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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Grunt Sculpin

Author: Tabitha Baatz

Common name: Grunt Sculpin

Scientific name: Rhamphocottus  richardsonii

Size range: up to 8.3 cm

Identifying features: Spiny pectoral fins, lower rays are not webbed; used for gripping and hopping on the substrate.  They have a long snout and there is no definition between the head and body other than the gills.  Usually bright colours; tan to orange with brown saddles.

Habitat: Temperate coastal waters of the North Pacific; Japan to Alaska.  As far south as Santa Monica Bay.  Inhabits tidal pools, rocky areas, and sandy bottoms of depths of 165 m.  They take shelter in empty giant barnacles, bottles, cans, and nooks in the bottom of reefs.

Food: Adults eat copepods, amphipods, zooplankton, decapod and barnacle larvae, and crustaceans.  The young are too small to eat crustaceans.  Grunt sculpins have thick lips and small teeth.

Predators: The Grunt Sculpin escapes being eaten by hiding in empty Giant Barnacle shells.  It sticks its snout out to make it look as if the barnacle is closed but alive.  It will also turn around and stick its tail out and wave it back and forth to make it seem as if the barnacle is feeding.  Captive Grunt Sculpin will react to fast or looming objects beyond the glass.  They will also eat frozen krill but not dried fish flakes.

Life Cycle: During spawning the female will chase a male into a crevice and keep him there until she lays her eggs. The male will then fertilize them.  Spawning time is winter and spring.  Both of the parents will take care of the eggs until they hatch-about six months.  The eggs are coloured yellow to orange.

Photos by T. Baatz and D. Young

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Black Prickleback

Authors: Matt Czyz and Garnet Spring

Common name: Black Prickleback

Scientific name: Xiphister atropurpureus

Size: up to 30cm in length

Identifying Features

The Black Prickleback is dark reddish brown to black in color with a pale head. The head is small with approximately three light edged bands radiating from each eye. They are also recognized for having large features, especially a large jaw.


Black Pricklebacks prefer to live in rocky terrain with algae cover. They can be found under rocks and gravel and the smaller ones are commonly found in small tide pools. They are capable of breathing air and can be out of water for up to twenty three hours.  They do this by keeping moist by burrowing under seaweed and wet rocks. Usually they live somewhere around 7.6 meters from the surface. They tend to stay away from areas where fishermen operate.

Food (Prey)

The typical diet of a Black Pricklebacks includes crabs, gammarid amphipods, worms and some varieties of algae.


Black Pricklebacks are mainly hunted by sea birds or other larger “eels” and other fish.  They have adapted to avoid these predators by using their small size and ability to take cover under rocks or in plants. Their size plays a large role as they can hide under or inbetween rocks where other fish as well as gulls and other birds cannot see them or reach them.

Life cycle

Spawning takes places from February to April off the west coast of the United States and from April to mid-May off the coast of British Columbia. Females will lay 700 to 4000 eggs under rocks or other protected areas. The eggs are deposited one by one and fertilized by the male.  They are then shaped into spherical clusters by the mother and father. Males fertilize and guard the eggs from multiple mates.  Black Pricklebacks can live to be thirteen years old but their overall age at maturity is just two years.

Photos by D. Young

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The Bay Pipefish

By Jesse W.M Campbell

Common name: Bay Pipefish, North West Pacific Pipefish, Kelp Pipefish

Scientific name: Sygnathus leptorhynchus (Sygnathus griseolineatus)

Size range: Females may grow up to 39cm (15.6 inches).

Identifying Features:  A long, slender, tube like body with bony plates giving the animal a slightly hexagonal circumference. The dorsal fin is shallow, rectangular, and mostly translucent giving the Bay Pipefish the appearance of having an undulating flag attached to its vertebrae. The pectoral (side, by gill cover) and tail fins are semi circular and tiny in proportion to its elongated body. Bay Pipefish undulate there dorsal fins and paddle the pectoral fins while the body positions itself. The pipefish steers by moving its head up, down and side to side.  Like other members of the Syngnathos (together-jaws) genre the Bay Pipefish has a small terminal (upward directed) mouth with a long, slender, tube like cavity leading to the gill covers. The body plates meet to form a bony ridge along the length of the body which contains the sensory organs which are collectively known as the lateral line. Bay Pipefish are often seen in varying shades of forest and emerald green.  Olive and sand colored varieties are also known.

Habitat: The Bay Pipefish is found from Baja California to Sitka Alaska.  They are commonly found in Eel Grass beds as well as in or near sloughs and wharves such as Maple bay near the city of Duncan, British Columbia, Canada. They are generally found in shallow areas where light can penetrate to the algae beds where their favorite foods can be found.  They camouflage most effectively within Eel Grass beds. Slow currents are required for the Bay Pipefish to remain on course when searching for food, or for mating, because they are not the most efficient swimmers and steer using their heads.

Food: Crustaceans such as Amphipods, Copepods, and crab larvae proliferate in sheltered bays and Eel Grass beds. The Pipefish captures its prey by inflating its ‘cheeks’ and sucking up the morsels through its slender mouth directly to the stomach.

