Thursday, August 6, 2009

Funky Fish

The classic NC coastal fish is the mullet - a medium sized silvery fish that travels in large schools and are often seen jumping out of the water. Mullet have the classic fish shape with one eye on each side of the head, pectoral fins on its sides, a dorsal fin on the back and a traditional tail fin. We often see mullets jumping out of the water while paddling in the Intracoastal Waterway.

Two not so classic looking NC fish are the oyster toadfish and the burrfish. Both can be found in the backwaters of Holden Beach, and both have been sighted on our kayak tours. Just this week I saw a burrfish hiding in the marsh grass and found two "Mud Toads" in abandoned crabpots along our tour route.

Oyster toadfish are a truely ugly fish - but sort of "so ugly they're cute". They are brown, have forward facing eyes, funny little pectoral fins, scaleless, wrinkled slimy skin and nasty sharp teeth. They can reach a length of 15 inches, but the ones I found were both under 6 inches long. Oyster toadfish eat crabs, anemones, clams, shrimp, sea urchins, mollusks and small fish. The males make a grunting noise to attract females and have the unique task of guarding the eggs lain by their mate. When pulled out of the water, they often make a distinctive gasping noise.

Burrfish are another funny little fish with forward facing eyes found in the marshlands behind Holden Beach. They have no teeth and instead have a beaklike jaw they use to eat mollusks, crustaceans, and sea urchins. Like a puffer fish, burrfish blow up when threatened, but where puffers are smooth, burrfish have obvious rigid spines on their bodies. The burrfish I encountered (who was only about 3 inches long) puffed up huge when he saw me, then darted away once I drifted by in my kayak. They are rather cute and look much like a cartoon fish.

While oyster toadfish can be eaten (if handled carefully, as they have a nasty bite), the flesh of the burrfish is toxic and shouldn't be consumed. Getting a good look at a fish without a hook and line isn't easy, but it can be done. Come take a tour with us and see for yourself.

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