California Halibut
Paralichthys californicus

Physical Description

  • Large, toothed flatfish
  • Both eyes on the same side of adult halibut’s head
  • Brown to brownish-black on top/eyed side, can have spots to blend in with habitat
  • Non-eyed side is usually entirely white, sometimes with some mottling 
  • They can change skin color patterns to camouflage with the habitat

Range

  • From Quillayute River, Washington to Magdalena Bay, Baja California, Mexico
  • Separate population in upper Gulf of California
  • Most abundant from central California to Baja California

Habitat

  • Nearshore waters
  • Estuaries, inner continental shelf
  • Most often in 10-100 feet of water, can be as deep as 600 feet

Diet

  • Visual ambush predators – lie flat and very still, partially buried on the seafloor, and then swim out and attack their swimming prey
  • Larval halibut eat plankton
  • Adult halibut eat other small fish, like anchovies and sardines

Predators

  • Bottlenose dolphins, angel sharks, Pacific electric rays, sea lions, and humans fishing for them

Interesting Facts

  • These are not “true” halibuts. They are not in the Hippoglossus genus with the Pacific halibut and Atlantic halibut, the only two true halibuts.
  • As larval halibuts, they are born with one eye on each side of their head. At around 20-29 days, one eye migrates to the other side of the body so that both eyes are on the same side of the head! Halibut can be right-eyed or left-eyed. 
  • California halibut is one of the most important recreational and commercial species in southern California. Most is consumed here in the US, with very little exported.

Sources: California Department of Fish and Wildlife; California Sea Grant; Aquarium of the Pacific; Ben Frable, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Photo: Tracy Clark

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