Over 400 species of fish have been documented in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The great diversity of fishes in the area occurs for three principal reasons: 1) the ranges of many cold temperate and warm temperate species extend into and terminate in the Southern California Bight; 2) the area has complex bottom topography and a complex physical oceanographic regime that includes several water masses and a changeable marine climate (Cross and Allen 1993; Horn and Allen 1978); and 3) the islands and nearshore areas provide a diversity of habitats including soft bottom, rocky reefs, extensive kelp beds, estuaries, bays, and lagoons.

Garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus) and purple urchins (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus). Photo by Claire Fackler, NOAA ONMS.

The fish species found around the Channel Islands generally are representative of fish assemblages occurring along the southern California coast, with the addition of some central California species (Hubbs 1974). Abundance of fish assemblages is greater at the northern Channel Islands than at nearby coastal regions of the southern California mainland. Regional upwelling carries nutrient-rich waters from canyons and island shelf areas to surface waters. This results in increased primary productivity and large zooplankton populations, which support abundant populations of small schooling species, such as the northern anchovy, Pacific saury, sardine and mackerel. Larger pelagic (open water) fish prey upon these small schooling species, and together they form a significant contribution to the diet of marine mammals and birds. Island-associated pelagic fish are commonly consumed by pinnipeds and toothed whales.

Fishes commonly found in the sanctuary include: albacore, anchovy (northern), barracuda (Pacific), bass (various species), bat ray, blacksmith, bocaccio, bonito (Pacific), brown smoothhound, butterfish (Pacific), California scorpionfish, cabezon, California sheephead, California moray, California flyingfish, California halibut, croaker (various species), garibaldi, goby (various species), greenling (various species), grunion, gunnel, hake, Pacific half moon, horn shark, jacksmelt, kelpfish (various species), mackerel (various species), monkeyface prickleback, northern ronquil, ocean sunfish, opah, opaleye, orangethroat pikeblenny, queenfish, reef perch, rock wrasse, rockfish (various species), ronquil, stripedfin, salmon (king), sanddab, sarcastic fringehead, sardine (Pacific), sargo, saury, Pacific sculpin, seaperch (various species), seƱorita, shark (various species), silversides, sole (various species), spotted cusk-eel, surfperch (various species), swordfish, thornback, topsmelt, tube snout, turbot (various species), white sea bass, whitespotted greenling, yellowfin fringehead, and zebra perch.

Photo by Claire Fackler, NOAA MBNMS.
Photo by Claire Fackler, NOAA MBNMS.
Bat Ray (Myliobatis californica). Photo by Robert Schwemmer, NOAA ONMS.
Bat Ray (Myliobatis californica). Photo by Robert Schwemmer, NOAA ONMS.

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Project Database


Biogeographic Assessment of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) off the coast of Southern California was designated in 1980. In 2005, NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and CINMS were considering six alternatives for adjusting the sanctuary's boundaries. Identifying how the six options overlaid with the distribution of marine resources was a critical consideration. To address this need, we conducted a biogeographic assessment.


Giant Sea Bass Monitoring

The objective of this project is to identify habitat preferences, home range, and behavioral patterns of giant sea bass. In order to investigate these topics we are looking at 5 main questions:
o Where do giant sea bass aggregate?
o What habitats are occupied by giant sea bass?
o What are the home range sizes of giant sea bass?
o How much and where do giant sea bass move during the year?
o What are the behavioral patterns of giant sea bass?


REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) monitoring program

The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF)'s Fish Survey Project enlists the help of recreational SCUBA divers to identify and count nearshore fishes.


Return to the Northern Channel Islands to Monitor Change Over Time, Inside and Outside of Marine Protected Areas

Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE) returned to complete ROV surveys around the northern Channel Islands MPAs 5 years after creating its deepwater baseline. The same 10 historical sites, both inside and outside of select MPAs, have been filmed and post-processed annually 2005-2009, with return surveys completed in 2014 and 2015.


Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP)

The Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP) research program aims to understand the migration patterns of large predators in the North Pacific basin and how these animals act and interact in their open ocean habitats. By using satellite tagging techniques, TOPP researchers follow the movements of different species across multiple trophic levels (i.e., the food web) and in relation to physical oceanographic features in order to piece together a whole ecosystem picture.


West Coast Observations

This is an ongoing study of potential MPA roles on larval recruitment, larval transport, animal movements and ocean circulation