Author: Alberta Trelawny and Dakoda McGregor

Common Name: Spotted Ratfish

Scientific Name: Hydrolagus colliei

Size range: 7.510 inches, varying on sex and maturity.              

Identifying features : The Spotted ratfish is a cartilaginous shark relative. It has many distinctive features and is in the chimaera family. It is said to look like a rabbit and its scientific name: Hydrolagus colliei, literally translates to “water hare.” The H. colliei has plate-like permanent teeth and a large, bulky, snout-like snub nose.  The Spotted Ratfish’s body tapers towards its posterior end and composes about half of its length. The spotted Ratfish can reach sizes of 14-20 inches long (body length) and females usually reach a height of 10 inches at their mature stage, most young specimens tend to measure in at around 5 inches. The Spotted Ratfish has a large, sharp and venomous dorsal fin that can inflict a painful wound; and a long, leaf-like and delicate fin follows the dorsal. This long fin undulates which gives it the appearance of being three separate appendages. The Spotted Ratfish also has two pectoral fins which extend straight out from its body, similar to airplane wings. One of the H. colliei’s most distinctive feature is it smooth, scale less and iridescent skin. Its colouring can range from silvery to a golden green usually with a darker brown background that reflects light; the fish is also usually covered in white, opalescent spots which helps add to its distinctive luster. Another particular feature is the Spotted Ratfish’s large eyes; they are often green in colour and reflect light, much like those of a cat.

Habitat: The ratfish is usually found in depths of 1000-2000 ft. deep in anywhere between southern pacific waters to northern pacific waters. It may also be found in some parts of European waters. A great place to see the spotted ratfish locally while diving is just off of Ogden point, Victoria, British Columbia. The ratfish tends to favour waters near the cost of B.C, California and Alaska. When food in the deeper waters becomes scarce the H. colliei will often move to shallower waters, hanging near the ocean floor.
Food/Prey : The Ratfish enjoys a diet of crustaceans, marine worms, small fish and mollusks. The ratfish is able to grind the shells with its plate like teeth. The spotted ratfish is also a chronicled cannibal, often eating their own egg cases as well as other ratfishes.

Predators : Marine species who feed on the Ratfish include different types of sharks such as the six gill shark, seven gill sharks, tope sharks, the spiny dogfish, and big carnivorous fish such as the giant sea bass, ling cod, rock fish, Pacific Halibut, and other marine mammals (such as seal, orcas, porpoises etc.) Humans do not consume the Ratfish as they are unpalatable, it can also inflict a painful wound with its venomous dorsal fin and may also give a painful bite.

Life Cycle: The Ratfish begins its reproduction cycle during the autumn/spring seasons by conducting complicated courtship patterns during the mating season; both sex’s complete distinct manoeuvers and the males undergo extensive color changes.  The females begin to expel eggs in pairs; they birth these eggs into muddy areas every 10-14 days and their fertile period will last several months.  The female ratfishes labor can last anywhere between 18-30 hours. The eggs then hang freely from their mother attached by a thin filament. They hang attached for 4-6 days until they are planted in the ground. The eggs begin to hatch around a year later, which means the baby fish goes through a long gestation period and is born relatively matured. The young usually appear from the case at approximately 5.5 inches and grow about 11.8 inches in their first year.

Photos courtesy of Andy Murch at

Illustration by Alberta Trelawny

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Spiny Dogfish

Author: Cara Mackenzie

Scientific Name: Squalus suckleyi ( Also referred to as Squalus acanthia suckleyi)

Common Name: Spiny Dogfish or Piked Dogfish

Maximum Size: 160cm (63 Inches)

Size at Maturity:

Males 56-80cm (22-31 1/2 inches), Females 60- 100cm (23 ½ -39 ½ inches)

Identifying features:

The Spiny Dogfish has no anal fin. The dorsal surface is bluish grey or brown with distinct small white spots. It has a slender and elegant body, with quite a flat head. The snout is slender, narrowing down to a pointed edge. It also has five short gill slits. Spines are visible in front of each dorsal fin.


