Pacific Tripletail

Pacific Tripletail, Lobotes pacificus

The Pacific Tripletail, Lobotes pacificus, whose common Spanish name is dormilona del Pacifico, is a member of the Tripletail or Lobotidae Family, known collectively as dormilonas in Mexico. Globally, there are two species in the genus Lobotes, both found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.

The Pacific Tripletails have ovate to oblong shaped compressed bodies. They have mottled color patterns that vary from dark brown to greenish-yellow dorsally and transition to silvery-gray ventrally. Their pectoral fins are pale yellow and all their other fins are dusky. Juveniles are mottled with yellow, brown, and black; their pectoral fins are white and their caudal fin has a white margin. Their head is triangular with a pointed snout, a slightly projecting top jaw, small eyes, and a mid-sized oblique mouth that extends to the front margin of the eyes. Their mouth has two sets of teeth: a row of outer canines and an inner band of small teeth. With age, their forehead becomes more concave. Their anal and second dorsal fins are large and match the rounded caudal fin giving them their “tripletail” common name. Their anal fin has three spines and 11 rays; their dorsal fin is continuous with 12 spines and 15 or 16 rays; and their pectoral fins are shorter than the pelvic fins. Their gill cover is strongly serrated. They have 19 to 22 gill rakers and are covered with rough scales.

The Pacific Tripletails are a coastal tropical pelagic species. They are normally solitary but can be found in large aggregates in bays, brackish waters, and well out at sea collecting under floating debris, shipwrecks, sea buoys, and piling of jetties at depths up to 150 feet. They reach a maximum 1.10 meters (3 feet 7 inches) in length 15 kg (33 pounds) in weight. They display the unusual behavior of floating just beneath the surface with one side exposed mimicking a leaf or floating debris as part of a mechanism to ambush prey. They consume small fish and invertebrates including crabs, shrimp, and other benthic crustaceans. In turn they are preyed upon by sharks and larger teleost fish. They are known to migrate to warmer waters during cold water episodes.

In Mexican waters the Pacific Tripletails are found in all waters of the Pacific.

The Pacific Tripletail is similar to, and can be confused with, the Star-studded Grouper, Hyporthodus niphobles (11 dorsal spines, second spine elongated) and the Tenspine Grouper, Hyporthodus exsul (ten dorsal spines). They are also virtually identical to the Atlantic Tripletail, Lobotes surinamensis (found only in the Atlantic Ocean).

The Pacific Tripletails are fished commercially on a limited basis and caught with seines, gill nets, and hook and line. They are also caught as a by-catch in tuna drift nets. They are marketed fresh, frozen, or salted. They are an infrequent catch of recreational fishermen but their popularity has been increasing due to their high quality meat. From a conservation perspective they are currently considered of Least Concern, however, their catch levels and populations are poorly monitored.

F672-Pacific Tripletail (1)Pacific Tripletail, Lobotes pacificus. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, April 2014. Length: 30 cm (12 inches).

f672-pacific-tripletail-2Pacific Tripletail, Lobotes pacificus. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of Bahía Kino, Sonora, November 2014. Length: 56 cm (22 inches). Photo courtesy of Maria Johnson, Prescott College Kino Bay Center, Kino Bay, Sonora.