Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#708: A Very Unusual Snipe Hunt

Despite being high and dry the past five months, I still manage to find subjects I can write about without having to descend into the briny deep. It requires a bit of creativity... or a little help from others. This week I'll focus on yet another species I've never seen before. There are an estimated 15,000 marine fish in the world so there are plenty I have yet to observe or film.

Lisa Jones stopped me on the street a while back with pictures of a fish that was new to me. She had found quite a number of them dead along the shore near Pebbly Beach. I thought it might be a species from south of the border, but couldn't find anything like it in my field guides for the Sea of Cortez or Baja.

When I'm stumped by a new fish, I turn to one of the fishiest people I know... Dr. Milton Love of the Love Lab at UCSB. I first met Milton when we worked on early Jean-Michel Cousteau programs back in the 1970s. He is the author of an incredible guide to species from the Pacific coast. I sent him the images Lisa had sent me and within hours received a reply.

Milton said it was the longspine snipefish (Macroramphosus scolopax). Now I've been on snipe hunts before, but never found anything like this. I immediately Googled the scientific name and found that this species is actually related to seahorses and pipefish, and more closely to the shrimpfishes I've filmed in Asian waters.

The geographic distribution of this snipefish left me a bit confused. Most sources I researched stated it is known from the western Atlantic (Gulf of Maine to Argentina), the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean and in the western Pacific and Indian Ocean. So what was it doing here in the eastern Pacific? Apparently some scientists believe the species may be found throughout the world in tropical and subtropical waters.

I found that adults usually live close to sandy bottoms feeding on bottom-dwelling invertebrates, but the juveniles are normally found in surface waters where they feed on plankton including copepods and amphipods.

Juveniles and adults also tend to school together, often in large numbers. Perhaps some ocean current associated with our recent El Niño brought them here from across the Pacific? If so, they may have expired in our chilly waters. That might explain the number of snipefish Lisa found dead on the beach.

This species is also known as the bellowfish, common bellowsfish, deepbody snipefish, long nosed snipefish, spine trumpet fish and trumpetfish. Must be confusing to have so many identities! Although Lisa's fish were all a shade of blue (perhaps from the colder waters here... or not), adults are usually reddish pink above with a silver belly. I later discovered that juveniles have a bluish back so it wasn't our cold water that was responsible!

The body is compressed laterally. There is a tubular snout that may be over 2" in length with the mouth located at the end. The eyes are large. There is also a long dorsal spine. It bears a resemblance to the ones found on triggerfish, and some early biologists apparently thought this species was related to them. So now you my readers and I have been properly introduced to yet another "portrait from the deep" (with apologies to Dr. Guy Harvey).

© 2016 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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The longspine snipefish... er, bellowfish, deepbody snipefish, long nosed snipefish, spine trumpet fish and trumpetfish.

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