Family Cottidae - sculpins

Most species of sculpins occur in the north Pacific with few species in the Atlantic ocean and southern Hemisphere. Sculpins inhabit rocky bottom areas from tidepools to deep offshore waters. Many sculpins are caught by fishers but only the cabezon attains a size suitable for sport and commercial fishing.


Padded sculpin- Artedius fenestralis


Remarks: A bottom dwelling, year long resident of the bay. Almost never caught by the recreational angler, although it can be found throughout the bay.

Identification: Scale location helps to key this species. Scales are located in the following places; on the head and cheek and between the lateral line to the base of the dorsal fin. Coloration in is a mottled brown to a lighter underside. There are normally 17 rays in the second dorsal fin and 12-14 in the anal fin. Maximum size is 14cm.

Range: Although the padded sculpin inhabits the waters from Alaska to southern California, it is more common to the north within tidal zones and down to 55m.

Scalyhead sculpin- Artedius harringtoni



Remarks: A resident of the bay but may be more common in the spring. Inhabiting the channels this fish lives on or near the bottom.

Identification: Scales are on the head and cheek area but none on the snout. A patch of scales on the back is located between the lateral line and the dorsal fin consisting of 38-51 rows of scales. Coloration above is brownish with darker blotches to pale below; some adults may have an orange coloration under the head. A cirrus is above each eye and red bars often radiate from the eyes. Maximum size is 10cm.

Range: Common in rocky and tidal areas out to 21m from Alaska to southern California.

Bonehead sculpin- Artedius notospilotus



Remarks: A rare sculpin, collected only once within the bay but is located along the Pacific coast.

Identification: Scales are lacking below the eyes but are on the head and a narrow patch on the back. A black spot is normally located between the first and second spines in the dorsal fin and one near the end of the fin. Size to 25cm.

Range: Occasionally found in the intertidal areas to 52m. from Puget Sound to Baja California.

Rosylip sculpin- Ascelichthys rhodorus


Remarks: This sculpin is most abundant during winter and spring but some may reside yearl round. In the bay it dwells within the channels and rocky areas.

Identification: This is the only sculpin locally that lacks pelvic fins and is without scales. Above each eye there is a branched cirrus and there is a preopercular spine hooking upwards. Color is a olive to brown mottling above to lighter below.

Range: Alaska to central California found frequently in tide pools and inshore zones.

Sharpnose sculpin- Clinocottus acuticeps


Remarks: Uncommon in Humboldt Bay.

Identification: A small sculpin with one or two cirri on the end of each maxillary. The inner pelvic fin ray is attached by a membrane to the bady. Maximum length is about 6cm.

Range: Central California north to Alaska in intertidal and sandy beach areas.

Coastrange sculpin- Cottus aleuticus


Remarks: This is a freshwater sculpin which may enter the bay through the tributaries after a heavy rain.

Identification: No cirri, no scales and equal sized second dorsal and anal fins are key features of this sculpin. Another unique characteristic is that the four nostrils are all tubular. Size to 15cm.

Range: Located from the Bering Sea to central California.

Prickly sculpin- Cottus asper



Remarks: A fresh and brackish water species found in the bay after flooding of the tributaries. Sometimes caught by anglers but most are thrown back due to their small size.

Identification: This sculpin does not have scales but may possess rough prickles. Cirri are absent and the pelvic fins have four soft rays. One other feature is that only two of the four nostrils are tubular. The upper size limit is 30cm but most are less than 13cm.

Range: Central California to Alaska near river mouths.

Buffalo sculpin- Enophrys bison




Remarks: Commonly caught by the recreational angler in nearshore areas. While this sculpin does approach an edible size most are considered a nuisance.

Identification: Easily recognized by a preopercular spine in the form of a spike. Another feature is the row of bony plates running the length of the lateral line. Colors on this fish may vary but most are mottled brown above fading to a whiter underside. Size is to 37 cm.

Range: Found from Monterey, California, to Kodiak Island, Alaska. Preferred habitat is shallow rocky regions along the coast.

Red Irish lord- Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus


Remarks: In the bay during all seasons and occasionally caught by anglers. An edible fish but is small like many in this family.

Identification: One way to correctly identify this fish is to look for the four or five rows of scales at the base of the dorsal fin. This in combination with itÍs long continuous dorsal fin and fanning pectoral fins help single out the red Irish lord. Colors are typically red mottling above and white below. May attain a length of 51cm but most are under 30cm.

Range: Monterey Bay to the Sea of Okhotsk.

Brown Irish lord- Hemilepidotus spinosis



Remarks: This fish has been noted in the bay during all seasons but in sparse numbers. Having a smallish body size makes this an undesirable fish to anglers.

Identification: A near mirror image to the red Irish lord makes misidentification common. There are seven or eight rows of scales at the base of the long dorsal fin. The color is normally brownish above but may appear reddish and has a white underside. To about 29 cm.

Range: Southern California to Alaska within the subtidal zones.

Pacific staghorn sculpin- Leptocottus armatus



Remarks: One of the most commonly caught sculpins within and surrounding the bay by sport fishers. A year round resident and may even be found in the fresh water inlets of the bay. Although commonly caught it too is considered a nuisance by anglers.

Identification: This sculpin is readily recognized by itÍs preopercular spine. The spine is in the form of a stagÍs horn from which it has received itÍs name. Other features are a lack of scales, large head, and a dark spot within the first dorsal fin. Coloration is an overall tan to a paler underside.

Range: Baja California to the Bering Sea. Commonly resides over sandy substrates in near shore and estuarine regions.

Fluffy sculpin- Voligocottus synderi


Remarks: This very small sculpin rarely enters the bay. Two specimens were collected from a bay tidepool. Due to itÍs small size anglers may never encounter this fish.

Identification: The body is free of scales and prickles but does have many cirri on the head with fewer on the lateral line and at the dorsal fin base. Coloration varies from green to a red brown but most have four to six dark saddles on the back. These sculpins are usually less than 9cm.

Range: Can be found among the algae in tidepools from northern Baja California to Alaska.

Cabezon- Scorpaenichthys marmoratus



Remarks: This fish is highly prized by both recreational and commercial fishers. Many juveniles can be found throughout the bay but the larger adults will congregate in the deeper channels and between the rocks of the jetties. Jigs, live bait and cut bait will entice this fish to bite when presented near itÍs lair. While the flesh of this sculpin is edible the roe is not and should be discarded.

Identification: Another unscaled sculpin with flabby skin, whose pectoral fins are round and large. There is a branched cirrus above each eye and a flap of skin at the tip of the snout. A brown and/or green colored mottling pattern gives the cabezon excellent camouflage against the substrate. These fish may grow to 100cm and weigh over 6.5kg.

Range: Common along the coast from central Baja California to Alaska. Preferred habitats are rocky areas with algae within tidepools to a depth of 75m.