Finespotted Moray

Finespotted Moray, Gymnothorax dovii

The Finespotted Moray, Gymnothorax dovii, whose common Spanish name is morena pintita, is a member of the Moray and Snake Moray Eel or Muraenidae Family, known collectively as morenas in Mexico. The fish is also known as the Speckled Moray. Globally, there are 116 members in the genus Gymnothorax, 18 of which are found in Mexican waters, nine in the Atlantic and nine in the Pacific.

The Finespotted Morays have moderately robust, elongated, and compressed bodies that taper gradually to a rounded tail. They are dark brown to greenish-brown overall and covered with small white spots. Their head is slender with a pointed snout and mid-sized eyes. Their front nostrils have tubes but their rear nostrils do not. Their large mouth is equipped with conical and unserrated teeth with one row on the sides of their upper jaw and three longitudinal rows at the front of their upper jaw. Their anal and dorsal fins originate well in front of the gill openings; both are well-developed, covered with skin, and continuous with the caudal fin. Their tail is approximately half or slightly greater than half the body length. They have no pectoral fins or scales. They are covered with thick yellow mucus, which provides them with protection from abrasion.

The Finespotted Morays are found in shallow reef areas within cracks and crevices and over sandy and muddy substrate from the intertidal zone to depths up to 240 feet. They reach a maximum length of 1.7 meters (5 feet 7 inches). Their body shape and lack of fins, scales, or gill covers allow them to move quickly in and out of rocky crevices. Only their head protrudes during the day. They are voracious nocturnal ambush predators with poor eyesight and therefore utilize their keen sense of smell to seek out prey, consuming small fish and invertebrates including crab, octopus, and shrimp. They open and close their mouth frequently, an action required for respiration. Reproduction is viviparous with eggs and sperm broadcasted into the water, which generate pelagic eggs and larvae that can drift in oceanic currents for up to a year before settling out on the bottom. They are a poorly studied and poorly documented species and very little is known about their behavior patterns.

In Mexican waters the Finespotted Morays are found in all waters of the Pacific with the exception of Guerrero Negro northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja and from the northern 20% of the Sea of Cortez.

The Finespotted Moray can be easily confused with the Palenose Moray, Echidna nocturna (row of white spots on lower jaw) and the Panamic Green Moray, Gymnothorax castaneus (limited number of white spots on body).

The Finespotted Morays are a very rare species. They only emerge at night and are seldom seen by humans. From a conservation perspective they are currently considered of Least Concern with widespread distribution in deep-water habitats. They are of limited interest to most and normally a “catch and release”. Visually they are most intimidating but are very timid and not harmful. They seldom bite humans.

Finespotted Moray, Gymnothorax dovii. Fish caught off the beach at Las Barriles, Baja California Sur, January 2017. Length: 34 cm (13 inches); tail 53%. Identification confirmed by H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.

Finespotted Moray, Gymnothorax dovii. Fish caught from the shore at Los Barriles, Baja California Sur, January 2017. Length: 51 cm (20 inches). Catch and photo courtesy of Brad Murakami, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.