Cortez Angelfish

Cortez Angelfish, Pomacanthus zonipectus

The Cortez Angelfish, Pomacanthus zonipectus, whose common Spanish name is ángel de Cortés, is a species in the Angelfish or Pomacanthidae Family, known collectively as ángeles in Mexico. Globally, there are fourteen species in the genus Pomacanthus, two of which are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.

The Cortez Angelfish have deep compressed rectangular shaped bodies and vary significantly in color. They generally have gray bodies that are darker in the front and that feature a broad yellow band just behind the cheek margin, a second narrower yellow band bordered in black just behind the pectoral fin base, and a lighter yellow caudal fin. Juveniles are black with 6 curved alternating yellow and blue bands on the head, body and caudal fin. The adult heads have a conspicuous bump above the eye and feature a small mouth with brush-like teeth. The gill covers have a long spine attached. They feature a single continuous dorsal fin with 11 spines and 24 to 25 rays. Their anal and dorsal fins end in filaments and their caudal fin are straight. Their bodies are covered with rough scales.

The Cortez Angelfish reside over and within rocky reefs at depths up to 165 feet. They are found either as solitary individuals or in pairs. They reach a maximum length of 50 cm (19.7 inches). They have the ability to generate a powerful drumming or thumping sound. Juveniles are known as “cleaners”, which remove parasites from the surfaces of other fish. They are a poorly studied species and as such very limited information is available about their behavioral patterns.

In Mexican waters the Cortez Angelfish are found in all Mexican waters of the Pacific.

The Cortez Angelfish are an easy fish to identify due to their unique coloration and are therefore difficult to confuse with other species, noting that the juveniles are quite similar to the King Angelfish, Holacanthus passer.

The Cortez Angelfish are of interest to scuba divers, being fairly abundant in certain parts of the Sea of Cortez. They are of no interest to recreational anglers. When caught, they are only retained by subsistence fishermen, thus are typically considered a “catch and release.”

Cortez Angelfish, Pomacanthus zonipectus, juvenile. Fish caught off the pier in Santo Domingo, Baja California Sur, February 2017. Length: 19 cm (7.5 inches). Catch courtesy of Ruben Duran, Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Baja California Sur. Photo and identification courtesy of Brad Murakami, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.

Cortez Angelfish, Pomacanthus zonipectus. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, May 2009. Length: 31 cm (12.2 inches). Note the significant color loss of a frozen fish versus the fish below.

Cortez Angelfish, Pomacanthus zonipectus. Underwater photo taken in coastal waters off Buena Vista, Baja California Sur, June 2017. Length: 35 cm (14 inches). Photo courtesy of Bob Hillis, Ivins, UT.