Once again spring is in the air, or water that is, at the aquarium and it’s shaping up to be a busy season. Many animals in the Salish Sea breed in the spring when the water begins to warm up after the long winter, and so this means a baby boom at the aquarium, too.
One fish that breeds early in the season is the northern clingfish. This species lives in the rocky intertidal area where it uses its powerful modified pelvic fins to suction onto rocks.
During breeding, the female lays a mat of sticky yellow eggs on the underside of a sheltered rock or shell where the male can fertilize them. He then takes care of the eggs until they hatch.
The larvae drift in the water column until they reach about half an inch long and develop their pelvic suction disk; they then settle down to live in the intertidal area like their parents.
When we see that there are clingfish eggs in an exhibit we carefully remove the rock that they are attached to and place it in a bucket to keep the hatching babies safe. Male clingfish are very devoted to their eggs so the male is also put into the bucket with the eggs so he can continue to care for them. After they hatch, we carefully remove the babies one by one and put them into glass towers where we can easily observe and care for them. One clutch of eggs may contain many larvae at various stages of development so we may have a constant flow of hatchlings for weeks! The babies are very sensitive so we make sure the water is always clean and we are very gentle when moving them.
When they first hatch they are sustained by their yolk sac, but we also give them a special formula with plankton small enough for a baby fish. Safe in the towers, the babies can focus on growing and eating as much as they can. When they begin to settle and develop their suction disks we will start to move them into exhibits and maybe even release some out to the ocean.
Remember to keep an eye out for these and many other new arrivals that will be appearing all around the aquarium this spring.