Unidentified Fish off Cape Ann, MA


I spotted this fish on a rock in about 20fsw off Cape Ann, MA. I'm relatively new to diving in MA and don't have many ID resources for the area yet. The fish is 1 - 2 inches long. Any ideas?

Gotta hate that 9th month...

Looks like a sculpin of some sort, and a pregnant one at that, but I'll put out some feelers and see if I can get someone else to take a look at this little dude and ID it for you.

Janna Nichols
REEF Outreach Coordinator

Hi Janna, Thanks for

Hi Janna,

Thanks for bumping this up,


yay sculpin!

Looks like a grubby sculpin. It's got a big bony looking head, with large eyes kind of on top of its head and vertical splotchy barring on its body, so I'd say sculpin. The fact that it's so tiny (using the seaweed and tiny shells for scale), and the splotchy barring is well defined says grubby to me. There's one splotch just under the first dorsal fin and two splotches under the second dorsal fin which are also characteristic of grubby, though colors can be variable.

sculpin enthusiast

Hi Lauren, I initially

Hi Lauren,

I initially thought Grubby Sculpin as well, but on a dive the day before I found a Grubby Sculpin that looks exactly like the picture on the REEF ID card for the Gulf of Maine, I'd include a picture but can't figure out how to attach it in a reply. You're saying the Grubby Sculpins can have color variations? The Grubby Sculpin in the REEF ID card is white with red splotches while the one I'm confused about has a more transparent or clear body with red splotches.

Thanks for your help!!


Sculpins: Masters of Disguise!

Lauren, thanks for chiming in here!
As a fellow enthusiast for Pacific NW sculpins, I can attest to the fact that they're excellent at camo jobs, and change colors (and sometimes splotches) to suit their whims. :) And just to keep us confused.

So on these little dudes, it's good to look for markings. In our area, (and I assume elsewhere too) head shape is a key feature to look for. Thanks Lauren for pointing out the head shape on this one.

So while those color ID cards can be a good start, it's always good to check another source.

I checked with a few other sources, and here's what they said:
"I think it is a Grubby sculpin juvenile and not pregnant but perhaps just ate. These can get to 6" in length and I know it was estimated to be 1-2 " in length."

"My best guess, without seeing a side profile at close range, would be a Grubby (fat one at that). It is not a longhorn sculpin, but could be a juvenile shorthorn sculpin as well. Shorthorn and Grubby are very similar. They all have many color variants, particularly as juveniles."

Looking forward to more mystery fish from you, Jason!

Janna Nichols
REEF Outreach Coordinator

Thanks to all

Hi Janna,

I really appreciate you contacting several people to help me identify this little guy. I'll be heading back into the cold waters of Cape Ann either this weekend or next so maybe I'll find some more mystery fish.

Thanks again,


sculpin appreciation society

Hi Janna and Jason,
I was going back and forth between juvenile shorthorn and grubby for a bit and consulted my Atlantic Coast Fishes (Peterson) guide before deciding on grubby. I highly recommend this book for all your Atlantic fish ID needs. Mine is all dogeared and water spotted because I never dive without it! Jason, grubby come in all colors and splotches just to confuse us, but the splotch pattern seen here led me to grubby over juvenile shorthorn (though it could just be messing with us! the more transparent body could be an indication of juvenile shorthorn and I definitely agree that the two look very similar and can be difficult to identify).

Definitely not a longhorn, as I have yet to see them in depths shallower than 100fsw on Cape Ann, and have much more defined baring and darker colors associated with the greater depth and reduction of light. I didn't know about individuals changing colors. I didn't observe color changing in my longhorns when I studied them.

I miss Cape Ann diving! Have a great time!

Hi Lauren, Thanks for the

Hi Lauren,

Thanks for the reference, I just ordered it from Amazon. I also have Marine Life of the North Atlantic, Canada to Cape May, by Andrew J. Martinez, ISBN 978-1-881652-35-9, on order but the newest edition is currently being printed or something like that, so I have no idea when I will get it.

Thanks again for your help,


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