I was lucky enough to get a couple hours at the Monterey Bay Aquarium recently – spent the whole time staring at embiotocids. It was a great opportunity to connect with surfperches I don’t often get to see in the surf zone of my home waters in northern Oregon. Some of them don’t range as far north as my home beaches, and others don’t spend much time in the surf zone. I had my iPhone with me and here are a few shots of my encounters with the Embioticidae. I list these fish in the order I came upon them, and the common names and many of the diagnostic features follow Love’s Probably More Than You Want to Know about the Fishes of the Pacific Coast.
Black perch, Embiotoca jacksoni – Check out those yellow lips – lot of people call them buttermouths. They also have a patch of enlarged scales between the pectoral and pelvic fins. The blue bar at the base of the anal fin is dazzling.
Pile surfperch, Damalichthys vacca – When these big perch move into the estuaries, everybody starts shouting, “The piling perch are in! The piling perch are in!” The tall dorsal fin peaks behind mid-body with some unusually long soft rays – when erect, it imparts a distinctive, tall pointy look.
Rainbow seaperch, Hypsurus caryi – Pretty little long-bellies, the straight abdomen gives rainbows an easily recognizable shape. You can also look for radiant blue spots on the face and a black flag on the anal fin.
Rubberlip seaperch, Rhacochilus toxotes – Need I say more?
Striped seaperch, Embiotoca lateralis – Uninterrupted blue stripes.
White seaperch, Phanerodon furcatus – Black line on the base of the dorsal fin and a deeply forked caudal fin.
Shiner surfperch, Cymatogaster aggregata – Shiners have black stripes and three vertical yellow bars on their sides. Orange on the anal fin isn’t uncommon.
Reef perch, Micrometrus aurora – An orange glow highlights their sides and they have black crescents on the scales behind the pectoral fins. Reefs have a black patch at the base of the pectoral fins.
Dwarf perch, Micrometrus minimus – Dwarfs, like reefs, have a black patch at the base of the pectoral fins. The coloration is blotchy and they have a series of stripes behind the pectoral fins.
Without really trying or expecting it, I got close-up with nine Monterey Bay Aquarium embiotocids rarely or never seen on my home beaches. Mike Westphal, theoutershores’ co-founder, provided a little icing on the cake when, the next morning, he graciously took me to a nearby beach where we were lucky enough to turn up this adult female calico surfperch, Amphistichus koelzi.
Love, M. 1996. Probably more than you want to know about the fishes of the Pacific coast. Really Big Press, Santa Barbara, California.
Miller, D. J. and R. N. Lea. 1972. Guide to the Coastal Marine Fishes of California. California Fish Bulletin Number 157. California Department of Fish and Game, Sacramento.