By Susan Deo Photos by Renee Capozzola
I walk along the bluff at Point Vicente and stand by the fence looking down into the water. A flash of gold catches my eye. Garibaldi! I watch him swimming below the surface, mesmerized by his bright orange body darting through the brownish green water. What a treat! This one is about ten inches long, though they can get up to 15 inches.
The Garibaldi, Hypsypops rubicundus, is California’s State Marine Fish. It is the largest species of damselfish and is named after an Italian military and political figure, Giuseppe Garibaldi, who was known for wearing scarlet and red shirts. Adults are a brilliant orange color while juveniles are more reddish and have small iridescent blue spots. They feed mainly on invertebrates and live in rocky reefs, primarily in the kelp forest ecosystem, from just below the tide to a depth of about one hundred feet. They are found from Monterey Bay to Guadalupe Island in Baja California, though rarely north of Point Conception.
Male garibaldis are very territorial. Once they find the perfect patch of red algae, they claim it as their home and proceed to groom their garden. They prune off dead patches, clear away human trash (like plastic straws or Styrofoam), even chase off sea stars, sea urchins, or any other animals that happen to wander into their garden. All this to make their patch as attractive to the female garibaldis as they can. Female garibaldis are interested in males with the lushest most beautiful algae gardens. They are especially attracted to gardens that already have some fresh eggs present. The males watch over the eggs laid in their territory and aggressively defend them from other male garibaldis or predators. Females know that the more eggs a male garibaldi is watching, the more likely theirs will survive. Males have been known to eat older eggs in their gardens to keep attracting new females. Females want eggs that will hatch about the same time as theirs, so the fresher the better.
Garibaldis protect their territory and any eggs there from other males, and from other interlopers too—even humans! They have been known to swim aggressively toward anything they perceive as a threat—including scuba divers—and even nip at them. (You can see for yourself by checking out some Garibaldi you tube videos online!)
So, the next time you are walking along the bluffs in Palos Verdes, try looking down into the water and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to spot a garibaldi or two. They are fun to watch!