On Exhibit: Kelp Forest
small invertebrates: hydroids, bryozoans, amphipods, parasitic copepods, isopods
to 10 inches (25 cm)
sheephead, rock wrasses, parrotfish; Family: Labridae (wrasses)
in kelp forests and reefs from five to 240 feet (1.5 m-76 m); from Salt Point, Sonoma California to central Baja California
Loose schools of señoritas swarm in kelp forests and over reefs anywhere from near the bottom of the water to near the top. In the Aquarium's kelp forest exhibits, look for little cigar-shaped orange fish with large black spots on their tails. Señoritas sport large scales, small mouths and protruding teeth that are ideal for picking bryozoans and hydroids from algae.
Commercial fishermen don't target señoritas and anglers consider them bait-stealing nuisances. Señoritas, as well as other animals, depend on healthy kelp forests for food and shelter. Unfortunately, some kelp forests are in danger. In the past 20 years, three-quarters of these underwater forests have disappeared from Channel Islands National Park. Overfishing of sheepheads, lobsters and red urchins removed predators of purple sea urchins. Without predators, the population of purple sea urchins increased rapidly to hoards of grazers that ate enough kelp to devastate nearly all the forests. To save the kelp forests, California agencies established no-fishing zones, called marine reserves, and limited fishing areas around the Channel Islands. If the success of other reserves is repeated, Channel Island National Park kelp forests should flourish again.
Señoritas feed during the day. At night they search for a sandy bottom where they bury in the sand with only their heads exposed. When threatened by predators in the daytime, señoritas dart to the seafloor and hide by burrowing in the bottom sediment. Brandt's cormorants and California sea lions prey on señoritas.
Señoritas, unlike most wrasses, don't change sex.
Señoritas are known as "cleaner" fish. They pick external parasites and copepods from the skin of other fishes. Once a señorita starts cleaning, other fishes gather to be cleaned as well. But then the señorita loses interest, leaving disappointment in its wake.