North America’s Most Endangered Animals
Snails, marmots, condors and coral reef are among the many species on the continent that are close to extinction
- By Megan Gambino, Erin Wayman and Sarah Zielinski
- Smithsonian.com, May 19, 2011
(Ralph A. Clevenger / Corbis)
In waters along rocky reefs off the West Coast, from Northern California to Baja and the Gulf of California, swims the giant sea bass. These top predators, which can reach lengths of seven feet and weights of 500 pounds or more, live near kelp beds and feast on smaller fish such as anchovies and sardines, along with crabs, spiny lobster and even small sharks. Commercial fishermen started pulling giant sea bass out of the water with hand lines in 1870, but after they switched to gill nets, they quickly drove down the fish’s numbers: the fishery peaked in the 1930s at around a million pounds of giant sea bass caught in a year. By 1980 fishermen caught less than 40,000 pounds of the fish.
In 1981 California severely limited giant sea bass fishing in its waters. While there is no hard data showing that the fish’s population has recovered, scuba divers say there are more of the fish in the waters at popular dive spots off La Jolla and Anacapa and Catalina Islands. Mexico, however, is a different story, as giant sea bass fishing continues there unfettered. – SZ