A Swim in the Kelp Beds with Ned the Sheepshead Wrasse

'It's Not Easy Being Green'  is Kermit The Frog's lyrical ode to the hardships of being his true color which he cannot change. Ned the Sheepshead, if he had a lyrical ode, it might go something like this:

It's not that easy being me;
I'm not much of an ordinary fish in the sea.
When I think I could be nicer staying young and sleek and cute-
Or something without a big forehead and buck tooth...

Yes, an adult Sheepshead Wrasse is not a pretty sight, but this fish plays a very important role in the ecology of its California kelp forrest home. Those ugly and sometimes buck teeth of his?  They do the work of a steel trap and grinder, keeping the kelp-eating sea urchin population at bay, which helps boost coastal kelp growth rates. (Yes, I did I say 'his buck teeth', because an adult Sheepshead is male, even though he starts his life as a female. This gender change occurs gradually and usually sets when the fish reaches about 1.5 feet in length. Then he can continue to grow up to 3 feet in length and weigh up to 35 lbs! If he were human, he could live long enough to finish high school plus attend a few years of college! That's a lot of time to pack away many pounds of sea urchins, crabs, barnacles, mollusks, lobsters and other aquatic invertebrates - just like a young, hard-working and still-growing healthy human high school or college student.  

Unlike any young hard-working healthy human student, Sheepshead Wrasse are subject to pole and hook fishing, spear fishing, and commercial aquarium suppliers. They also may end up on a plate, often acquired from, but not limited to, Asian markets and restaurants. Minimum catch rules are in place for this valuable wrasse for commercial and recreational bag limits, as they play such a vital role for helping kelp beds and other kelp dwellers have a chance at longer life spans.

Why did I paint this goofy looking fish? I actually think Ned is rather cute and I wanted to introduce you to him and a to a few other kelp forrest dwellers, including Garibaldi fish, juvenile Sheepshead Wrasse, urchins and starfish. Also, I do love color, and a kelp bed can be a very colorful place, as evident in this photo by Chad King.

Thanks to my friend Tim for naming Ned. It fits! Thanks for reading my blog!