The Spiny Dogfish lives on continental shelves, insular slopes, and upper slopes. They live in depths of 30.5 – 92 metres (100-300 ft) with males living in shallower water than females. They are comfortable in temperatures of 6 – 11C (43-52 F).


Spiny Dogfish love to eat bony fish such as salmon as well as cartilaginous fish. They have a very diverse diet that can include cephalopods, gastropods, crustaceans, sea cucumbers, ctenophores, hydrozoans, jelly fish, squid, octopus, herring, menhadens, capelins, sand lances, and mackerels. They travel and hunt in packs. The pack size can range from hundreds to thousands of Spiny Dogfish. The pack is sometimes segregated by gender. Spiny Dogfish are frequently spotted hunting in packs.


Some of the predators of Spiny Dogfish include cod, red hake, goose fish, and other Spiny Dogfish. They use their spines on the dorsal fin to defend themselves.  Despite having venom in the spines many fish will still attack and eat the Spiny Dogfish.  It also curls up into a bow and strikes at any predator that threatens it.

Life Cycle:

Males mature at 11 years and females become mature at about 18 to 21 years. They typically mate during the winter. Mating is ovoviviparous. Mating usually takes place in offshore waters and it is internal fertilization. Once the eggs are fertilized, the mother produces a thin, horny, transparent shell around them called a candle, and here they develop within her body feeding off the egg yolk. The litter can range anywhere from 2 to 11 pups and are approximately 20-30cm at birth.  The gestation period of the Spiny Dogfish is 18 to 24 months, one of the longest of any vertebrates.  They live for at least 44 years but can live for as long as 100 years. The population has decreased drastically over the years due to the fact that it takes them a long time to mature and they have such a lengthy gestation period.  They are fished to be used as pet food, fish and chips, fertilizers, oils, and a cheaper version of shark fin’s soup.

Photo kindly provided by Andy Murch

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Identifying Features Known as “Ugliest creature identified,” the Smooth Dreamer has a massive head with a gigantic, crescent-shaped mouth that is filled with sharp, translucent teeth angled inwards to prevent prey from escaping. Smooth Dreamers have roughly 25-51 teeth in the upper jaw and 33-53 teeth in the lower jaw. They are a dark grey […]

Slimy Snailfish

Author: Amanda Brager

Common Name: Slimy Snailfish

Scientific name: Liparis mucosus

Size: Slimy snailfish grow to at least 7cm (2.75 inches) in length.

Identifying features:

Slimy Snailfish (Liparis mucosus) do not have scales. Their bodies are shaped like a tadpole and they have a small tail. They also have dorsal fins that almost connect to their tail fin. These are an interesting looking fish with miniscule eyes and tiny teeth, combined with a long skinny body. Snailfish attach to the ground using a small sucking disk below their head. These fish don’t have a strict colouring. They can be found with and without patterns and vary in colour.  They are mostly red, brown, pink, a greenish brown colour, and a yellowy green colour.


The Slimy Snailfish lives can be found in Alaska, the northeast Pacific, to southern British Columbia, Canada and down to Baja, Mexico. Depending upon the species, snailfish can live in shallow waters or up to 7500m deep.


These Snailfish feed on small benthic crustaceans, mollusks, polychaete worms, and other small invertebrates. Snailfish will use their pelvic disk to attach to a rock while they wait patiently for something to swim by. They have sensory pores in their head and can feel vibrations when food is near. They eat by sucking in all of the water in front of them and filtering out the food.

Life cycle:

Snailfish lay only a few large eggs, being around 4.5-mm in size. The reason for this is so that their young develop properly; as well as being able to escape predators easier. The young Slimy Snailfish look more like a tadpole than the fully grown fish do. They lack a defined shape to there body and appear almost rod like.