Predators:  There is no major commercial or sport fisheries for the Bay Pipefish. Dried pipefish and seahorses, mixed with herbs, are used as a holistic treatment in some cultures.  The collection ofSygnathus for this purpose is one of the key factors that places some of their populations at risk, particularly the seahorses.  If caught in a sudden low tide on a rocky shore the Bay pipefish may become stranded in a tidal pool and be open to predation form birds and other scavengers. The Bay pipefish’s main defense is to remain inconspicuous and to look like a meager meal.

Life Cycle:  As like other members of the Sygnathus genus the male Bay Pipefish raises the eggs. The female Pipefish courts the male, she may deposit up to 225 eggs to the brood pouch on the underside of the male. A protective membrane develops over the pouch sealing the eggs inside for incubation. The male supplies nourishment to the eggs by attachment to the abdominal wall and bloodstream. If food becomes scarce the male may derive nutrients from a few of the eggs to sustain himself for the greater good of the brood. Not all eggs will survive, those who do hatch into miniature bug eyed adults after about 2 weeks depending on water parameters. Male Pipefish have been reported carrying eggs as early as May 26th and as late as August.

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Author: Spencer Mann

Common name(s): Copper Rockfish, White Belly, and Chucklehead.

Scientific name: Sebastes caurinus

Size range: 12- 22 inches (38.1cm – 55.9cm) and weigh 4 – 10lbs

Identifying Features:

The Copper Rockfish can come in a wide range of sizes and colours. The generic colours are a white belly with orange or copper sides running from head to tail. These fish have a distinct line that runs from the front to the back of the fish. Other colours range from orange, gold, copper with a yellow highlight or brown with a pinkish tinge. They have a spiky dorsal fin with two smaller fins near the tail. Females can be identified easily simply by their size. They are larger than males because space is needed to hold more young. The young are generally the same colours as the juveniles and adults, just very small.


These fish are found along the west coast in the Pacific Ocean and commonly found in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. They have been found as far north as the Gulf of Alaska. Copper Rockfish live in shallow waters about 10 – 15ft deep to the dark depths of 600ft. They can live with other creatures in similar depths and have no problem adapting. Adult fish hide out along the sea floor around rocks and plants. Once the Copper Rockfish has chosen an area to call “home”, it will not swim more than a mile from that place.


Juveniles begin feeding on planktonic crustaceans until they are able to hunt bigger prey. Older Copper Rockfish will feed on organisms such as shrimp, snails, small crabs, worms, small fish, squid and octopuses.


The juveniles hide in kelp forests and rocky areas to avoid predators such as Lingcod, Cabezon, and also salmon. As they mature, Copper Rockfish are prayed on by sea birds and sea mammals like seals and otters. As well as humans who catch them as food and for fun because they are considered a sport fish. Copper Rockfish are known to be the last to die in a net full of rockfish. They will continue to try to escape long after others have died.

Life Cycle:

Males mature between the ages of three and seven years and females mature between four to eight years. Females are generally larger to obtain up to 20,000 eggs. Each egg is 0.05 inches in diameter and the walls are 0.1 inch thick. Normally fish eggs develop outside a female, but for the Copper Rockfish, it’s internal. These females are known as a viviparous fish meaning that they will give birth to live young after 8 – 10 months. The Copper Rockfish can reach the ages of forty plus years. The young are generally the same colours as the juveniles and adults.

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Silver Spotted Sculpin

By Oshia Shillingford

Common name: Silver Spotted Sculpin

Scientific name: Blepsias cirrhosus

Size range: Up to 19cm (7.5 inches) in length

Identifying Features:  The Silver Spotted Sculpin is light olive brown, green or coppery yellow in colour. It has reflective silver spots located behind the pectoral fins.  It has two dorsal fins, and the second dorsal fin is larger than the first. It has prominent cirri on the nose and bottom jaw.

Habitat: The Silver Spotted Sculpin is found in Southern British Columbia and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  It is often found in protected shallow water among marine plants such as eel grass as well as in kelp beds on exposed shores.

Food: The Biology 11 class with Mr. Young has the Silver spotted Sculpin in an aquarium for four months.  Within our aquarium it has only been observed eating live shrimp and would not eat the frozen krill.  It appears to be an ambush predator.  It has been observed hiding in the eel grass for long periods of time.  Its colouration is very cryptic and it is hard to see within the rotting blades of the eel grass.  it darts out to catch the live shrimp and if it’s unsuccessful it will retreat back in to cover.

Predators: The Silver Spotted Sculpin has not been observed being taken as prey.   Larger fish or river otters might find the Silver Spotted Sculpin a tasty snack.  It is very cautious in nature and prefers to be hidden in eel grass and kelp and often looks like floating kelp itself.

Life Cycle: Observations are limited on reproduction. Eggs are clear, light brown or blue and they are attached to rocks in shallow waters. In the Puget Sound the eggs ripen in early February.

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