The Sheephead is a wrasse considered a threatened (vulnerable) species and is being considered for the endangered species list. It is one of the top predators of mollusks, sea urchins, and various crustaceans. One dive I witnessed a Sheephead knock a Abalone off its rock and begin consuming it. These wrasse inhabit the kelp forests off California and from the eastern Pacific from Monterey Bay to the Gulf of California in Mexico.
Our guests Scuba Diving or Snorkeling with Scuba San Diego in the La Jolla Cove Ecological Reserve see these beautiful fish on almost every dive. The large male in this photo was in the kelp forest about 200 yards from the shoreline of La Jolla Cove.
These fish are part of a very interesting group of hermaphroditic fish. There are simultaneous hermaphroditic, sequential hermaphroditic, and spontaneous Hermaphroditic fish in our oceans. Most are born females then as they mature or environmental and social changes occur in their habitat they go through hormonal changes and become males. California Sheephead are all born as females.
The females have a more homogenous color pattern than the male depicted here. The females are dull looking more or less gray/pink full body coloration except for a white underbelly. Both males and females have fang like protruding canine like teeth for prying. They have hard bony heads and sometimes you can see sea urchin spines protruding from the mouth and head from smashing into crevices to dislodge sea urchins so they can crush their casks and eat their delicate feet and eggs. Some have been measure at 3 ft. (31 cm) and weigh up to 35 lbs (16 Kg.) and live over 20 years. If they are starving most of the time they live less than 9 years.
California Sheephead go through the day actively foraging or looking for females during spawning season and return to their near shore habitat during the evening thus being Diurnal fishes.