Taking the Measure of a Giant Sea Bass
Dec. 6, 2016 — A little love for a Giant Sea Bass pays huge dividends, writes Jose Bacallao, operations manager for our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.
The Giant Sea Bass is a majestic fish. Lovingly known as the GSB, these California natives can reach a length of 7 feet, weigh up to 600 pounds, and live more than 70 years. Did I mention these animals are huge? They are like gigantic swimming mouths!
Unfortunately, these gentle giants were hunted to the brink of extinction last century. So the State of California imposed extremely strict regulations in the 1980s to save the species.
To help protect these wonders of the sea, our friend and colleague Mike Couffer asked Heal the Bay in 2015 to embark on a unique study – to track the spot patterns (the polka-dots) of a super tiny baby GSB over the course of one year. These spot patterns could be a way of identifying each individual, like a fingerprint, and would assist in research and conservation efforts along the coasts and islands of Southern California. Mike, an environmental consultant, is doing this research work in conjunction with Cal State Northridge.
Mike captured and delivered a 1.5-inch long baby Giant Sea Bass to the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and placed it in our care. Caring for a little one is always a bit stressful, with many sleepless nights and an endless list of duties to keep the baby safe and healthy. It’s exhausting!
Each month, Mike would visit the Aquarium and photograph both sides of the fish, tracking and documenting changes in the fish’s spot pattern. Our Aquarist team would measure the fish’s length and weight every month — both for this study and other studies being undertaken in partnership with several institutions.
These were the most stressful days. We had to be gentle moving the little one from tank, to vessel, to weight scale, to measurement table, and then back to its tank. We did this work quietly, by hand, and with lots of love.
Well, as a proud papa, I can tell you our diligent care and feeding has paid off. Over the past year, our GSB has now grown to 7 inches in length and has gained about 100 times its weight. And what about those spot patterns? Do the spots on a Giant Sea Bass change or move over time? We’ll find out for sure once the study is published soon. It’s always a delight working with Mike and I look forward to more GSB studies with him and our colleagues at other facilities.
Now that the research is done, we can sit back and enjoy watching our GSB grow further. We expect to have the fish for a few more years, but like a young adult he’s going to have to move out of the house someday. Our tanks simply aren’t large enough to safely and comfortably house a full-grown GSB. But we’re not even thinking about that now!