The Spotting Giant Sea Bass Research Project Asks Local Recreational Divers for Help Taking Photos

Any Malibu recreational divers out there tired of sitting at home during the novel coronavirus emergency? The Spotting Giant Sea Bass Project at UC Santa Barbara needs your help in spotting and photographing the critically endangered giant sea bass, which is only found off the coast of California and Mexico.

Giant sea bass are the largest resident bony fish along our coast—the gray spotted fish can grow up to seven feet long and weight up to 550 pounds. Molly Morse, a project scientist at the Benioff Ocean Initiative at UCSB, called them “the rhinos of the kelp forest.” Although larger than many sharks when fully grown, the giant sea bass is a gentle giant that doesn’t attack humans.

The fish had 95 percent of its population wiped out by overfishing, and has been legally protected in California since the 1980s. It’s a slow growing fish and still hasn’t fully come back. To give it a boost, the Aquarium of the Pacific and Cabrillo Marine Aquarium released about 200 baby giant sea bass raised in captivity into the Santa Monica Bay this month, with more to come.

Young giant sea bass tend to roam sandy ocean bottoms looking for shrimp, whereas adults are found in kelp forests and rocky reefs. They can deep dive to more than 160 feet.

In order to gather scientific evidence about how this species is currently doing, the research project is asking recreational divers in California to take and send in photos of any giant sea bass they happen to see. The fish have unique spot patterns that allow them to identify individuals using an algorithm. 

The aquarium fish were photographed before being released into the ocean and Morse’s team has those images ready to go for a quick comparison if they’re spotted again.

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For details on how to report sightings, submit photographs, and identify the fish, go to spottinggiantseabass.msi.ucsb.edu/ 

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