Paul the sheephead finally finds a good dinner

Here’s a sheephead fish like Paul, swimming through a kelp forest. Can you think of why fish might like to live in kelp forests?

Paul the sheephead is used to the other fish teasing him about the way he looks. He is a pretty funny looking fish, even by fish standards. He has a big white chin and pointy teeth. He likes to snack on little crabs and mussels, so his big pointy teeth come in handy when he’s hungry. And right now, Paul is hungry.

“If only there was somethings to eat other than just mussels and little crabs,” he sighed, complaining to his friend Emi.
Emi only nodded jokingly to a fish hook lurking nearby, “There’s a pretty yummy looking squid here if you want to try something new!”
“Yeah, right!” Paul giggled, and for a moment he forgot he was hungry. He loved that about his best friend: Emi always knew how to make him laugh. Other fish friends were hard to come by in their kelp forrest. A lot of fish were scooped up by sneaky fishing hooks, and of the few sheepheads left, most of them are much younger and smaller than Paul. He is a young, and he is only about a foot long. (That’s a lot bigger than a goldfish, but when Paul grows up, he could be almost 3 feet long!)

Paul and Emi lived their whole lives in the kelp forrest around Catalina, an island off the coast of what the humans called “California”. It wasn’t too bad of a life, as long as you were careful to stay away from all of the fishing hooks.

Look how big this sheephead’s jaw is! Are you surprised they can chomp on hard things like crabs, urchins, and mussels?

And the big predatory fish. At night, Paul and Emi would hide in a crevice and use the mucous from their skin to make a sleeping bag. The protective mucous sleeping bag meant the predators hunting in the night couldn’t smell them. Sure, the other fish also made fun of them for their “boogie bags”, but Paul had decided long ago that it was better to be laughed at than to be a midnight snack. If the nights were scary, the mornings were lovely because the kelp forest came alive at dawn. Paul loved waking up to the sun beams dancing through the water from the surface. The serene way the enormous kelp fronds undulated with the surging water made her want to dance too.

After their laugh, Paul and Emi darted around in the dense kelp, playing hide and seek. Emi was a little smaller than Paul, so she was a good hider. After playing for a little bit, Paul’s hunger came back stronger than ever. But so did an idea…
“What about the other kelp forests? Maybe there’s somewhere else we can look for food.” Paul tentatively suggested. He knew there were other kelp forests around Catalina, but he’d never been.
Emi’s eyes lit up at the suggestion, “That’s a great idea! Let’s try to find another forest.” That was Emi, always up for an adventure. “It’s still early in the day, we can leave right away.” And with that, Paul and Emi started out southwards.
By the afternoon, they stumbled upon a vast kelp forest. It made their home forest look downright dinky by comparison! Here, fish bigger than Paul and Emi had ever seen moved effortlessly through the dense kelp fronds.
“Where are we?” Paul exclaimed breathlessly. From somewhere behind them, a bellowing voice answered,
Can you see something in this photo that the sheephead might want to eat?

“Why, this is Pumpernickel kelp forrest!” Paul and Emi turned and were amazed to see a huge fish, who looked just like them! He was a sheephead too, with a big white chin, and pointy teeth! As he looked closer around her, Paul suddenly noticed that there were a lot of other sheepheads here! Most of them were even bigger than him!

“This place is incredible!” said Emi, “There are so many fish, and so much kelp.”
“That’s because this is a marine reserve,” the big fish answered “Look around, you won’t see any hooks. That’s because fishing isn’t allowed here so fish can grow bigger and there are more of them.”
Paul looked around in amazement, but he had only one thing on his mind:
“Do you know of anything good to eat around here?” He asked
“Have a purple urchin!” the big fish suggested, gesturing towards a few in a nearby crevice.
“An urchin?” Paul exclaimed, “I’ve never eaten an urchin before!” But as he looked around again, Paul noticed that a lot of the bigger sheephead were hunting in crevices and snacking on urchins. He tried a bit, and realized that his pointy teeth were great for prying the urchin out of the crevice. And his big chin meant he had a strong jaw, perfect for crunching into an urchin. Finally, Paul didn’t feel like a funny looking fish anymore. He felt right at home, with a happy full belly. It was about time.


It may look hard to chew to you, but this urchin is a delectable dinner for Paul!