California Halibut

It lies flat and camouflaged on the bottom of the water waiting for anchovies and sardines to swim past so it can swallow them. The California flounder or California halibut (Paralichthys californicus) lives near the shore along the Pacific coast of North America from the U.S. state of Washington south to Baja California in Mexico. At a maximum of 30 pounds (23 kg), It is much smaller than the Pacific halibut which can weigh up to 300 pounds (140 kg).

The California halibut is a flatfish because it’s–well–flat! When it’s lying on its side on the bottom and covered with sand and gravel, this fish is hard to see. Speaking of seeing, it has unique eyes. They are unusual in the fact that when the fish is young and swims upright, it has eyes on each side of its head. As it matures into an adult, one of the eyes migrates around to the other side. In that way, when it’s lying on the bottom, it can watch for food with both eyes. Just as some people are right-handed and others are left-handed, some California halibuts have both eyes on the right, and some have both on the left side. Unlike human handedness, the right-eyed and left-eyed California halibuts are about equal in number.

The California halibut is prized by fishermen and considered to be good eating. Partially for that reason, their numbers have declined in recent years. A legal lower limit for the size of California halibuts that can be taken by fishermen is 22 inches (56 cm). That is because a halibut of that size is 4 to 5 years old and has had time to spawn at least once to preserve the species.

As we look at this unusual fish with it migrating eye, we have to think of the unique designs of living creatures that make up life on this planet.
© Roland Earnst

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