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  • Writer's pictureMick McMurray

Fish of Southern California

Updated: May 24

We have done some extensive diving in So Cal and want to share some of the images we have of the fish we have had the opportunity to see. In the kelp forests off the coast of Southern California, many bottom-dwelling fish species have developed a unique survival strategy: camouflage. These fish have evolved to blend in seamlessly with their surroundings, making it harder for predators to spot them and increasing their chances of survival. Many of these photos were taken in the Point Loma kelp forests off the coast of San Diego. Some of the most commonly found there are the cabezon, sculpin, painted greenling, and scorpionfish. They are masters of disguise; if you don't slow down and look for them, you will swim right past them.

There are other fish that live along the bottom and some of them are also camouflaged to blend in. The halibut is a right-eyed flatfish where one eye migrates to the other side so both eyes are on the same side. They inhabit the sandy flats and eat mainly small crustaceans. This photo is from La Jolla Shores where you can find other species of flatfish.

Ling cod are known for their large size, with adults reaching up to six feet in length, and their distinctive appearance, with their mottled green and brown coloring. They are often found in rocky areas and near reef formations, where they feed on a variety of small fish and crustaceans. This photo of the ling cod was taken in the Point Loma kelp bed where we have seen many of them mostly around 3 feet long.

Southern California is home to a wide variety of rockfish species, including the Olive and Copper rockfish and the tree fish pictured below. They are all part of the Scorpaenidae family and inhabit the rocky reefs. These photos were also taken in the Point Loma kelp bed.

We really enjoy diving in the Southern California kelp forests. The photos below were taken in the Channel Islands except for the Black Sea bass which was taken at La Jolla Cove.

The California Sheephead is an interesting species of fish which are known for its large, triangular-shaped heads and sharp teeth, making them easily recognizable. They are all born female and can morph into a male at different stages of their life especially if the male population is reduced by fishing. We have seen them on almost every dive in the Channel Islands.

Schooling mackerel are beautiful and fascinating fish that are known for their large schools and coordinated movements, making them an impressive sight. They can often be seen swimming in tight formation, creating a shimmering and ever-changing shape as they move through the water. They are a common sight in Southern California and we have seen some large schools containing thousands of fish.

Salema is pretty fish that resembles small bass and often swims in schools. They have 6 to 8 stripes on their sides and glide effortlessly through the kelp.

California sargo is an interesting fish belonging to the grunt family. They inhibit the rocky reefs and kelp forests in Southern California and eat mostly small crustaceans and mollusks. We can easily spot them because of their bright bodies and black stripe.

The opaleye fish are light green in color with light spots by the dorsal fin. The Opaleye fish has large blue-green opalescent eyes, from where it gets its name

The Garibaldi is the California State Fish and a very common sight in the kelp forests. They are very territorial however they are very curious about divers. A lot of the time they will swim right up to your camera port and pose. I think they are looking at their reflection. The juvenile is very pretty with blue iridescent spots.


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