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Pink Discovery in Tidepools: the Colorful Sculpins of Washington / Oregon Coast

Published 04/26/22 at 5:12 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Pink Discovery in Tidepools: the Colorful Sculpins of Washington / Oregon Coast

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(Oregon Coast) – Sometimes you find the darnedest things on the Oregon coast or Washington coast. Well, not really sometimes: it happens a lot if you just look a little carefully. (Above: silverspot sculpin - Seaside Aquarium)

Which is what Oregon Coast Beach Connection reader Connie Langue did recently while looking into a tidepool, spotting something she didn't recognize. So she posted a question about it to the publication with a photo of this pink, gooey stuff with a lot of white spots.

In turn, Oregon Coast Beach Connection had to consult Tiffany Boothe at Seaside Aquarium about what this was, and her answer was sculpin eggs, although she wasn't sure what species. This is understandable as there are some 300 different species of sculpin, most of which are found along the Oregon coast and Washington coast. It turns out many of the eggs laid by these little guys are pink.

Photo courtesy Connie Langue

Seaside Aquarium has found sculpin eggs in the past and hatched a few, getting a new resident or two out of it. A few years ago they had a grunt sculpin grow up there and come of age.

Sculpins are found primarily in shallow depth areas of the ocean, skittering about the bottoms of tidepools along the coastlines of Washington and Oregon. However, they can be fairly hard to spot as they camouflage themselves well. Nicknames for them vary wildly as well, including bullhead, sea scorpion or rather snarky terms like “double uglies.”

A sampling of sculpins along the Oregon coast and Washington coast include (according to Seaside Aquarium - all photos from them as well):

Grunt Sculpin (Rhamphocottus richardsonii). Grunt sculpins are rather amazing because if you remove them from water they'll actually produce a grunting noise.

“These fish rarely swim, preferring instead to use their pectoral fins to 'hop' around sandy or rocky bottoms, rooting for food with their elongated 'snout,' “ Boothe said. “Grunt sculpins range all along the Pacific coast, and can be found in shallow, intertidal waters to depths of over 500 feet. They like to hide inside of empty barnacle shells for protection.”

Silverspot Sculpin (Blepsias cirrhosis - at top). They are beautiful little creatures, found from Russia down through Japan, and along the west coast of the U.S. Boothe said they are named for the silvery spots all over them, especially the body and fins.

“In the spring they migrate to shallow nearshore waters, often entering into bays and estuaries to lay their eggs,” she said.

Then the eggs hatch between February and April along the Oregon coast and Washington coast. If you're really luck you may see their young zipping around tidepools. They live for about six years and grow to 8 inches.

Longfin Sculpin (Jordania zonope). Scraggly white lines and often bold, orange colors make the longfin another stunner. They're often know as tidepool sculpins, because, well, that's where they're found.

“These guys are not too keen on swimming and for the most part they spend their day clinging onto vertical rock surfaces with their large pectoral fins,” Boothe said. “When they do muster up the energy to swim about it is usually in short bursts. They are even lazy when it comes to food, consuming almost anything as long as it is close by and they don’t have to work for it.”

They sometimes boldly lounge on top of other fish feeding off parasites.

Mosshead Sculpin (Clinocottus globiceps). These guys are highly camouflaged on the Oregon coast and Washington coast, hiding out in the open. They come out at high tides and go hunting for their meals, eating small invertebrates like shrimp, crab and maybe even sea anemones.

“Interestingly, the sculpin will only take a single bite, or snack on the tips of the anemone’s tentacles, leaving the anemone alive and able to heal from the sculpin’s attack,” Boothe said.

More amazingly, they're capable of breathing air for short periods. If they deplete their food supply in their own tidepool, they have the ability to jump out and go searching for another.

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