Mysterious Fish from the Deep in April Fish Facts

Once again, Sport Fishing readers try to stump the experts with strange catches.

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Q: This fish was caught on a long-range trip near Alijos Rocks, in the Pacific off the coast of Baja. The angler hooked it near bottom (either on a metal jig or chunk of sardine; I'm not certain which) over the shallow side of a drop-off, in 200 to 300 feet of water. Sam Hudson -- Orlando, Florida A: The identification of this one turned out to be kind of tricky. I recognized it as a member of the bigeye family, Priacanthidae. However, I have never seen any member of that family with yellow fins, so I was baffled. When I see a fish from a relatively out-of-the-way place (and Alijos Rocks certainly qualifies), I always suspect that perhaps we're dealing with a species new to science. So I turned to Wayne Starnes, the world authority on this group of fishes, and he assured me that — despite the unusual coloration — it's a bulleye, Cookeolus japonicus. True, every bulleye that I have seen had red fins, but there you go; that's the way science sometimes works. Just when you think you know something, it turns out you don't. Bulleye are deepwater reef fishes (living on bottom at about 100 to 1,300 feet), found worldwide in tropical or subtropical waters, and almost always around islands or offshore rocks. In the eastern Pacific, they have been taken from where this one was caught southward to Peru. The world-record bulleye measured about 27 inches long, so your fish appears to be a fairly healthy specimen. Bigeye feed above the bottom on small crustaceans such as krill. The difficulty in determining the species points out how little we know about a number of fishes. In many instances for a given species, only a handful of individuals — in fact sometimes only one individual — has ever been examined by a scientist. From the perspective of a West Coast researcher, I can suggest one way that anglers can help us understand more about fishes living in the eastern Pacific: When the tuna bite slows down on a long-range trip and the only option is to sit around and drink beer, try fishing the bottom with small baited hooks. And then take pictures of or even save the weirder stuff you catch. — Milton Love Catch a glimpse of a small school of Indian Ocean bulleye in this underwater video.
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**Q **Is this a giant squid? It is definitely not giant in size. With an overall length of about 15 inches, it would have to be a juvenile. This was among a school of squid that swam in next to the Kailua pier in Kona, where I caught it. I was fishing with a small live fish for bait. This squid grabbed it and hooked itself. I was really excited because it didn't look like any squid I had ever seen before. (Photo courtesy the Charter Desk at Honokohau Harbor, Kona) Marty Crusat -- Kailua -Kona, Hawaii A: Marty, it doesn't look like a juvenile giant squid (Architeuthis dux). You were lucky enough to catch a nice-size tropical reef squid, probably the Pacific reef squid Sepioteuthis lessoniana (known in Hawaiian waters as the big-fin reef squid), but there are several undescribed, cryptic (hidden) species in the Sepioteuthis complex, so it's impossible to say for sure without the specimen in hand for further study. These tasty sepioteuthi frequent sea-grass beds, shallow reef flats and reef edges throughout the tropical Indo-Pacific region from northern Japan to Australia, Hawaii to the Red Sea and, most recently, into the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal. Like other squid, this group is very fast growing; unlike fish, they grow in a constant linear or even logarithmic fashion throughout their entire life while living on a carnivorous diet of fish and crustaceans. Scientists age squid by examining the daily growth rings laid down in the statolith (an inner-earlike organ that squid use to help them maintain balance and orientation). In doing so, they've found that tropical reef squid can reach 6 inches mantle length in around four months, mature at around six months (at 8 inches mantle length), and seldom live longer than 12 to 14 months, when they reach a maximum of 16 inches mantle length and 4 pounds. In comparison, the giant squid Architeuthis dux, lives in deep waters for up to three to four years, growing at an average of 2 to 3 millimeters per day to a maximum of 7.4 feet mantle length and 610 pounds — so it increases by around 3 feet of mantle length per year! Giant squid maintain buoyancy through high levels of ammonium chloride in the body, which makes them quite unpalatable. In contrast, the Pacific reef squid are delicious. So a real test of whether your squid was a giant or not would have been in the eating. (As an aside, giant squid aren't the world largest invertebrate. That honor goes to the even heavier colossal squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, which grows to mantle lengths of around 13 feet — estimated from the size of the largest-known beak taken from a sperm whale's stomach. One colossal squid, of 10 feet mantle length, was verified to weigh 1,100 pounds. Researchers say the colossal squid apparently "tastes like a cockle — very nice," indicating that unlike the giant squid, the colossal doesn't utilize ammonium chloride for buoyancy.) — Ben Diggles Click to see the remarkable locomotion of another Hawaiian squid, the bigfin, as an underwater video camera follows a school.Courtesy Charter Desk at Honokohau Harbor, Kona, Hawaii
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Is this species of grouper just a variation from that shown on the next page? Or are these two different species? Click "next" and find out!
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Q: Markings on reef fish tend to vary a lot, which makes them hard to identify. These two grouper [on this page and previous] were both called strawberry grouper aboard the boats I caught them on. The first came from a Key West reef in about 90 feet of water; the second from Cancun, Mexico, in about 50 feet of water. Are they the same species? What makes fish of the same species vary so much? Dominick Porcelli -- Cincinnati, Ohio A: Well, Dominick, they're two separate but related members of the sea bass (grouper) family. The first is a graysby (Cephalopholus cruentata); the second is red hind (Epinephelus guttatus). The graysby is recognized by four spots along the base of the dorsal fin, only one of which is visible in the photo. The red hind has a bunch of reddish spots as well, but dark edges on dorsal, anal and caudal fins distinguish it from the graysby. Graysbys top out at a bit over 2 pounds and a foot in length, while the red hind can reach at least 8 pounds. To your other question, probably no group of fishes can change color as rapidly and completely as the sea bass family, at least some members. Those spots on the graysby can be a contrasting dark or light, depending on the color phase. A close relative called a coney (C. fulva) has three distinct color phases, including one with contrasting dark/light shades on the dorsal and ventral flanks. Many in the family have distinctive juvenile color phases, very different from the adult. What purpose these pigment patterns serve is not clear. Species of sea basses give the family an incredible range of sizes, from some that top off at less than 2 inches when full grown to the giant goliath grouper, which can reach weights of well over 500 pounds. — Bob Shipp
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Q: While throwing a cast net in the tide waters of Taylor Creek near Fort Pierce, Florida, I netted this fish. I haven't seen one like it before. I noticed it did have a "thread" at the posterior end of the soft dorsal. Its mouth resembled that of a gold shiner more than a herring. The fish measured 13 inches. Tim Simos -- Fort Pierce, Florida A: Your catch is a gizzard shad, Dorosoma cepedianum, Tim. This member of the herring family (Clupeidae) ranges from the Great Lakes region through central Florida and along Gulf of Mexico tributaries to Mexico. It also has been introduced outside its native range. Although the gizzard shad is primarily a freshwater species, it often enters brackish water. It reaches a maximum length of more than 20 inches but has little value as food or as a game fish; gizzard shad are caught primarily by cast-netting, as was your specimen, and used for bait. — Ray Waldner This short video can give you an up-close-and-personal look at a gizzard shad.