Hatching Jawfish!

Yellowhead Jawfish releases hatching eggs ©2012 Ned DeLoach
Yellowhead jawfish eggs hatching


Note:  This post was republished on April 23, 2021 to include more information about our experience. The updated story is here: https://www.blennywatcher.com/2021/04/23/yellowhead-jawfish-hatching-eggs/

Bonaire, 2009 – A jawfish releasing its eggs – we finally got the shot – and it only took fifteen years! We fell in love with jawfish back in 1995 when we were working on the Reef Fish Behavior book. In fact, the first magazine article that Ned and I wrote together for Ocean Realm magazine was about Yellowhead Jawfish, Opistognathus aurifrons (a scanned copy of the 1995 article is available here.)  We wrote an article about jawfishes in the Gulf of California for the January 2000 issue of Ocean Realm and another Yellowhead Jawfish article in the April 2007 Scuba Diving. Over the years, we captured images of courting jawfish, fighting jawfish and male jawfish churning a mouthfuls of eggs, but try as we did, we could never catch one in the act of releasing its hatching eggs. About ten years ago, we saw a photo of a Pacific species releasing its eggs and were told it happened just before sunrise.  We were told by someone else that it was the same for the Caribbean species. This led to many unsuccessful pre-dawn dives.

Yellowhead Jawfish churning eggs ©2012 Ned DeLoach
Yellowhead Jawfish churns its eggs to aerate them

During our September 2009 stay in Bonaire, Ned called our friend Ellen Muller to ask if she could offer any clues. “Thirty minutes after sunset,” was her reply. Ned chronicled his mission and explained how to get the shot in “Bonaire: A Naturalist’s Dream”, published in the Winter 2010 issue of Alert Diver.

I was not with Ned the evening he got the shot – I was sitting in the traffic circle with friends, waiting for him to return from what was supposed to be a quick check on a jawfish, so we could make a night dive at the Salt Pier…. It took me three more weeks to get the video. We had to find jawfish with eggs, mark the holes, make a best guess on which would likely release eggs that night, fight off nosy Tarpons and foraging snake eels … I was obsessed and starting to get a little crazy when it finally all came together one night: