Fish of Southern California

We have done some extensive diving in So Cal and want to share some of the images we have of the fish we have had the opportunity to see. In the kelp forests off the coast of Southern California, many bottom-dwelling fish species have developed a unique survival strategy: camouflage. These fish have evolved to blend in seamlessly with their surroundings, making it harder for predators to spot them and increasing their chances of survival. I took many of these photos in the Point Loma kelp forests off the coast of San Diego. Some of the most commonly found there are the cabezon, sculpin, painted greenling, and scorpionfish. They are masters of disguise; if you don’t slow down and look for them, you will swim right past them. Check out our types of fish in Southern California galleries.


Other fish inhabit the bottom, and some of them also camouflage themselves to blend in.. The halibut is a right-eyed flatfish where one eye migrates to the other side so both eyes are on the same side. They inhabit the sandy flats and eat mainly small crustaceans. This photo is from La Jolla Shores where you can find other species of flatfish.

Guide to So Cal Fishes

Ling cods, known for their large size, can reach up to six feet in length as adults, and exhibit a distinctive appearance with mottled green and brown coloring. They commonly inhabit rocky areas and near reef formations, where they feed on various small fish and crustaceans. I captured this photo of the ling cod in the Point Loma kelp bed, where we have observed many of them, typically around 3 feet long. There are many other types of fish in Southern California.


We love exploring the kelp forests of Southern California. I captured these photos in the Channel Islands, except for the Black Sea bass shot, which was taken at La Jolla Cove.

The California Sheephead, with its large, triangular-shaped head and sharp teeth, is an intriguing fish species. Its distinct features make it easily identifiable. All members of this species are initially female and can transition into males at various life stages, especially when the male population diminishes due to fishing. We have encountered them on nearly every dive in the Channel Islands.

Schooling mackerel, renowned for their large schools and coordinated movements, are beautiful and fascinating fish. Their impressive sight is marked by swimming in tight formation, creating a shimmering and ever-changing shape as they glide through the water. These fish are a common spectacle in Southern California, and we have witnessed some impressive schools containing thousands of fish.

See our Colorful Fish of Hawaii post

Salema is pretty fish that resembles small bass and often swims in schools. They have 6 to 8 stripes on their sides and glide effortlessly through the kelp.

California sargo is an interesting fish belonging to the grunt family. They inhibit the rocky reefs and kelp forests in Southern California and eat mostly small crustaceans and mollusks. We can easily spot them because of their bright bodies and black stripe.

The opaleye fish are light green in color with light spots by the dorsal fin. The Opaleye fish has large blue-green opalescent eyes, from where it gets its name

Schooling Fish

The Garibaldi, California’s State Fish, is a frequent presence in kelp forests. Despite their territorial nature, they exhibit curiosity towards divers, often swimming up to camera ports for a pose. Perhaps, they are intrigued by their own reflections, especially the juvenile, adorned with beautiful blue iridescent spots.

California State Fish

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