Seattle Dive Tours

Scalyhead Sculpin- Ocean’s Best Dad?

  • Scalyhead Sculpin
Scalyhead Sculpin

Scalyhead Sculpin by Steve Zedekar

While small, the Scalyhead sculpin is a fierce protector of his eggs and will take on anyone who try to steal them. Scalyhead sculpin (Artedius harringtoni), also known as Plumose sculpin, uses camouflage to blend into its surroundings and avoid predators. Only about 4 inches long, they can be identified by their bright orange gill linings and cirri above each eye. Very active compared to most sculpins, they will dart about from perch to perch. A Demersal fish, meaning it lives and feeds on the bottom, they prefer rocky or gravel areas generally below 20’.

Despite their size, Scalyhead sculpin have a big range along the west coast, and can be found from Aleutian Islands all the way down to Southern California. Divers can find Scalyhead sculpin near intertidal areas around rocks and pilings. Both a forager and a predator, they have been known to eat the eggs of Lingcod.

Males will choose a suitable nest, then wait for a female to approach and enter the nest. Reproduction is through internal fertilization, then the female will lay her eggs and leave. The extremely territorial males then take full responsibility for protecting the eggs until they hatch.

Scalyhead sculpin are not considered threatened at this time.

Scalyhead Sculpin – Who’s Your Daddy?

Fish-Eating Anemone

  • Fish eating anemone
Fish-eating anemone

Fish-eating anemone

The world’s favorite fish and the hero of “Finding Nemo”, clownfish, can often be found among the tentacles of anemone. However, this particular spieces of anemone is usually in the company of a small fish called the Painted Greenling. This fish serves as a bait for anemone’s pray and keeps parasites away, and in turn, the anemone protects the small fish.

This type of anemone is known under its Latin name “Urticina piscivora”, but more commonly we know it as Fish-eating anemone or Fish Eating Urticina because of its diet. They live in the cold, usually coastal waters of Northern Pacific, generally on middle and deep rocky reefs, from Mexico all way up to Alaska.

Fish-eating anemone belongs to the family of large anemone and it can grow up to 8″ to 10″ in diameter. It has a tall, bright red or maroon column without any markings or spots, adhesive pedal disk which they use to move if it’s necessary, and short white tentacles which are sometimes red or pink on tips. The oral disk is red or white with distinctive lines. They are often confused with the Painted Anemone.

These simple organisms which are cousins of corals and jellyfish are still not thoroughly explored so we still do not know how long they live. In their natural habitat, it is believed that they can live up to hundreds of years, and in captivity up to 80 years. The reproduction is performed by external fertilization of egg and sperm. It produces larva that swims away and when it lands, it attaches itself to a ground and a new anemone grows from the pedal disk. Some of these anemones reproduce asexually, by splitting.

As their name suggest, they belong to carnivores and they feed on small fish, shrimps and mussels which they capture with their strong tentacles. The stinging cells called “nematocysts” are used for capturing the pray by releasing the venom that immobilizes or kills the pray which is then put into the mouth. All the parts of the pray which are not suitable for digestion are also discharged through the mouth.

Although, International Union for Conservation of Nature – IUCN Red List lists their status as “Not Evaluated”, rocky reefs that serve as habitat for many types of anemones are often affected by the dangers of commercial fishing. It can be useful to pay attention to the movement of anemones – if they decide to change the place, something in that area is not right.

Fish-Eating Anemone

Vermilion Rockfish

  • Vermilion Rockfish
Vermillion Rockfish

Vermilion Rockfish by Steve Zedekar

By Seattle Dive Tours Staff

What is the name of a fish that can live almost as long as an average human does and is known for defending its territory as a dog would do it? This is a story of a senior citizen of the ocean, Vermilion rockfish, popularly called simply “reds”.

Besides the name Vermilion rockfish, they are commonly known as vermilion seaperch, red snapper, and red rock cod, and are classified under the Latin name Sebastes miniatus. They belong to the family of Scorpaenidae (Scorpionfishes) and are related to Lionfish and Tropical Stonefish . It can be found in the Northern Pacific, from Alaska to Baja California. Divers love to meet them because they like to sit motionless in kelp beds or to hover over the rocky reefs, so one can get great photos. They are also very curious and are known to approach divers.