Video by Amanda Brager and D. Young

Photos by D.Young

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Rosy-Lip Sculpin

Author: Julian Mulhall and Forest Moon-Macskimming

Common names: Rosy-lip Sculpin, Rosylip Sculpin, Rosy-lipped Sculpin

Scientific name: Ascelichthys rhodorus

Size range:  from 2 cm (0.79 inches) to 15 cm (16 inches) long


Identifying features:

The eyes are black or dark and the body colour is mostly black, with white areas on the top of its body, the sides of its body, its top fin and its side fins.  The lips are sometimes red as well as some red can be found on the spiny section of the dorsal fin.   It has a dorsal fin the length from its head to its tail.  Unlike most other sculpins, the Rosy-lip Sculpin has no pelvic fins.  An interesting fact is that the Rosy-lip Sculpin is able to survive for several hours out of water on moist surfaces.

Habitat:   Intertidal to 15 m (50 feet) from Alaska to California.


Sporadically it displays outgoing behavior but usually it remains shy and hidden.  It does not interact with other fish. While observing one in our class aquarium it would return to the same area of the tank (under/behind algae and rocks) when it was not searching for food.


The Rosy-lip sculpin is a bottom dweller so it eats food found near the bottom of the water it is in. Its favorite foods are octopus, worms, crab, squid, fish and shrimp, but it will eat anything it is able to. What eats it?  The Rosy-lip Sculpin is luckily very adept at blending in with its surroundings, but sometimes it is out-smarted.  It is eaten by animals who feed near the shore. These animals include larger fish, crabs, otters and shore birds such as Herons.

Life cycle:

Rosy-lip Sculpins  may live for up to five years.  Its life span is generally determined by its location and the types of predators in that location.  It lays eggs in winter and spring each year. These eggs can be pink or green and may be found on rocks near the shore.

Photos by D. Young

Video by J. Mulhall, F. Moon-Macskimming, and D. Young

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The Rockweed Gunnel

By Gabrielle Lepage and Angel Antonio (updates by Rex Sherratt and Ian Templeton)

Common Name: Rockweed Gunnel

Scientific Name: Xererpes fucorum

Size Range: 5-9 inches (12-23 cm)

Identifying Features: Rockweed Gunnels have eel-like bodies that are elongated, slender and compressed. They usually have no pelvic fins however if they are visible, they are usually very tiny. They are one solid uniform colour that is often green, yellow or red to camouflage in the algae. They tend to be brightly coloured fishes and their eyes are a striking bright yellow. They also have small circular scales that tend to be difficult to distinguish. Rockweed gunnels have small and conical teeth and their long dorsal fin has 75 to 100 flexible spines and is about twice the length of the anal fin.

Habitat: Rockweed Gunnels are found in tide pools, deep inshore areas or at the bottom of the sea with rocks or algae. Gunnels are also commonly found in coastal waters of northern seas. Many of them can be found anywhere from Vancouver Island BC (Canada), to Punta Escartada, Baja California. Currently, they are 11 species found in North America. Majority of the Gunnels tend to live in intertidal regions and shallow waters in the cold parts of the Northern hemisphere where they feed on their food.

Food: Rockweed Gunnels are carnivorous fish and feed on crustaceans, mollusks, algae or copepods which are found in the sea in nearly any fresh water habitat. They also eat oikopleura which are tadpole-like larvacean and any other marine invertebrates.

Predators: The likely predators of the Rockweed Gunnel are River Otters (Lontra canadensis), the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), larger fish, and other marine birds such as gulls. The Staghorn Sculpin (Leptocottus armatus) is also another predator to the gunnels. Following the tides they enter eelgrass meadows and search for the gunnels below rocks or for other invertebrates buried under the mud. In order to hide from predators, gunnels tend to cover themselves underneath or between rocks and algae. The Rockweed Gunnel can survive out of water for 5 to 20 hours as long as it stays moist.

