Rockin’ rockfish run-up: all about the Scorpaenidae family

Rockfish with a large open mouth.

Looking for some family fun on December 31? Even though we’re temporarily closed to the public, we’ve got you covered with Rockin’ Rockfish Noon Year’s Eve, a free, virtual event with music from local favorite Mikey the Rad Scientist, a dance party, fun animal facts and more. Better yet, you won’t have to stay up past bedtime to enjoy all the fun: as the name implies, we’ll be ringing in 2021 at noon!

Now, we can’t have a party without introducing you to the guest of honor, can we? Since New Year’s celebrations are all about countdowns (and our Noon Year’s party will feature one too), here come our top 10 cool things to know about rockfish…countdown-style!

#10: All in a name
Where did rockfish get their names? While the jury is still out on their favorite genre of music, one thing we do know about them is that they have a tendency to hide in the nooks and crannies of underwater rock formations. 

#9: Keeping it (more than) 100
There are over 100 species of rockfish around the world—many of them found along the Pacific coast. Twenty-four of these species make their homes in Puget Sound and 17 of them are currently under our care at the Seattle Aquarium. 

#8: Will you just grow up?
Rockfish take their time reaching sexual maturity, which means the age at which they start reproducing. Some species get there at between 5 and 7 years of age; others not until 15 or even 20 years after they’re born. And because they’re a popular fish for human consumption, their late-blooming reproductive status has made them susceptible to overfishing.

#7: Canary rockfish case study
One rockfish species found in our local waters, the canary rockfish, was declared overfished in 2000 and a plan was put in place to grow its populations along the entire West Coast. Read our blog post to see what happened next (spoiler alert: there’s a happy ending!). 

Yelloweye rockfish facing camera.
A yelloweye rockfish showcasing a few of the characteristics that are common to all rockfish species: large eyes, large mouth and a jutting lower jaw.

#6: Old timers 
Did we mention these fish like to do things slowly? That includes aging. Some rockfish have very long life spans compared to the majority of the world’s fish species. While many others may live from two to 10 years, some rockfish species can live to be well over 100 years old. (How is it possible to tell how old a rockfish is? By analyzing their otoliths, or ear bones, which grow in annual patterns like tree rings!) 

#5: Cyclops alert!
Just as elderly humans have age-related health concerns and needs, elderly rockfish do too. Two of the yelloweye rockfish in our care at the Seattle Aquarium, each estimated to be between 50 and 60 years old, needed to have an eye surgically removed to preserve their health. Check out this video to see them in their habitat and learn more.

#4: It’s all in the eyes
Speaking of eyes, they’re one of the characteristics that differentiate rockfish from other fish species. Rockfish come in a variety of patterns, shapes, sizes—six inches to three feet!—and colors. But they do have some common characteristics: large eyes and mouth, a compressed lower body, a jutting lower jaw and a large dorsal fin with well-developed spines. 

#3: Spines that do more than tingle
The Scorpaenidae family, which includes rockfish, has many of the world’s most venomous fish species. The venom is contained in the spines of their dorsal fins. Many rockfish species have venomous spines that are relatively mild. While getting stung by these species wouldn’t be fatal, it can cause a lot of pain and lead to infection. 

#2: Rockfish gone wild
Each year since 2004, the Seattle Aquarium has conducted reef surveys within Makah Nation waters at Neah Bay (we operate under a permit from the Nation to enter their land/waters to conduct research). The goals of these surveys are to document changes in diversity and density over time for a variety of species—including rockfish—as well as to document shifts in species or fish assemblages. The data we gather has been used to inform rockfish abundance in these areas by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife as well as by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Read this blog post to learn more.

Juvenile copper rockfish profile.
This juvenile copper rockfish wants you to try our matching game below!

#1: Which came first, the rockfish or the egg?
That’s a trick question! Many fish lay eggs but rockfish—like sharks, skates and rays—are viviparous, which means they give live birth. And it’s our completely unbiased opinion that baby rockfish are some of the cutest animals out there. 

Can you match the young-of-year* rockfish to the adult? Give our matching game a try! Answers are below. 
*Young-of-year refers to fish born within the past year. 

Rockfish young-of-year matching game.

Happy Noon Year's and happy new year
From all of us at the Aquarium, wishing you health and happiness in 2021. We can't wait to be able to welcome you back so you can see the rockfish, as well as all the other amazing animals entrusted to our care!

Matching game answers
Canary: #4 (on the bottom)
Deacon: #1 (on the top)
Yellowtail: #3 (second from bottom)
Yellow-eye: #2 (second from top)

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