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Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

Rhizoprionodon terraenovae

Range/Geographical Distribution: The Bay of Fundy and the northern Gulf of Mexico to Florida and Honduras.

Habitat: Coastal waters including bays and estuaries and offshore waters during the winter. 

Description: Body is brown or olive/gray above, pale below, and often has white spots.  Dorsal and caudal fins may be edged in black and snout is long. 

Size: Can reach 3.5 feet in length.  At birth, pups are 11-16 inches long.

Food: Preys on small bony fish and invertebrates.

Breeding:  Breeds in late spring then migrates offshore for the winter.  Migrates back to coastal waters to give birth to four to seven pups.  Sharpnose sharks are viviparous.

Predators:  Larger sharks including the tiger shark. 

Conservation Status: Abundant, listed as least concern by the IUCN.

Interesting Facts: Atlantic sharpnose sharks are sold for human consumption and as bait for larger sharks within the United States.  Male and female sharks reach sexual maturity between two and three years of age.

On the Coast: These small sharks are often seen hunting in shallow coastal Georgia waters and are commonly caught by fisherman.

Atlantic Silverside

Menidia menidia

Range/Geographical Distribution: The Gulf of St. Lawrence to northeast Florida.

Habitat: Along sandy shores and inlets.

Description:  A small schooling fish with a gray/green body and a silvery stripe down each side. 

Size:  Can reach six inches in length.

Food:  Mysids, copepods, shrimp, small squid, and marine worms.

Breeding:  Spawn March through August and the eggs are deposited on the substrate along the shore.

Predators:  Stripped bass, bluefish, and other predatory fishes.

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: The various species of silversides are very difficult to distinguish between; often distribution and habitat are the most important clues. The genus and species name for this fish, Menidia, comes from the Greek word menoeides meaning “like a half moon shape”.

On the Coast: Atlantic silversides are found swimming in schools around beaches and estuaries along the Georgia coast.  These small fish are important food sources for larger fish and may be used as bait.

Atlantic Spadefish

Chaetodipterus faber

Range/Geographical Distribution: The Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to southeastern Brazil, including the northern Gulf of Mexico. Also found off Bermuda and throughout the Caribbean.

Habitat: Mangroves, reefs, beaches, harbors, and shipwrecks. 

Description: Deep-bodied, compressed, disk-shaped fish with a blunt snout.  Silvery in color with four to six vertical black bands on both sides of the body.  Juveniles are often dark brown to black. 

Size: Reaches a maximum length of 36 inches and a maximum weight of 20 pounds.

Food: Crustaceans, mollusks, annelids, sponges, and cnidarians.

Breeding:  Spawn from May to September.  A single female may release up to one million eggs during a spawning season.  The eggs hatch after 24 hours and the larvae feed on a yolk sac for the first two days of life.

Predators:  Sharks and larger predatory fishes. 

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: Atlantic spadefish are highly valued by recreational fishers but have been associated with ciguatera poisoning.  Males and females reach sexual maturity at about one year of age.  Spadefish can live for10 years and adults often school in groups of more than 500 individuals.

On the Coast: Atlantic spadefish may be found along Georgia’s coastal waters and are commonly caught by fisherman.

Atlantic Stingray

Dasyatis sabina

Range/Geographical Distribution: The western Atlantic from the Chesapeake Bay to southern Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

Habitat: Inhabits coastal waters, including estuaries, lagoons, and rivers and may enter freshwater.

Description: Brown/yellow disk-shaped body with a whip-like tale containing one venomous barbed spine near the base. The underside is pale and the nose is pointed. 

Size: Up to two feet in diameter.

Food: Digs holes in the sand to find tube anemones, polychaete worms, crustaceans, clams, and serpent stars; faces into the current to feed, allowing the sediment to be washed away. 

Breeding: Ovoviviparous. Breed from October to March and gives birth to up to four young from mid to late summer.

Predators: Alligators and large sharks including the bull shark, the great white shark, and the tiger shark.

Conservation Status: Listed as least concern by the IUCN.

Interesting Facts: Atlantic stingrays prefer waters warmer than 59˚F and are euryhaline, meaning that they can maintain adequate physiological functions at different salinity levels.

On the Coast: Stingrays are common fish along the Georgia coast.  When walking along the shallow waters of the beach one should do the “stingray shuffle” to help scare off any nearby rays and avoid being stung by accident.

Florida Pompano

Trachinotus carolinus

Range/Geographical Distribution: From Massachusetts south to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico, Central America, and some parts of the West Indies.

Habitat: Beaches, estuaries, shallow bays, piers, and sand flats.

Description: A deep-bodied fish with a silvery body and a dark back.  The caudal fin is deeply forked. Juvenile fish have a yellowish belly, anal fin, and caudal fin; color may persist in adults.

Size: Grows to 25 inches in length and may weigh up to eight pounds.