Life Cycle: Generally, Gunnels will lay eggs in the winter and coil around them in defense. The eggs are then deposited and left there without a mother to care for them. During the summer or spring, they are usually in large groups which travel through rockweed meadows where they hunt for crustaceans and molluscs.

Photography by Gabrielle Lepage, Rex Sherratt and Ian Templeton

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Northern Clingfish

Author:  Chloe Browett

COMMON NAME:  The Northern Clingfish

SCIENTIFIC NAME:  Gobiesox maeandricus

SIZE RANGE:  Northern Clingfish are generally 3 inches (7.6 cm) in length but may grow up to 6 inches (15.2 cm).  Most males are larger than the females.

IDENTIFYING FEATURES: The Northern Clingfish has an unusual shape. It is primarily round, has a slight flat or depressed head, and has a thin tail. It has two yellowish eyes that are far apart at the front of its head. The fish’s skin is smooth and usually olive brown in tone with small red, gray, or yellow spots. There are pectoral fins behind the dorsal fin which is located near the tail of the fish and an anal fin. Around the sucker disc (which acts as a suction cup) are pelvic fins.

HABITAT: The Northern Clingfish likes to stay low key and doesn’t like to be seen. It hides within seaweed and is often found stuck under rocks.  It is also found in tidal pools or on rocky shores.  The clingfish lives in the intertdial zone, which means that it lives within the low and high tides. The clingfish is often found among species of fish including gunnels, and sculpins.

FOOD:  Like all animals the clingfish likes to eat what it can find, but it generally eats small crustaceans like shrimp and small mollusks. It may prey on limpets or chitors. Its mouth and sucker disk are adapted for hunting. While its prey (limpet) is on the rock it stays stable with its sucker disk and with its mouth pries the limpet off the rock. The clingfish is an aggressive feeder and in artificial habitat will quickly take food or bite your finger. Clingfish can be cannibals and they will eat their own kind.

PREDATORS:  The clingfish blends in with its surroundings making it hard for predators to attack. However, at low tides, these fish cling to rocks which are over turned by gulls and raccoons that forage close to shore and eat them.

LIFE CYCLE:  In the spring the mother clingfish lays her eggs under a rock that she thinks will be safe. Then the male comes along and squirts his sperms and voila most of the eggs are fertilized and you have baby clingfish. A baby clingfish starts off as small platonic larvae, and then it will begin developing.  During this time the male protects the babies. Most often the babies will stay near the rocks even though they are very curious.

Illustration by Chloe Browett

Photographs by D. Young

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Rock Prickleback

By David Freitas

Common Name: Rock Prickleback

Scientific Name: Xiphister mucosus

Identifying Features:

The Rock Prickleback is greenish-black in color with faint white markings around the base of its tail and light bands on its face.  It is often confused with the Black Prickleback which has similar markings radiating from its eyes except they are generally solid black markings with a light border against a uniformily black body.  The dorsal fin starts at the back of the head and goes down the length of the body merging with the caudal fin. The Rock Prickleback has very small pectoral fins and is lacking pelvic fins giving it a very eel-like appearance. They are called Pricklebacks because the dorsal fin is mostly composed of hard, spiny rays with sharp tips (the rays support the fleshy fins).


The Rock Prickleback is very shy and likes to be near shelter (rocks, shells, vegetation, etc.). Without shelter the Rock Prickleback will feel very nervous and exposed. They will swim to the nearest shelter if the cover is removed.


The Rock Prickleback lives in rocky areas mostly on the exposed coast with moderate waves. It is able to stay out of water for 17-23 hours on land if it is kept moist. The Rock Prickleback is found from south-eastern Alaska to southern California.


The Rock Prickleback eats mostly algae, but also eats small fish and crustaceans. Will also eat small chopped up fish or mussels in captivity.


Likely predators would be various shore birds, raccoons, and river otters.

Life Cycle:

The female Rock Prickleback lays her eggs in clumps under rocks and vegetation then the male coils up around the eggs and guards them until they hatch. The Rock Prickleback spawns late-winter to spring in BC and October to December in California.  The Rock Prickleback takes 4-5 years to reach maturity and can live up to 11 years. The Rock Prickleback breaths air.

