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!