Clipperton Grouper

Clipperton Grouper, Epinephelus clippertonensis

The Clipperton Grouper, Epinephelus clippertonensis, whose common Spanish name is cabrilla de Clipppeton and who is known locally as cabrilla, is a species in the Grouper or Epinephelidae Family, known collectively as cabrillas and garropas in Mexico. The Clipperton Grouper was named after the location where it was first discovered, the uninhabited French-owned Clipperton Island, located 1,120 km (695 miles) southwest of mainland Mexico. Globally, there are one hundred species in the genus Epinephelus, eleven of which are found in Mexican waters, six in the Atlantic and five in the Pacific.

The Clipperton Groupers have pale gray to light brown robust compressed bodies that are covered with white spots and flecks throughout. They have 11 dorsal spines and all their soft fins have red margins. Their anal and caudal fins are rounded. They have a small black saddle on the upper part of their caudal fin base. They are solitary predators and feed primarily on crustaceans at night and on small fish during the day.

The Clipperton Groupers are found over rocky bottoms at depths up to 330 feet. They reach a maximum length of 61 cm (24.0 inches) and weigh up to 2 kg (4.4 pounds). They are an exceedingly rare species and very little is known their about behavioral patterns.

In Mexican waters the Clipperton Grouper has a very limited distribution being found from Cabo Pulmo to Todos Santos around the tip of the Baja and around the Alijos Rocks and Revillagigedos oceanic islands. Their presence around the tip of the Baja has been established by the fish photographed below.

The Clipperton Grouper is very easy to identify due to its body shape and coloration, however it is virtually identical in size, shape and habitat and very easily confused with the Flag Cabrilla, Epinephelus labriformis (prominent mid-body spotting; prominent black spot on upper part of caudal fin base).  I would estimate that 99% of all Mexican fishermen will consider these two species to be one and the same, i.e. “Cabrilla.”

The Clipperton Groupers are exceedingly rare and therefore of limited interest. They have a very limited distribution range and were first reported in the literature in 1999.

Clipperton Grouper, Epinephelus clippertonensis. Fish caught from coastal waters off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, January 2017. Length: 24 cm (9.4 inches).

Clipperton Grouper, Epinephelus clippertonensis. Fish caught from coastal waters off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, January 2017. Length: 28 cm (11 inches). Note the excessively long point snout of this fish.

Clipperton Grouper, Epinephelus clippertonensis. Fish caught from coastal waters off Puerto Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, June 2008. Length: 40 cm (16 inches). Identification courtesy of Dr. Matt Craig and reconfirmed by H.J. Walker, Jr., both of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.