Pacific Mutton Hamlet, Alphestes immaculatus
The Pacific Mutton Hamlet, Alphestes immaculatus, whose common Spanish name is guaseta del Pacifico, is a species in the Grouper or Epinephelidae Family, known collectively as cabrillas and garropas in Mexico. Globally, there are only three species in the genus Alphestes, and all three are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.
The Pacific Mutton Hamlets have deep strongly compressed bodies with body depths that are 36 to 43% of standard length, with a short snout. They are either rusty brown in appearance, with red eyes, darker brown blotches forming irregular bars on their sides and numerous pale and dark brown spots covering their head and body, or red in color with similar markings (pictured below). Their pectoral fins have rows of dark spots, a key to identification.
The Pacific Mutton Hamlets are a non-migratory shallow water species found at depths up to 165 feet. They reach a maximum length of 30 cm (12 inches). They are found hiding in rocky crevices, seagrass weed patches or partially covered with sand during the day and become active predators at night. They rely on camouflage to escape detection. They feed primarily on benthic crustaceans.
In Mexican waters the Pacific Mutton Hamlet are found from Cedros Island southward along the central and southwest coast of Baja, in the lower half of the Sea of Cortez, and along the coast of the mainland south to Guatemala.
The Pacific Mutton Hamlet is easy to identify, with the exception that is virtually identical identical to the Rivulated Mutton Hamlet, Alphestes multiguttatus (broken brown spots along sides coalescing to form interrupted stripes; thin; body depth 32-37% of standard length).
The Pacific Mutton Hamlets are usually too small to be of interest to most. They are normally a “catch and release”, however they immediately attract and are consumed by seabirds since they seldom are able to return to the deep on their own.
Pacific Mutton Hamlet, Alphestes immaculatus, and Rivulated Mutton Hamlet, Alphestes multiguttatus, pectoral fin comparisons. Fish of similar length provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, December 2014.
Pacific Mutton Hamlet, Alphestes immaculatus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Loreto, Baja California Sur, April 2016. Length: 23 cm (9.0 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Fullerton, CA.
Pacific Mutton Hamlet, Alphestes immaculatus. Underwater photo taken in coastal waters off Buena Vista, Baja California Sur, June 2017. Length: 23 cm (9.0 inches). Photo courtesy of Bob Hillis, Ivins, UT.