Food: Mollusks, crustaceans and other invertebrates, small fish; primarily bottom feeders that opportunistically “graze” preferred species.

Breeding: Spawn from March to October.  Eggs float and newly hatched fish feed off of their yolk sac for almost a month.

Predators: Striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, shark, flounder, and birds.

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: Prized as one of the great food fishes in US waters, the dockside price for Florida pompano is typically among the highest per pound for any fish.

On the Coast: Pompano, especially juveniles, can be seen schooling along Georgia’s coast.


Fundulus heteroclitus

Range/Geographical Distribution: The Gulf of Saint Lawrence south to northeast Florida.

Habitat: Saltwater marshes and tidal creeks, also will enter fresh water. 

Description: A small sexually dimorphic fish.  Males are olive above and lighter below with vertical stripes on their sides.  Females are silver/yellow and lack stripes. 

Size: Can reach five inches in length.

Food: Omnivore; feeds on plants, crustaceans, mollusks, and small fish.

Breeding:  Spawn in the summer during the new and full moon.  Eggs sink and stick to shells and plant matter.  Fry hatch in nine to 18 days and resemble adults.

Predators:  Larger predatory fishes, herons, egrets, and gulls. 

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: The mummichog is often used as bait and for experimentation due to its hardiness.

On the Coast: Mummichogs are an important food fish for coastal Georgia’s larger fish, wading birds, and sea birds.  These fish are also an indicator species in polluted water ways.

Northern Searobin

Prionotus carolinus

Range/Geographical Distribution: From Nova Scotia south to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

Habitat: Bottom dweller in marine and brackish waters such as estuaries, bays, inlets, and along the coast. 

Description: Body mottled above and pale below.  Bony head and distinct black spot on first dorsal fin.  Three pelvic fin rays used to “walk” on the bottom and as sensory organs.  Pectoral fins are wing-like. 

Size: Up to 15 inches in length.

Food: Shrimp, crabs, other crustaceans, squid, bivalves, and small fish.

Breeding:  Spawns in spring and summer.  Females lay their eggs over sandy areas and the eggs hatch within three days.

Predators:  Larger predatory fishes. 

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: The searobin can produce a drumming noise by vibrating the muscles around its swim bladder.

On the Coast: Northern searobins are commonly found along the Georgia coast and are eaten by humans.

Oyster Toadfish

Opsanus tau

Range/Geographical Distribution: Western Atlantic from Massachusetts to the Florida.

Habitat: Sandy, rocky, and muddy bottoms, especially on oyster reefs.  Frequently found in litter and polluted waterways.

Description:  Brownish, blotched body with a large head.  Skin is scaleless and covered by a thick mucous. Two sharp spines on the gill covers used for defense. 

Size: Up to 15 inches in length.

Food: Omnivore; feeds worms, shrimp, amphipods, crabs, hermit crabs, mollusks, squid, and small fish.

Breeding: Males emit a loud foghorn-like call to attract a mate. Females lay their eggs in rock crevices, under submerged wood, and sometimes even in discarded tin cans. After fertilization, the male guards the nest and fans the eggs with his fins until they hatch, about one month later. The male continues guarding the young for three to four weeks after the eggs have hatched.

Predators:  Sharks. 

Conservation Status:  No legal status.

Interesting Facts:  NASA and the Marine Biological Lab in Woods Hole completed experiments in which toadfish were sent to space. The experiment was designed to help scientists better understand the effects of microgravity on our vestibular, or balance, system. The toadfish’s vestibular system is very similar to humans. 

On the Coast: Oyster toadfish are abundant within coastal Georgia’s many oyster reefs and estuaries although their cryptic coloration mostly keeps them hidden.

Southern Kingfish

Menticirrhus americanus

Range/Geographical Distribution: New York to Texas and the Bay of Campeche to Argentina.

Habitat: Shallow coastal waters, including beaches and estuaries. 

Description: Gray/brown above, silver sides, and seven or eight diagonal dark streaks along the body.  One barbel on chin, mouth inferior. 

Size: Can reach 15 inches in length and weigh 2.5 pounds.

Food: Use barbel to find worms, crabs, and shrimp.

Breeding:  Spawn April through September and larvae use nearshore waters such as beaches and estuaries as nursery grounds.

Predators:  Sharks and larger predatory fishes. 

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: Southern kingfish, also known as whiting, reach sexual maturity at one year of age.

On the Coast: Southern kingfish are common on the Georgia coast and are an important fishery species both commercially and recreationally.

Southern Stargazer

Astroscopus y-graecum

Range/Geographical Distribution: North Carolina south to the northern Gulf of Mexico and the Yucatan.

Habitat: Sandy bottoms near shores. 

Description: Body brownish with many small white spots.  Pectoral fins black and lined in white.  Three brown/black stripes on the tail. 

Size: Can reach 22 inches in length.

Food: Eats small fish as they swim over the buried stargazer’s mouth.

