Rock Gunnel

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I caught a couple of these fine fish while tidepooling in the Golden State. Though it may look like an eel, due to its flattened, elongated body – it is in the same order as many other more “conventionally shaped” fish, such as Striped Bass.

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Fully grown adult Rock Gunnels can reach a foot in length. Their coloration is highly variable, ranging from hues of yellow-green to brown to crimson.

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This neat creature may remain above the waterline at low tide, sheltered beneath rocks and algae; it can breathe air if necessary. They are frequently encountered on rocky shorelines and splash around noticeably when uncovered.

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The Rock Gunnel uses habitat sheltered by rocks and algae both above and below the waterline, which is likely to protected it from its natural predators – seabirds, fish and marine mammals.

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Thought to spawn during Winter, its eggs are laid on the underside of a shell or under a stone in a nest prepared by the male. The male guards the eggs, fanning them with his tail.

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The Rock Gunnel is found in the coastal waters of North America and Europe. It is thought to feed mainly on small crustaceans, polychaetes and mollusks.

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This fish is also known as the “Butterfish” due to its slipperiness.

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Padded Sculpin

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While tidepooling in California we found many cool creatures, including a few examples of this neat fish.

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Sculpins make up a very large family of fish, with about 300 species. They are characterized by an oversized head and fanlike pectoral fins.

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Most species are found in Arctic or temperate waters and are bottom dwellers. They typically occur in shallow or intertidal zones, though some species occur in the deep ocean and others in fresh water.

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Sculpins differ from many other bony fish because they lack a swim bladder. A swim bladder is a gas-filled sack that a fish can expand or deflate to control its buoyancy in the water column. Lack of a swim bladder fits the sculpin’s bottom-dwelling habits.

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Most species of Sculpin have cryptic coloration (brown or green to blend in with silt and algae). They are generally small fish, ranging 5 to 6 inches in length.

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The Padded Sculpin feeds mainly on small invertebrates; in turn, it is an important food sources for other fish.

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Sculpins are also known as “Bullheads” or “Sea Scorpions” and even some very unflattering terms, such as “Double Uglies.”

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Northern Clingfish

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A tadpole in the ocean? That was the first thought that went through my head upon finding this fascinating fish. Most Clingfish species have tapering bodies and flattened heads, appearing somewhat tadpole-like in their overall shape.

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These fairly small to very small fishes are widespread in tropical and temperate regions, mostly near the coast, but a few species in deeper seas or fresh water. They are thought to primarily feed on tiny crustaceans.

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Clingfish are named for their ability to firmly attach themselves to surfaces, even in strong water currents or when hit by waves. This ability is enabled by their sucking disc, which is located on the underside at the chest and is formed by modified pelvic fins and adjacent tissue.

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Most species shelter in shallow reefs or seagrass beds, clinging to rocks, algae and seagrass leaves with their sucking disc. The sucking disc can be remarkably strong, in some species able to lift as much as 300 times the weight of the Clingfish.

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A Clingfish’s suction cup does double duty. When the tide goes out, a Clingfish’s pool might be left high and dry. But the cup holds in moisture, so the fish can still breathe.

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They often live in places exposed to strong currents and wave action and some are amphibious. As long as this intertidal-living species is kept moist by splashing waves, it can survive for up to three to four days on land.

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Most Clingfish species have a cryptic coloration, often brown, grey, whitish, black, reddish or green shades, and in some cases they can rapidly change color to match their background. This was a super cool find while tidepooling in the Golden State.

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Striped Kelpfish

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While tidepooling in the Bay Area of California, I came across this super cool creature that looks like seaweed.

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The Striped Kelpfish has an elongated and compressed body. It is brown, green or red in color and can be weakly striped or mottled in darker colors. It reaches a maximum length of 9 inches, with females being larger than males.

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These neat fish are found in intertidal zones within algae beds including in tidal pools and within seaweed and the kelp canopy mid-water at depths up to 30 feet.

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Kelpfish are known to change colors to adapt to their surroundings, they do this to hunt for their food, which is other small fish, crustaceans and mollusks…or to avoid becoming eaten.

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They are considered to be an important component of the food chain preyed upon by a large variety of fish, sea birds and marine mammals.

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The Striped Kelpfish is native to the Pacific Coast of North America from British Columbia, Canada to Baja California, Mexico.

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Penpoint Gunnel

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This was an exciting find while tidepooling in California. The creature’s color can be varying shades of green, maroon or brown. It is commonly 4 to 8 inches long, though it can grow up to 18 inches. It is most easily identified by the dark bar below each eye.

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This is an elongated fish with long, low fins that tends to camouflage itself by matching the color of the seaweed where it hides. While Penpoint Gunnels cannot change color, they appear to be able to recognize and select the vegetation for which their color is a good match.

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In addition to hiding in seaweed, they also hide under rocks – including rocks out of the water at low tide. These fish are capable of breathing air while out of the water. The “penpoint” refers to the first spine of the anal fin. It is large and grooved like a fountain pen point.

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Like most Gunnels, the Penpoint Gunnel feeds on small crustaceans and mollusks. This North American Pacific Coast fish ranges from Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska to Santa Barbara Island in southern California.

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Of all the cool creatures that I encountered on my California visit, this one was my favorite.

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Smoothhead Sculpin

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We found this cool creature while tidepooling in California. One thing that is noticeable about these particular sculpins is their massive heads, especially when compared to their tidepool peers.

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This is a common small fish in pools in the intertidal zone of rocky coasts, flitting from one hiding place to another. It shows great homing ability, returning each time the tide recedes to the pool in which it has taken up residence.

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The Smoothhead Sculpin is a predator, feeding on small invertebrates such as isopods, amphipods, gastropod mollusks, worms and barnacles – as well as insects that happen to fall into the water.

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When the seas are rough, it moves closer the shore. It can leave the water and breathe air, exchanging both oxygen and carbon dioxide, while hiding in a damp spot. This was an awesome Golden State find.

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Monkeyface Prickleback

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While exploring tide pools in north-central California, I came across this wonderful little fish. It tends to stay near the coast, rather than roaming the open ocean, and is often found in rocky areas.

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Young Monkeyface Pricklebacks, like this one, feed on zooplankton and crustaceans, while adults are primarily herbivorous, mainly consuming red and green algae.

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These long, slender fish, grow to about 18 inches in length and possess the unfishlike ability to breathe and survive out of water while hidden under seaweed or rocks. This was one of many fun finds during my tidal pool adventure.

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