Giant Hawkfish, Cirrhitus rivulatus
The Giant Hawkfish, Cirrhitus rivulatus, whose common Spanish name is chino mero, is a species in the Hawkfish or Cirrhitidae Family, known collectively as halcónes in Mexico. Globally, there are only four species in the genus Cirrhitus, two of which are found in Mexican waters of the Pacific.
The Giant Hawkfish have very deep bodies with an oval cross section. They have unique markings that resemble oriental inscriptions. They are gray-brown in color and feature five bars each composed of a “maze” of golden brown markings with black margins surrounded by narrow blue rims. Their head has broad golden-brown spoke-like bands with black margins outlined with a narrow rim of blue, which radiate from their eyes. Most have a pair of white spots on the rear of their back. Juveniles are white with dark brown bars. Their head is large, deep, and blunt with a fringe of cirri on the rear edge of their front nostril, and a large mouth equipped with a row of small canine teeth. Their gill cover has two flat spines. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 6 rays, their caudal fin has a straight edge, their dorsal fin has 10 spines with a number of cirri at each tip and 11 or 12 rays, their pectoral fins are large with 8 rays, the lower 7 of which are stout, and their pelvic fins have 5 rays and originate behind the pectoral fins. Their body is covered with smooth scales.
The Giant Hawkfish inhabit coral and rocky reefs very close to shore; the juveniles are found in the shallow surge zone and within tidal pools at depths up to 100 feet. They reach a maximum length of 62 cm (24 inches). They are secretive fish that hide out in heavy structure and are voracious ambush predators that feed on small fish and crustaceans. The Giant Hawkfish are poorly studied and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters the Giant Hawkfish are found from Magdalena Bay southward along the southwest coast of Baja, throughout the Sea of Cortez, and along the coast of the mainland south to Guatemala.
The Giant Hawkfish is a very easy fish to identify due to its unique markings and therefore cannot be confused with any other species.
The Giant Hawkfish is an excellent pre-dawn foe and can be caught at will off the beaches in the greater Los Cabos area. They prefer live sardines but if those are not available, frozen sardines or freshly caught Lightfoot Sally Crabs can be used. When hooked they become very stubborn, diving between rocks and requiring long waiting period and the application of more pressure to finally get them beached. They are an excellent food fish and sold on a limited basis in the food markets of the greater Los Cabos area.
Giant Hawkfish, Cirrhitus rivulatus. Fish caught from shore in the greater Muertos Bay area, Baja California Sur. January 2018. Length: 31 cm (12 inches). Catch courtesy of Ian Franck, New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada. Photo courtesy of Brad Murakami, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.
Giant Hawkfish, Cirrhitus rivulatus. Fish caught from shore at Km 21, Cabo Real, Baja California Sur, May 2013. Length: 38 cm (15 inches).