Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#667: A Star-Studded Event?

No, Angelina and Brad aren't coming out to the island this holiday season, and neither are any of the other Hollywierd crowd as far as I know, but over the course of the last few months we have had a real star enter our waters. I'm talking about the star studded grouper (Epinephelus niphobles although a recent change to Hyporthodus niphobles is recognized by some scientists). At one time this species was considered the same as the snowy grouper (Epinephelus niveatus) found in the western Atlantic, but researchers now feel they are distinct.

Now groupers are something I usually see in the tropics and subtropics. Our giant sea bass used to be in the same family as the groupers, but then it got reassigned to the wreckfish family. This fish may meet the same fate as some researchers want to assign it to a different family too. Those indecisive taxonomists are at it again. I have yet to see the rare broomtail grouper that friends have imaged over on "the big island."

The star studded grouper is yet another of our unusual visitors from south of the border (you know, down Mexico way). Now marine critters don't need a visa or even a green card to enter southern California. They are exempt. And Donald Trump can't do a thing about it! But they do need to break another barrier to reach our shores... the temperature barrier!

WeiWei Gao (who supplied the images for this column) and others have been observing and filming this species in the waters off "the big island" for a little while. I have not seen it myself. Technically its northern range does reach into this region, but it is a rarity to see them even in Mexican waters. They are known as far south as Peru.

The images I have seen are of juveniles which probably reached our waters as planktonic larvae. These youngsters have a dark brown to blackish body with a pattern of white spots. The tail abruptly turns pale or translucent at the base. Adults lose the spots and are a uniform brown, and may reach lengths of over 3 1/2 feet.

These fish prefer habitats around rocky or coral reefs and the nearby soft bottoms (no relation to Charmin). They are demersal or bottom dwellers, and may be found as deep as 1,500 feet. Youngsters, like the ones being seen "over there," generally favor shallow, coastal waters. Only the adults are secure enough to brave the deeps!

They are active carnivores. Munchies include fish, octopus, squid, cuttlefish and crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs. Although this species is occasionally caught in deep trawls in the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez), they are too rare to be considered a target for a commercial fishery.

© 2015 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 29, 10:00 AM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. You can also watch these episodes in iPod format on YouTube through my channel there (drbillbushing). Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

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Star studded grouper in San Diego waters (photo credit: WeiWei Gao).

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2015 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia