Just Offshore

This display focuses on the prehistoric connection between the formation of the Chesapeake Bay and the ancient Susquehanna River valley. The Susquehanna once extended to the edge of the continental shelf, when sea levels were much lower. This channel is still present in the modern day underwater formation called Norfolk Canyon.

Animals living in this offshore habitat are able to tolerate moderate pressures and cooler temperatures associated with living at depth in the ocean. Most can be found in the shallower waters around the mouth of the bay, at least seasonally. Come learn more about the formation of dead zones in the deeper water.

Only a select few of these species are on exhibit at any time, though all are representative of Just Offshore habitats.

Chain Dogfish

Chain dogfish

Scientific name: 
Scyliorhinus retifer

Habitat: The chain dogfish prefers structured habitats including rocky bottoms as well as living among man-made artifacts such as wires and cables.

Key characteristics for distinction: The chain dogfish is small with a slender body and wedge-shaped, blunt-tipped snout. The eye is narrow and somewhat oval in shape. The origin of the first dorsal fin is somewhat behind the free rear tips of the pelvic fins. The second dorsal fin is approximately half the size of the first dorsal. The pectoral fins are as broad as they are long with rounded corners. The outer margin is slightly convex and the distal margin is straight. The anal fin is subtriangular with nearly straight edges and a rounded apex. The small caudal fin has a square tip or indented at the midline. The caudal fin also has a defined subterminal notch. The surface of the skin feels smooth to the touch.

Coloration: The coloration of the chain dogfish distinguishes it from all other sharks. The body is reddish-brown along the back and a yellowish shade on the underside. There is a chain-like pattern of black or dark brown lines on the back and sides of the chain dogfish. This coloration pattern helps this species blend into its bottom habitat. The eyes are yellowish-green.

Feeding habits/specializations: Chain dogfish feed on squid, small bony fishes, polychaete worms, and crustaceans.

Reproduction: Egg-laying. Follicles are ovulated in pairs. Each pregnant female releases two box-shaped egg cases after an unknown gestation period. Each egg case, also referred to as a mermaid's purse, has long stringy tendrils at each corner. The egg case is amber in color. Prior to release of the egg cases, the mother searches for bottom habitat with gorgonians and sponges or man-made structures for the tendrils to snag. These benthic invertebrates or structures provide an area to secure the egg cases. Adult chain dogfish often congregate in these nursery areas where females release egg cases. After the egg cases are released, there is no further parental involvement. The embryos are released from the egg case about 250 days later.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 20 in

Predators: larger fish

Importance to humans: aquarium use

Conservation status: least concern

Fun fact: The common name "chain dogfish" is actually a misnomer as this shark belongs to a group referred to as catsharks.

Sources: fishbase.org, flmnh.ufl.edu

Little Skate

Little skate

Scientific name: 
Leucoraja erinacea

Habitat: typically found on sandy or gravely bottoms from shallow waters; can tolerate a wide range of temperatures.

Key characteristics for distinction: The little skate has a very rounded snout and wings with a blunt nose. The two dorsal fins are located close together on the tail.

Coloration: The dorsal surface ranges from grayish to dark brown or clouded light and dark brown. The edges of the pectoral fins are paler. There are usually small round darker spots found on the dorsal surface. The ventral surface is white or grayish. The tail has either irregular dusky blotches or dark gray lower surface.

Feeding habits/specializations: They use round shaped teeth with faint transverse cutting edges to grind food between the two plates. Items include hermit and other crabs, shrimps, worms, amphipods, ascidians (sea squirts), bivalve mollusks, squid, small fishes, and even some copepods.

Reproduction: Egg layers. The male uses two long claspers, along the pelvic fins, to aid in transmitting sperm. They are known to copulate many times throughout the year and frequently. There seems to be a higher frequency of pregnant little skates from October to December and April to May while there is a low frequency from August to September and February to March. Eggs are laid throughout the year but appear to be highest from October to January and June to July. The egg capsule is amber or golden yellow when they are first laid. The oblong capsules have stiff pointed horns at the corners and are either deposited on sandy or muddy flats or attached to seaweed.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 21 in

Predators: Sharks, other skates, gray seals

Importance to humans: They are used often to bait traps, especially lobster and eel traps. There has been some marketing of skate meat as scallops using round cuts from the skate wings. There is potential for overexploitation since they have low levels of reproduction and mature relatively late, like most Elasmobranchs.