Vermillion Rockfish

Vermilion Rockfish by Steve Zedekar

They are one of the largest rockfish; the body of the adult Vermilion can grow up to 30 inches and can weigh up to 15 lbs. They are usually bright red, while many of them have black and gray patterns on back and sides. The fins are usually darker at the end. Their mouths are big with protruded and rough lower jaw so they can practically inhale their entire pray easily. Eyes are also big and the body is compressed. When in deep waters, they are sometimes confused with Yelloweye and Canary rockfish, but these fish have lower jaws with no scales and are, therefore, smooth to touch.

Generally speaking, they can be seen in areas over rocky bottoms and at depths most commonly between 100-500 feet. Their signature is “motionless movement” thanks to their air bladders. They allow them to sneak up to the pray with almost no fin movement.

They are predatory fish and tend to feed on crabs, squids, octopuses, other smaller fishes, even other rockfish. Fertilization is internal (Ovoviviparous), and they give birth to living young. Spawning occurs from September to December peaking in November.

They are much sought after both in commercial and recreational fishing and because of their behavior, slow grow rate and territorial habits they are overfished in many areas. Since they mature late and grow slowly they are often caught before they got a chance for reproduction which can be a problem. That is why there are certain conservation methods regarding season, hooks and depth, but they vary from bay to bay. However, their IUCN Red List Status is still “Not Evaluated”.

Freediving with Vermilion Rockfish

Dungeness Crab

  • Dungeness Crab (Metacarcinus magister)
Dungeness Crab

Dungeness Crab with Baby Octopus by Pay Lynch

By Seattle Dive Tours Staff

Although Oregon State named this crab the state crustacean in 2009, just like all the other crabs, the “shell” of a Dungeness crab often ends up displayed as an ornament, decoration, or as a memento from a holiday at the beach. But this sideways walker deserves better attention, if for no other reason than because of their behavior – they

Dungeness crab

Dungeness Crab Buried in Sand by Pat Lynch

are great at camouflage and can easily blend into the surroundings. Also, if they feel threatened, they bury their head in the sand, or role onto the back, so they can bravely fight the enemy.

This crab bears the name of a small fishing village Dungeness in Washington State and it is classified under the Latin name Metacarcinus magister. They can be found in the muddy and sandy waters of North Pacific, from Alaska to California, or even Mexico. Recently, Dungeness crab have been found in the Atlantic Ocean which has raised concerns regarding dangers towards the local ecosystem. It is still not clear whether it is a result of climate changes, or a live crab was bought to the market, and later released into the wild.

They are easily identified by their long, oval and wide shell, which is purple or brown (when cooked, it turns orange). The shell is actually its exoskeleton which it molts as it grows. Being Arthropods, they have an exoskeleton instead of a spine, but they have five pairs of armored legs and several appendages such as two pairs of antennae for touch and smell, pincers used for tearing and defense. Females also have special appendages used for holding her eggs. If an appendage is lost – they are able to regenerate it.

Dungeness crab starts its mating season in late spring and it lasts usually till October. When female starts to molt, she is ready for mating. The female stores the sperm until eggs are developed, then she extrudes and carries them for 3-5 months before hatching. An adult female can carry up to 2.5 million eggs, and they tend to protect themselves by burying. After the hatching, they go through metamorphoses as younglings are planktonic and they swim away. They start turning into larvae at 4 months. They have 6 life stages and live approximately 10 years, but females live longer than males.

When young, these crabs tend to molt frequently. This process begins when crab starts absorbing water to expand its body. When the shell splits, crab finds shelter until the new shell hardens.

Although most crabs are omnivores, Dungeness crab are carnivores, feeding on worms, shrimp, clams, mussels and even small crabs and crab larvae, so cannibalism may occur.

