Señorita, Oxyjulis californica
The Señorita, Oxyjulis californica, whose common Spanish name is señorita californiana, is a member of the Wrasse or Labridae Family, known collectively as doncellas, señoritas, and viejas in Mexico. Globally, there is only one species in the genus Oxyjulis, this fish which is found in Mexican waters of the Pacific.
The Señoritas have elongated fusiform cigar-shaped bodies with a depth that is 15 to 19% of standard length. They are overall tannish-brown in color being shiny bronze dorsally, orange on their sides, and white ventrally. Their caudal fin base has a large black vertical stripe allowing easy identification. Their mouth is small and opens at the front with protruding canine teeth. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 13 rays. Their dorsal fin has 9 or 10 spines and 13 rays. They have 18 to 21 gill rakers. Their body is covered with large scales.
The Señoritas are coastal residents found demersal within kelp and other seaweed and over rocky structures from the intertidal zone to depths up to 330 feet. They reach a maximum length of 25 cm (10 inches). They are a common species within their known range and form small groups with defined home habitats . They feed diurnally on a variety of small invertebrates including bryozoans, crustaceans, dove snails, fish larvae, limpets, squids, and worms as well as seaweed which comprises about half their diet. They are also “cleaner fish” feeding on ectoparasites (bacteria, copepods, and isopods) found on other fish such as bat rays, blacksmiths, garibaldis, halfmoons, kelp bass, jacksmelts, opaleyes, molas, sargos, and topsmelts. They are preyed upon by bocaccios, kelp bass, starry rockfish as well as Brandt’s cormorants and California sea lions. Reproduction has not been well studied so far; some believe they do not change sex while others consider them protogynous hermaphrodites. Their eggs are pelagic and float suspended in water. They are a poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters the Señoritas are found from Cedros Island northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja.
The Señorita is an easy fish to identify due to its extremely elongated body and prominent black stripe at its caudal fin base that cannot be confused with any other species.
From a fishing perspective, the Señoritas are considered a bait stealing pest and retained only by subsistence fishermen. They can be found in larger public aquariums that have kelp forest exhibits. The long-term survival of this species is based on the preservation of kelp forests, however, these are rapidly disappearing due to overfishing of lobsters, sheepheads, and urchins which are all predators of the purple sea urchin. As a consequence of the recent rapid explosion of purple sea urchin populations, kelp forests have been devastated due to overgrazing.
Señorita, Oxyjulis californica. Fish caught from coastal waters off Long Beach, California, August 2016. Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto, Baja California Sur.