Conservation status: near threatened

Fun fact: The little skate possesses an electrosensory known as ampullae of Lorenzini, allowing it to detect weak electric fields produced by its prey. It is also believed that this organ might function like a compass with the earth's magnetic field.

Sources: fishbase.org, flmnh.ufl.edu

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Longhorn sculpin

Scientific name: 
Myoxocephalus octodecemspinosus

Habitat: Commonly found in harbors and shallow coastal waters. Move to deeper water in winter.

Key characteristics for distinction: Their pectoral fins are smooth on the upper edge and webbed with sharp rays along the lower edge, a modification that makes them specialized for gripping the substrate. This adaptation helps the fish anchor in fast-flowing water.

Coloration: Varies in color with its surroundings. The ground tint of the back and sides ranges from dark olive to pale greenish-yellow, greenish-brown, or pale mouse color. As a rule it is marked with four irregular, obscure, dark crossbars, but these are often broken up into blotches and they may be indistinct. The coarseness of pattern often corresponds to that of the bottom, as does the degree of contrast between pale and dark; there often is an obscure yellowish band along the lower part of the sides, marking the transition from the dark upper parts to the pure white belly.

Feeding habits/specializations: feeds on crustaceans, mollusks, sea squirts, squids and fishes (herring, mackerel, smelt, sand lance and silversides). The longhorn is as useful a scavenger and equally voracious, gathering about wharves, sardine factories, and under lobster cars, always keeping to the bottom.

Reproduction: Adults attach their eggs near the base of a sponge to use as a spawning bed.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 18 in

Importance to humans: sometimes used as bait but not usually fished

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Also called Toadfish.

Sources: fishbase.org, gma.org

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Scientific name: 
Cyclopterus lumpus

Habitat: Inhabits rocky bottoms but may occur among floating seaweed. Migrates considerable distances in an annual cycle between deeper waters in winter and shallower waters in summer.

Key characteristics for distinction: Lumpsuckers are named appropriately enough; their portly bodies are nearly spherical. The "sucker" part refers to the fish's modified pelvic fins, which have evolved into adhesive discs (located ventrally, behind the pectoral fins); the fish use these discs to adhere to the substrate. This species has 3 rows of large bony tubercles adorning on each side of the body.

Coloration: generally drab coloration and lithic patterns

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds on ctenophores, medusas, small crustaceans, polychaetes, jelly fish and small fishes.

Reproduction: During the spawning season the male becomes reddish in color on the underside, whereas the female is blue-green.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 24 in

Predators: Pacific cod and sablefish are known to prey on lumpfish.

Importance to humans: Valued for their eggs, which make an inexpensive caviar. Fishing.

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Basically solitary rather than a schooling fish. Exhibits a homing instinct.

Sources: fishbase.org, Wikipedia.org

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Red hake

Scientific name: 
Urophycis chuss

Habitat: Found on soft muddy and sandy bottoms, but never on rocks, gravel or shells. Juveniles live along the coasts at shallow depths (4-6 m); adults migrate to deeper waters,

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 0; Anal spines: 0. First dorsal fin ray elongated. Pelvic fins also reaching about the anal fin origin.

Coloration: Body color variable, reddish to olive brown dorsally, sometimes very dark or mottled; lower sides paler, sometimes with dusky dots; belly and underside of the head pale. A dusky blotch present on the opercle. The fins are generally dark, except for the pelvic fins, which are pale.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feed on shrimps, amphipods and other crustaceans, also on squid and herring, flatfish, mackerel and others.

Reproduction: Spawning occurs in the summer, limited data.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 26 in

Predators: larger fish, sharks

Importance to humans: fisheries, gamefish

Conservation status: not evaluated

Sources: fishbase.org, nefsc.noaa.gov

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Sea raven

Scientific name: 
Hemitripterus americanus

Habitat: Inhabit rocky or hard bottom.

