2016 – 7 Bay Pipefish

Leaning over the boat’s side I peered into the eelgrass – and saw a red rock crab, a couple of perch – wait a minute, one eelgrass blade is leaving! A little closer look and I realized it was a bay pipefish, standing straight up as if it, too, was eelgrass. What amazing camouflage this fish has evolved. The pencil-thin bay pipefish is in the tropical sea horse family and you can see that in the head’s shape. They can grow to 13” but are more normally 4” to 7”, and like a sea horse, has a tiny toothless mouth at the very end of the snout. They feed on small amphipods and crab larvae by simply sucking them into their mouths. Poor swimmers with tiny fins, they have bony rings instead of scales like most fish.

Soon after mating in summer, the female pipefish transfers her eggs to the male’s brood pouch where they are safe and gain nourishment from the male (think marsupials such as female kangaroos except pipefish males have the pouch). After several weeks the baby pipes are cast out and quickly learn to look like blades of eelgrass waving back and forth in the current. Being poor swimmers, countless generations may live in one bay. So, this brings me to the anchoring-issue. Now that you know all this, are you really going to pull into a shallow bay, toss your 45# Danforth over the side with a couple of hundred pounds of chain – and not think about these elegant little fish down below? Eelgrass near shore? Don’t anchor!

Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.

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