Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Lingcod – Fastidious, Fanged Fathers!

Every year, our local dive club does several dives for Ocean Wise’s lingcod egg mass survey from around the end of January to March 10th.

Lingcod male guarding eggs

Lingcod male guarding an egg mass (generally – the larger the egg mass, the older the female that laid it). Photo: ©Jackie Hildering.

The survey is the result of concerns about the overfishing of this fish species and is conducted just after the spawn (January to February) when females leave the males to guard the egg masses from predation by species like sea stars. There are very few deadbeat dads in this species!

The data collected provide insight into the abundance and reproductive success of Lingcod in British Columbia and include: depth of the egg masses; their size (grapefruit, cantaloupe or watermelon sized); if the eggs are being guarded by a male; and their state of development (new, eyed or rotten). We are very fortunate that our area appears to have relatively abundant and large egg masses. At the end of this blog, you’ll find my 2.5 minute slide show of their life history. 

 

Male Lingcod with my buddy with her slate, having just recorded depth, size and condition of the egg mass. Buddy is Natasha Dickinson. ©Jackie Hildering.

 

But let me first take you on a wee retrospective journey.  

My understanding of the behaviour of these magnificent fish has now evolved  to where I now take photos of the extremely territorial males guarding their large orbs of fertilized eggs, but it certainly wasn’t always that way for me. The following is a much exaggerated perspective from when I was a very new diver doing their first Lingcod egg mass survey.

In 1999, I had only ever done 14 dives and had never even seen a Lingcod while diving. So, in preparation for the survey, I consulted my trusty field guide and felt well-prepared knowing the information below:

Lingcod male guarding egg mass (lower right). ©2015 Jackie Hildering

Lingcod male guarding egg mass (lower right). ©Jackie Hildering.

 

LINGCOD (Ophiodon elongatus)

  • Size: To 1.5 m and 37 kg.
  • Description: Large head, mouth and teeth; dark blotches on a slender, tapering, mottled body.
  • Habitat: Adults on rocky reefs and in kelp beds to 2,000 m; juveniles on sand and mud bottom.

However, nothing could have truly prepared me for meeting the awe-inspiring and highly dedicated Lingcod Fathers for Future Generations Club.

Serious teeth. ©2012 Jackie Hildering.

Serious teeth. ©Jackie Hildering.

That first experience with the survey in 1999 led me to writing the following tongue-in-cheek “updated” field guide information in my dive log.

LINGCOD (Megadontos fishious)

      • Size: &%$#@ huge!!!!!
      • Description: Teeth sharp, large and fear inducing; species camouflaged for added surprise value; ability to make themselves appear even larger and more menacing by fanning out huge gill plates (opercula). Note: Wise for divers to retreat if this behaviour is observed.
      • Habitat: Adult males found anywhere that groups of dive slate carrying divers like to congregate.
      • Comment: Egg masses are said to have eyes at some stage of their development but no living diver can confirm that this is the case!

This is an awe-inspiring fish species indeed. I have even had a male knock my dive slate out of my hands during a survey. Ironically, I was recording “absent” under the column for whether a male was guarding the egg mass!

Huge egg mass and male Lingcod with battle wounds. It is so meaningful to me that we are likely often documenting the same males year upon year. The males apparently court, mate and guard near the same rocks every year.  ©Jackie Hildering.

 

Huge female Lingcod. After age ~4, females grow twice as fast as males. By age 10 to 12, they are twice the size of males of the same age. Bigger females lay larger egg masses – up to 500,000 eggs! More on the life history in my slide show below. ©Jackie Hildering.

Note that the common name of Lingcod is confusing as they are not a cod nor a ling (another fish species).

For detailed information on the survey, survey reports and on the biology of Lingcod click here for the Ocean Wise webpage. 

Okay, maybe not looking so serious here. :) ©2012 Jackie Hildering.

Okay, maybe not looking so serious here. 🙂 ©Jackie Hildering.

 

Guarding egg mass. ©Jackie Hildering.

 

So much to protect. ©Jackie Hildering.

2 Responses to “Lingcod – Fastidious, Fanged Fathers!”

  1. Stacey

    Hi Jackie!
    I can totally relate to your re-worked description of lingcod! I saw my first big female on my second cold water dive ever. “Species camouflaged for added surprise value” sounds about right. I almost spit my reg out when I noticed that the log I was practicing being neutrally buoyant next to had a huge eye…and it was looking at me!

    Reply
    • jackiehildering

      Thank you so much Stacey for this! I had so hoped that this blog item would stimulate lingcod tales/tails from fellow divers.

      On that first lingcod egg mass survey dive, I had to pull back my buddy since he did not see the lingcod in front of him that was increasingly barring its teeth and fanning its gills!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s