Key characteristics for distinction: fleshy tabs, simple and branched, on its head; the curiously ragged outline of its first dorsal fin; and the prickly texture of its skin. There is a series of 4 to 8 of these tabs along each side of the lower jaw, three pairs on the top of the snout, and others, variable in number and size, above and in front of the eyes and along the upper jaw. There is also a short but high keel on the top of the snout with a deep hollow behind it, another high ridge above each eye, and a lower one below the eye. These ridges, with about 12 rounded knobs on the crown and several low bosses, and 2 short spines on each cheek, give the head a peculiarly bony appearance.

Coloration: Varies in color from blood red to reddish purple, chocolate, or to yellowish brown, but it is invariably paler below than above, and it usually has a yellow belly. Many are plain colored.

Feeding habits/specializations: Voracious eater. Food includes crustaceans, mollusks, sea urchins, fishes such as herring, sand lance and silver hake, and any bottom invertebrates that are available.

Reproduction: Adults attach their eggs near the base of a sponge to use as a spawning bed.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 25 in

Predators: larger fish

Importance to humans: used as bait

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: When taken out of the water the belly becomes inflated so that when returned to the water they are unable to submerge.

Sources: fishbase.org

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Short bigeye

Scientific name: 
Pristigenys alta

Habitat: Found on rocky bottoms and reef areas, usually solitary and possibly territorial.

Key characteristics for distinction: The most noticeable characteristic of Pristigenys alta is its very large eyes. This species is blunt, bright red, and ovate, with a flattened, disk-like body. It has rough scales, and large ventral fins.

Coloration: Bright red in color.

Feeding habits/specializations: nocturnal predator that preys mainly on smaller fish found around rocky reef areas

Reproduction: egg scatterer, limited data

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 12 in

Predators: Red is the first color of the light spectrum to be absorbed by water, thus a red fish appears black to another fish in deep water. This coloration helps the nocturnal fish to become “invisible” to potential predators.

Importance to humans: aquarium use

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: This species is highly adapted to a nocturnal lifestyle with large eyes to capture as much light as possible at these depths.

Sources: fishbase.org, Wikipedia.org, scaquarium.org


Spotted hake

Scientific name: 
Urophycis regia

Habitat: Found onshore, most common between 110 and 185 m.

Key characteristics for distinction: Dorsal spines (total): 0; Anal spines: 0. Upper limb of the first gill arch with 2 or 3 rakers. Head with a series of dark spots; opercle with a dusky blotch. First dorsal fin with a dark blotch and a distinct white margin.

Coloration: Brownish above and on sides, whitish on belly; lateral line dark with white spots at intervals; a large diffuse spot on operculum, a series of small dark spots on cheek; upper half of first dorsal fin black with white edging; second dorsal fin with irregular dark spots.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feed on crustaceans, and possibly fish and squids.

Reproduction: Spawns in offshore waters from late summer to winter.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 16 in

Predators: larger fish, sharks

Importance to humans: minor commercial

Conservation status: not evaluated

Sources: fishbase.org, vims.edu

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Striped cusk-eel

Scientific name: 
Ophidion marginatum

Habitat: Common species found in shallow coastal waters

Key characteristics for distinction: Distinguished from true eels by the ventral fins which are developed into a forked barbel-like organ below the mouth. Long slender eel-like body.

Coloration: range from tan to dark grey in color

Feeding habits/specializations: grass shrimp, crustaceans and fishes, searching for food at night

Reproduction: Oviparous, with oval pelagic eggs floating in a gelatinous mass. The spawning season for striped cusk-eels extends from mid-June through early September. Around sunset, male cusk-eels will begin to emit clicking sounds, or croaks, presumably to attract females. Once a female is enticed from her burrow, she will engage in courtship behavior with the male, allowing him to swim directly above her. After several minutes, the two fish rise in unison to the water's surface, with the female releasing a buoyant, gelatinous egg mass which is externally fertilized by the male.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 9 in

Predators: larger fish like striped bass and summer flounder.

Importance to humans: no fishing interest

Conservation status: least concern

Fun fact: These fish produce loud clicking sounds, which can sometimes be heard above shallow water and resemble the sound of a spinning roulette wheel.

Sources: fishbase.org, Wikipedia.org, njscuba.net