Nautichthys oculofasciatus Girard, 1857, Fort Steilacoom, Puget Sound, Washington, United States. Has been listed as Nautichthys oculo-fasciatus and has been segregated from the Cottidae into the
Hemitripteridae on the basis of scales modified into embedded spines.
OTHER COMMON NAMES
English: Sailor fish.
The elongated rays of the first dorsal fin and the long second dorsal and anal fins, together with a dark bar through the eye joining a dark flap of skin over each eye, cause the cream or brown sailfin sculpin to appear very cryptic, especially among seaweed. Sailfins reach 8 in (20 cm).
From southern California to the Sea of Okhotsk.
Sailfins live on rocky reefs and outcroppings, and on adjacent sand bottom, from shallow water down to over 360 ft (110 m) depth.
In shallow water, the sailfin sculpin waves its first dorsal fin back and forth in synchrony with the motion of adjacent seaweeds in the surge. Between waves of the dorsal fin, the sailfin hops forward by rippling the second dorsal fin and sculling with the pectoral fins. In captivity, sailfins that have never experienced any surge perform the same combination of hopping forward between sweeps of the first dorsal fin. This disruptive mimicry of seaweed obscures the movement of the fish and may enable close approach to prey. This species is nocturnally active.
FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET
Feeds on small shrimps and other crustaceans. Individuals slowly approach their prey prior to hopping forward and engulfing them.
Sailfin sculpins copulate, and internal gametic association enables the female to repeatedly extrude the bright orange eggs into interstitial spaces among mussels in the intertidal over a period of weeks during winter. The female must migrate into shallow water during high tides in order to reach the mussel beds, where the eggs are periodically exposed to air but are kept cool and damp by the mussels. Larval sailfin sculpins develop extremely elongate pectoral fins that are spread like butterfly wings and used to glide down through the water column while the larva forages on zooplankton. This
enables sailfin sculpins to reach relatively large sizes before permanently settling during late spring.
Not listed by the IUCN. Elimination of mussel beds by harvesting or pollution will limit the reproduction of the sailfin sculpin, but the small fish is not directly taken for any purpose other than use in aquarium displays. As with the grunt sculpin, larvae of the sailfin sculpin are easily cultured.
SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS
Sailfin sculpins are popular with night divers and as display species in public aquariums.
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