Breeding:   Spawning occurs during late spring and early summer.  Females release small eggs that float to the surface.

Predators:  Sharks and larger predatory fishes. 

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: Astroscopus means “one who aims at the stars” in Latin. Stargazers can create electrical currents using an organ located in a pouch behind their eyes. This electrical discharge reaches a maximum of 50 volts and is primarily used for defense rather than prey capture.

On the Coast: Southern stargazers can be found buried in the sand along coastal Georgia’s beaches and estuaries.


Leiostomus xanthurus

Range/Geographical Distribution:  From Massachusetts south to northern Mexico but absent in south Florida.

Habitat: Sandy or muddy bottoms in coastal waters and estuaries.  Migrate offshore to spawn.

Description:  Blue/brown above and silver/white below.  Distinct brownish spot behind gill cover and 12-15 diagonal dark lines on each side.

Size: Up to 14 inches in length and weigh up to one pound. 

Food:  Opportunistic bottom feeder; primarily eats worms, small crustaceans, detritus, and mollusks.

Breeding:  Spawning occurs in offshore coastal waters from late fall to early spring.  Females produce 70,000 – 90,000 eggs.  Larval fish stay nearshore and within estuaries.

Predators: Predatory fish and birds.

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts:  Spot are one of the most abundant fish species along the southeast coast of the United States.  Males and females both reach sexual maturity at around two years of age.

On the Coast: Spot are common along Georgia’s coast and are an important commercial and recreational fish.

Striped Burrfish

Chilomycterus schoepfii

Range/Geographical Distribution: From Maine south to Brazil, including the Bahamas and the Gulf of Mexico.

Habitat: Sea grass beds, coastal lagoons, estuaries, and reefs.

Description:  Green/brown oval body with black or brown stripes on top and sides; whitish belly.  Dark spot at the base of the dorsal and anal fins as well as above and behind the pectoral fins. Body covered with short, immovable spines.

Size: Can reach ten inches in length.

Food:  Small fish, barnacles, sea whip, snails, crabs, and clams.

Breeding:  Thought to spawn offshore at night, but there is little research.

Predators: Not many predators can get past the burrfish’s formidable spines when it inflates its body with water.

Conservation Status: Listed as least concern by the IUCN.

Interesting Facts:  Striped burrfish have the ability to inflate their body with water or air in order to intimidate predators. Once inflated, this fish appears twice its original size but also loses all maneuverability. Burrfish have a single tooth in each jaw that is fused to form a parrotlike beak.

On the Coast:  Striped burrfish are common along Georgia’s beaches and juveniles are often found in the estuaries during the summer.

Striped Killifish

Fundulus majalis

Range/Geographical Distribution:  New Hampshire to northern Florida and the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Habitat: Bays, estuaries, and marshes. 

Description: A small, silvery schooling fish.  Females are olive above and white below with dark longitudinal lines on their sides and vertical bars near the tail.  Males are dark olive above and yellowish below with 15-20 black vertical lines on their sides. 

Size: Can reach seven inches in length.

Food: Small crustaceans, mollusks, and worms.

Breeding:  Spawn in summer and males develop brighter coloration during breeding.  Females lay eggs in still, shallow water and have been observed burying the eggs.  Newly hatched fry can live off of the yolk sac for several days.

Predators:  Larger predatory fish, herons, egrets, and gulls. 

Conservation Status: No legal status.

Interesting Facts: Striped killifish have the ability to flop back into the water if they become stranded in tide pools.  They can jump unerringly toward the water and progress up to several feet at each jump.

On the Coast:  Commonly seen swimming in the shallow waters along Georgia’s coast, may also be found trapped in tide pools.

Stripped Mullet

Mugil cephalus

Range/Geographical Distribution: Nova Scotia to Brazil, absent from the Bahamas, the West Indies, and the Caribbean. Found almost worldwide in warm waters.

Habitat: Coastal waters and estuaries.

Description: Brown, greenish, or bluish above and silvery on the sides.  Dark spots form 6-7 conspicuous stripes on the sides. Head flat between the eyes. 

Size: Can reach 20 inches in length.

Food:  Zooplankton as larvae and benthic organisms, micro-algae, and detritus as juveniles and adults.

Breeding:  Females reach sexual maturity by four years of age and males by three years of age.  Spawning occurs in offshore waters from October through January.  Each female may release up to 1.6 million eggs per spawning season.  After hatching, mullet larvae migrate to estuaries and inhabit shallow, warm waters in the intertidal zone.

Predators:  Fish, marine mammals, and birds.

Conservation Status: Listed as least concern by the IUCN. 

Interesting facts:  Striped mullet are the most important commercial mullet in the United States.  They are sold fresh, dried, salted, or frozen. Also used in Chinese medicinal practices. 

On the Coast:  Large schools of mullet can be found along Georgia’s coast and may be seen leaping from the water.  These fish are a favorite of the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)