The juvenile painted greenling is often associated with this anemone and when larger often sleeps at it’s base at night.

- contributed by Sarah Hillebrand, REEF Level 3

back to the top


March 2008


photo © 2008 Janna Nichols

Juvenile Yelloweye Rockfish
Sebastes ruberrimus
Scorpionfish Family

Description and color: Red, with white stripes. Fins edged in white. Younger ones are darker, and turn more reddish orange as they get older. (and lose their stripes too)
Range: Alaska to Northern Baja
Size: Juveniles are usually up to about 8 inches long.
Hangouts: Deep! Love rocky reef areas with cracks and overhangs and places to hide.
Depth: You won't usually see them unless you're below about 80 feet.
Behavior: Shy, but will hang around if you're stealthy and sneaky and just observe non-threateningly.
ID Clues: Bright to dark red with beautiful white stripes! Nothing else like 'em!
Comments: The Adult Yelloweye Rockfish usually dwells well below recreational diving limits, so chances of you seeing one of them are slim. Juveniles are very cool to find!

- contributed by Janna Nichols, REEF Level 5

back to the top


February 2008


photo © 2008 Janna Nichols

Giant Barnacle
Balanus nubilus
Arthropod Phylum

Description: Looks just like a regular barnacle - on steroids! Often covered with other marine growth, like sponges, hydroids or algae.
Color: White, unless covered with other things
Range: Alaska to Southern California
Size: Up to about 5" high and 4" wide, often found in clusters
Hangouts: Need something hard to attach to, so rocky or artificial reef areas. Love high current areas (more food drifts by that way)
Depth: Intertidal - 300 ft.
Behavior: Watch next time you see one and observe its feeding appendages (which are actually its legs!) go in and out, grabbing little bits of yummy things to eat that are drifting by.
ID Clues: Nothing else down there looks like these - they're giant barnacles!
Comments: Empty giant barnacle shells sometimes have Grunt or Scalyhead Sculpins, Mosshead Warbonnets, or eggs hiding inside.

- contributed by Janna Nichols, REEF Level 5

back to the top


January 2008


photo © 2008 Janna Nichols

Longfin Gunnel
Pholis clemensi
Gunnel Family

Description: Long slender fish with regular markings on back
Color: Bright red, orange, or brownish
Range: SE Alaska to N. California
Size: 3-5 inches.
Hangouts: Rocky reef areas
Depth: 25 - 200 ft.
Behavior: Can be approached, but when alarmed will dart off a short distance away and settle down again. Sometimes will retreat into a rocky crack.
ID Clues: Vertical markings that look something like a chain - often meeting with a horizontal line
Comments: Not seen as often as the other gunnels, these are fun to spot!

- contributed by Janna Nichols, REEF Level 5

back to the top