Among seafood lovers, Dungeness crab is considered a delicacy because of its sweeter flavor and lack of ocean scent, so fishing is closely regulated. Possession and selling of female specimens are prohibited in the US, but nevertheless, their numbers are declining. Natural predators of Dungeness crab include sculpins, dogfish, octopus and other crabs, while salmon feed on their larvae.

Cabezon

  • Cabezon by Steve Zedekar

Cabezon by Steve Zedekar

By Seattle Dive Tours staff

Although the Latin name, Scorpaenichthys marmoratus, is literary translated as a “scorpion fish”, in Spanish, cabezon means big-headed or stubborn, and it’s not by accident that this fish bears that name, and also, the head takes up a third of its body.

They belong to the genus of Scorpaenichthys (Cottidae family), very close to the family of Scorpaenidae, of which the most famous member is a very similar Lion Fish. The encounters with this funny looking creature can generally occur in its natural habitat – Pacific, North America – from California, all the way up to Southeast Alaska. They are usually found in shallow, coastal waters on rocky bottoms, but they are known to go deeper. Scuba divers can spot them near kelp beds, oil platforms, tide pools and on rocky reefs.

It is a bottom fish with no scales and it has usually 11 spines which can be dangerous on its dorsal fin. Their mouths are very large and broad but they have small teeth. This fish comes in different colors red, brown, green or grey while their belly is usually white. Most of the male specimens are red, while females are green. They can grow up to 38.9 in length, and weigh up to 15 lbs. The current record is 23 pounds.

Spawning season for the cabezon lasts from October to March, and in that period females deposit the eggs in the nests which are built and guarded by males until they hatch. Several females can place their eggs in the same nest. The small, silver fish develops from the larva and drifts away. Males reach maturity at 2-3 years while females, who live longer than males, at 3-5. They can live more than 20 years. As adults, they are proven to be residential animals that do not make any significant migrations – most of their time is spent sitting in the pools or holes in the reefs, which makes them an easy target.

Cabezon is a predatory fish and a proud member of carnivore order. Adult fish feed on mollusks (octopus, squids), smaller fish and fish eggs and crustaceans, while its larvae use fish eggs and other larvae in their diet. They are also known to eat their own species. Cabezon eggs, although toxic for humans and many other mammals, can often become a prey of pile perch and scalyhead sculpin.

Unfortunately, cabezon is a game fish and is highly valued among seafood lovers due to its delicate taste. The males are commonly caught while guarding their nests. Although they make a large portion of the industry of shallow water fishery, which can lead to overfishing, the fishing regulation regarding this issue is still not clear. Apart from humans, adult cabezon may fall a prey to California sea lions and Harbor seals.

The best dive sites near Seattle to see Cabezon are Edmonds Underwater ParkAlki Seacrest Park (Cove 2), Redondo Beach, and Three Tree Point. Ready to go diving? Click HERE to book your guided dive tour today!

Hooded Nudibranch Mating Season Begins

Late summer each year is the time Hooded nudibranch (Melibe leonina) migrate from deep water to the shallow eelgrass beds of Puget Sound to mate and lay eggs. During peak times, they can be seen by the thousands at dive sites such as Edmonds Underwater park and Redondo Beach. They can also be found as far north as Alaska and south to California.

Hooded nudibranch by David Sisson

Hooded nudibranch by David Sisson

Hooded nudibranch can reach up to 4” long with a round oral hood that is used to catch prey.  Their bodies are translucent, with a pale white, yellow, orange, or greenish tint and give off a sweet smell when taken out of water. During reproductive season in the late summer, they congregate in shallow eelgrass (genus Zostera) habitat, clinging to eelgrass blades. They are carnivorous, eating small fish & invertribrates such as copepods and zooplankton. Hooded nudibranch are in turn preyed upon by larger fish, Northern kelp crabs, and sea stars.

Hooded nudibranch are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female reproductive organs. To reproduce, two Hooded nudibranch simply fertilize each others eggs. After laying their eggs, the Hooded nudibranch die off, leaving behind a new generation.

The best time for divers to see Hooded nudibranch is at the end of the dive, during a safety stop. Hover over the eelgrass bed at around 15’ and look down, inspecting the eelgrass for Hooded nudibranch clinging to the blades.