Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned)
Key Features: An entirely marine family, the hawkfishes are found in the Atlantic, and Indian oceans, but are most common in the Indo-Pacific regions. They often are small, bottom dwelling fish that use extended snouts to capture crustaceans, although not all possess this physical feature. Cirhitids also have a continuous dorsal fin that has cirri atop the interspinal membranes like small pom-pom tufts at the tips of the dorsal spines.
Notable Species in the Sea of Cortez
- Cirrhitichthys oxycephalus
- Coral Hawkfish
- Cirrhitus rivulatus
- Giant Hawkfish
- Oxycirrhites typus
- Longnose Hawkfish
Isla Las Animas, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Comprising a relatively small family of fishes with only thirty-two species and nine genera worldwide, this primarily Indo-Pacific group is represented by only three species in the Sea of Cortez. The largest species in the Sea of Cortez, the giant hawkfish, Cirrhitus rivulatus, is found only in shallow depths preferring areas where wave action is strong. The giant hawkfish may exceed twenty inches in length. Adults are inquisitive towards scuba divers, hopping along their rocky ledges to watch the action. Giant hawkfish possess a dramatic brown and olive drab camouflage pattern with the darker spots ringed in a bright baby blue. Feeding on smaller fishes and crustaceans, these are friendly and docile members of the shallow reef community and are a favorite fish to observe while snorkeling.
Within typical scuba diving depths the most common hawkfish is the coral hawkfish, Cirrhitichthys oxycephalus. At the northern end of its range, including San Carlos and Guaymas, it inhabits large boulders and rocky outcroppings at offshore islands including Isla San Pedro Nolasco near San Carlos, and Isla Tiburon near Bahia Kino. It is an active and colorful fish typically reaching approximately two inches with an attractive pink polka dot pattern adorning its dorsal body. Characteristic of hawkfishes, the first set of fin rays possesses cirri projecting from their tips.
Oxycirrhites typus, the long-nose hawkfish is a much sought over subject for underwater photographers. This fish is uncommon within recreational scuba diving depths preferring to reside in deep black coral colonies at depths between one hundred and fifty and two hundred and fifty feet (45-76 meters). However, it is occasionally encountered on patch reefs and may be associated with gorgonians in shallower depths near one hundred feet at off shore islands. These encounters are more common along the southern edge of the Baja peninsula especially at the islands near La Paz and Cabo San Lucas.