Pacific Surfperch
Rhacochilus vacca

Physical Description

  • Dark coloration with a dark bar on side beneath the top fin
  • Top fin’s rays longer in front, shorter in back
  • Often has yellow bottom fins
  • Deeply forked tail fin
  • Upon death turns almost white

Range

  • Southern British Columbia to Isla Guadalupe, central Baja California, Mexico

Habitat

  • Shallow water, rocky areas, around piers, pilings, and docks 
  • Oceans and bays
  • Bottom-dwelling, in depths to 150 feet

Diet

  • Large, hard-shelled invertebrates, such as crabs, brittle stars, sand dollars, barnacles, bean clams, mussels, limpets, dove shells, California cones, Norris top shells, and chitons (a class of marine molluscs)

Predators

  • Adult rubberlip, pile, and striped surfperch are considered too large to often be eaten by many predators 
  • Kelp bass eat juvenile surfperch
  • Electric rays, sharks, large serranid bass, seals, and sea lions are also potential predators of surfperch

Interesting Facts

  • Pile surfperch are able to crush all of their hard-shelled prey with their fused teeth plates. Since other perch do not have this ability, some scientists think they should be in their own genus.
  • It is a common fish caught off of piers; one of the ways to fish for it included bobbing an entire clump of mussels (their favorite food) with hooks attached!

Sources: Pierfishing.com; fishnbc.com; CentralBiodiversity.org; Species Profiles: Life Histories and Environmental Requirements of Coastal Fishes and Invertebrates

Photo: Herb Gruenhagen

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