Natural La Jolla: Our fierce and beautiful state fish — the garibaldi

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By Kelly Stewart

While you are looking over the railing down into the water at the Cove, you may happen to see bright orange flashes darting among the kelp and seaweed. These vivid spots of color are evidence of our state marine fish, the garibaldi,

Hypsypops rubicundus

  1. Named after an Italian national hero (Giuseppe Garibaldi, who famously wore bright red shirts), our garibaldi is also a fierce fighter.

Each male garibaldi sets up a territory on the reef and guards it against any invaders, including humans, who sometimes may experience a nibble if they get too close. The male is fastidious and when it comes time for constructing his nest, he takes the work very seriously. His territory is generally a sheltered spot with some smooth rock wall. Here he carefully trims the seaweed to about an inch long and clears all creatures (sea urchins and sea stars) and debris from the area.
Next he must attract a mate to lay eggs in his nest — he does this by sticking his fins straight up, making a thumping sound with his teeth and swimming loops over the tidy nest. The first female is the most difficult to convince since females prefer to lay eggs in a nest where other females have already laid eggs. Up to 20 females will lay their eggs in one male’s nest and he will guard these eggs ferociously until they hatch about two to three weeks later. Juvenile garibaldis have bright blue spots all over their orange bodies, along with blue-tinged fins.

Kelly Stewart, Ph.D. is a postdoc with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Contact her at