California Sheephead - Wikipedia
The California sheephead is a species of wrasse native to the eastern Pacific Ocean.
Its range is from Monterey Bay, California, to the Gulf of California, Mexico. This species
can live for up to 20 years in favorable conditions and can reach a size of up to 3 ft and
30 lb. They are carnivorous, living in rocky reef and kelp bed habitats, feeding primarily
on sea urchins, molluscs, and other crustaceans.
All California sheephead are born female and morph into their male form at various stages
in their lifecycle, determined by environmental conditions and pressures. Because of this,
they are considered to be protogynous hermaphrodites which have planktonic larvae. Their
coral and kelp-heavy habitat provides protection from predators, which is important as this
species is diurnal, foraging during the day and seeking shelter at night.
The California sheephead is considered vulnerable due to high fishing rates off of the coast
of southern California. Since fisheries tend to remove the largest fish, they end up removing the
males. This skews the male-to-female ratio and affects the fishes' lifecycle, which can negatively
impact populations. Male and female sheephead have different color patterns and body shapes.
Males are larger, with black tail and head sections, wide, reddish orange midriffs, red eyes, and
fleshy forehead bumps. Female sheephead are dull pink with white undersides. Both sexes have white
chins and large, protruding canine teeth that can pry hard-shelled animals from rocks. After powerful
jaws and sharp teeth crush the prey, modified throat bones (a throat plate) grind the shells into small
pieces. Sheephead can reach a size of 91 cm and a weight of 16 kg. All sheepheads are born as females
and eventually change to males at roughly 45 cm. The age of the transition depends on environmental factors
such as food supply. When supplied with a large amount of food, the California sheephead can live for up
to 21 years. If food is scarce, they can live up to 9 years.