The garibaldi: OCD in the sea (part 2)

Photo credit: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium / Gary Florin

Here’s the second section of the Wild Things column on the garibaldi, one crazy fish!

“The only thing that seems to affect their fearless behavior is the color of the animal that’s approaching them,” said Cabrillo Marine Aquarium (CMA) Research Curator Dr. Kiersten Darrow. “They will attack everybody else, but if they see that it’s a garibaldi fish of a certain type then they will back away.”

The only animal safe from an adult garibaldi’s fury is a juvenile garibaldi. Juveniles have vivid blue spots that pop against the brilliant orange background serving as protection. “We believe that the blue iridescent spots are a signal to the adults that’s an under aged animal and not a threat,” said Schaadt. “A big adult doesn’t go after a baby.”

Research by a student at the aquarium indicated that the blue spots actually ward off adult garibaldi, but attract juvenile garibaldi. “When juveniles saw the blue coloration they would attack it like crazy,” said Darrow. “So it turns on the juveniles and it turns off the adults.”

Even at a young age garibaldi start practicing their aggressive behavior, the blue spots just help younger and older fish target an appropriately sized battle partner within their own species.

After years of research, CMA staff and volunteers have developed a successful system for raising garibaldi. In fact, CMA just received the very prestigious Edward H. Bean award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for their success with nurturing garibaldi into brilliant orange adult fish. The award also recognizes the importance of being able to give garibaldi to other aquariums without taking fish from the wild.

Garibaldi are special to CMA and to California. They are only found along Southern California’s coast and the northern section of Baja California where they eat by picking away at sponges, bryozoans and other animals found on rocks. Their beautiful coloring and preferred habitat earned them the title of California’s State Marine Fish in 1995, an honor that provides them full protection in state waters.

The next time you don’t feel like house cleaning think of the male garibaldi tending his nest on the ocean floor from May to October. Then you will realize that the task isn’t so bad without any predators to worry about. And be glad you aren’t near his nest because he doesn’t take kindly to visitors.

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