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April 2020    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 46, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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California’s Giant Sea Bass – A Promising Story

from the April, 2020 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Giant sea bass, relatives of the potato cod of the Cod Hole in the Great Barrier Reef, were among the most overfished species in Californian waters during the 1930s. Today, the species -- which can grow up to seven feet long and weigh up to 550 pounds -- is as imperiled as the black rhino. A recent genetic study suggests there are fewer than 500 breeding adults cruising Central and Southern California's coast, where occasionally divers at Catalina or other offshore islands will spot the behemoth.

Things might be about to change -- by way of a biological surprise in the laboratory of Larry Allen, professor of biology at Cal State University Northridge. Last May, an adult male and two adult females under study produced thousands of viable eggs, and the larvae hatched from those eggs became several hundred pampered fry in carefully monitored tanks at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro. About 200 were given to Long Beach's Aquarium of the Pacific. They feasted on a daily diet of squid, sardines, mackerel, clams, and shrimp.

In early March, 255 of these fry were released into the ocean. Their parents, each weighing around 200 pounds, had been tagged and released last October.

It takes around 15 years for these fish to reach maturity; at 10 years old, they weigh about 100 pounds. Supervising divers report that the young sea bass were behaving as though they'd been raised in the wild rather than in captivity. While eluding predators is no easy trick, scientists hope many will survive.

If you photograph a giant sea bass, you can aid in their survival. Send your shots, the date, and the location to research scientist Molly Morse of the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California in Santa Barbara or the Spotting Giant Sea Bass Project. Every giant sea bass has a unique spot pattern. A photo of an individual's side can be matched to another photo of the same side. Or your giant sea bass may be a new addition to their database. More information at:

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