The giant sea bass, sometimes referred to as “black” sea bass or stereolepis gigas, is one of the largest fish on earth. An adult can grow up to 7 feet long and easily weigh 750 pounds. These gentle giants have a fairly limited range in the wild. Couple their localized habitat with a dwindling population and you’re not very likely to encounter this rare fish on a diving expedition.
The giant sea bass is native to the Pacific waters off the coast of Mexico and California. They swim near the shores between Humboldt Bay in California south to the tip of Baja, Mexico and the northern half of the Gulf of California. Though giant sea bass sightings have occurred north of Point Conception in California, they remain sporadic.
Juvenile giant sea bass inhabit sandy bottoms and kelp beds at depths between 20 to 70 feet. Once they’ve matured into adults, giant sea bass patrol deeper waters up to 130 feet deep. Giant sea bass prefer the edges of rocky reefs near kelp beds, but also forage sandy bottoms well away from reefs in search of some of their favorite food.
Though the majority of a giant sea bass’ diet is found within the reef environment, they tend to forage the sandy bottom in search of spawning squid several times a year. However, the slow-moving giant sea bass can find the bulk of its diet -- sting ray, skate, lobster, crab, flatfish, small shark, mantis shrimp, blacksmith, ocean whitefish, sargo, sheephead and octopus -- well within the reef year-round. Swimming near the kelp beds in the reef, where its prey loves to hide and feed, all but ensures the giant sea bass’ next meal.
The 2012 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists the giant sea bass as critically endangered. Though a large female is capable of producing 60 million eggs, a female giant sea bass is not sexually mature until she reaches 50 to 60 pounds at around 7 or 8 years old. Unfortunately, due to overfishing, many sea bass die well before maturity, causing the population to dwindle over the last 17 years. California recognized the species’ decline, and issued a ban on commercial and sport fishing of giant sea bass in 1982. Though the ban may have led to an increase in population in California waters, there is no concrete evidence to support giant sea bass population growth.
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