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High Cockscomb Prickleback

By Ravana Eagleheart

Common Name: High Cockscomb

Scientific Name: Anoplarchus purpurescens

Size Range: The High Cockscomb usually grows to just over 7 inches (almost 20cm.) in length.

Identifying Features: On the High Cockscomb, there are no pelvic fins, or if there are they are so small they are hardly noticeable. They have small pectoral fins that are usually used for balance. There is a fleshy crest above the back of the head, and the dorsal fin runs along the back from behind the head to, but not into, the tail fin. As a general rule, females grow faster then males do.

Habitat: The High Cockscomb lives in many areas ranging from Alaska to California. They live in the intertidal zone, usually between 10ft below and the surface, but they can go as deep as 30m, or in tidal pools. They can remain out of water for about 15 hours if they are kept moist. They tend to live on gravel or crushed shell as their floor. They inhabit areas from Alaska to California. In BC, they have commonly been found at the mouth of the Fraser River, around Saturna Island, and around Vancouver and Southern Vancouver Island.

Looking down on a High Cockscomb on the left with a Penpoint Gunnel (Apodichthys flavidus) on the right.

Food: The High Cockscomb will eat a wide variety of foods; the most important part of their diet is green algae, but they will eat other things too such as Gammarid Amphipods (shrimp-like shaped amphipods) crabs, worms, plants, green algae and eel grass. They eat these things through their mouth.

Predators: The High Cockscomb is likely to be preyed on by types of snakes, sea birds, sea otters, and raccoons. It avoids being eaten by hiding under rocks, seaweed, or other things in tidal pools to avoid being seen.

Life Cycle: During the mating season, which is January-March, the male will develop an orange color on the pectoral and anal fins, and a red color on the dorsal fins. Before mating takes place, the males will fight by biting each other to see who will mate with the female. The eggs are then laid underneath or between rocks and shells, and the females will have full responsibility for the eggs. For about 29 days the female will fan and guard the eggs until they hatch. Upon hatching, the young are left to their own defenses, and they must find their own way to survive.

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Crescent Gunnel

Author: Allie Eaton

Common Name: Crescent Gunnel

Scientific Name: Pholis laeta

Size Range: 25cm (10 inches)

Identifying Features:  Crescent Gunnels may be dark, olive green to a very bright orange.  They have a series of distinct cresent shaped markings along their dorsal surface that may be white to ivory in colour and are often outlined in black.  The individual we have in our aquarium has a very long body with a small head. Its coloring is yellowish-green, darker on the dorsal surface, and has black, crescent-shaped markings with a light color inside of them. These markings are in a series along the base of its dorsal fin. These creatures are common along the beaches of Victoria, B.C.

Habitat: The Crescent Gunnel can be found between the Aleutian Islands and Northern California. However, it is more common throughout British Columbia. It lives 30 to 40 fathoms (55 to 73 meters) beneath the surface.  It can also be found in intertidal areas and underneath rocks protected by seaweed.

Food: The Crescent Gunnel mostly feeds on crustaceans, molluscs, and marine worms. Juvenile crescent gunnels feed on harpacticoid copepods which are a type of benthic copepod.

Predators: The predators of the Crescent Gunnel are marine birds, large fishes, and mammals. Some examples of creatures that feed on them would be the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), the Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba), the River Otter (Lontra canadensis), the Mink (Mustela vison), and sub tidal fishes.

Life Cycle: An adult Crescent Gunnel matures when it reaches 10 cm in length. Females lay a large amount of eggs (about 600 to 1600) in mid-January. Adult Crescent Gunnels usually guard their eggs, although sometimes their eggs are left unguarded. The eggs hatch after about 2 months. The larvae are planktonic when they hatch. The life span of the Crescent Gunnel is 6 years.

Photos by D. Young

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