Want to go out and catch some bluefish this weekend? Well, good luck with that – not because of your fishing skills but because there aren’t any bluefish out in Long Island Sound to catch at this time of year.
They—and striped bass, porgies and many other game fish—have left for warmer waters for the winter.
Oh, there are still fish out there; it’s just that the species in the Sound’s marine population changes by the seasons. For example, seals soon will be coming into the Sound for the winter as they disperse from their collective summer pupping “grounds” up in the Gulf of Maine.
In The Maritime Aquarium’s “Seasons of the Sound” gallery, you may have seen the live displays focusing on native animals and what time of year they’re here and what time of year they’re not.
But now—at the Aquarium’s new “Travelers from the Tropics” exhibit—you also can connect with species of fish that aren’t considered to be native to the Sound, yet still pop up here sometimes in the summer. These fish ride the warm waters of the Gulf Stream current northward and sometimes turn left into Long Island Sound.
Among the stars of the new exhibit are flying gurnards, a cool-looking fish with ridiculously oversized pectoral (or side) fins. Picture in your mind a fish whose fins look like the fans of a Spanish dancer.
Flying gurnards (Dactylopterus sp.) don’t use those big “wings” to actually fly, or even to help them swim. A flying gurnard can unfurl the fins to transform into what looks like an enormous neon-fringed moth-like creature. It does this when it feels threatened; so it suddenly looks much bigger, thus discouraging potential predators.
Gurnards are bottom-feeders, so they mostly prowl along the sea floor with the “wings” folded up. They use a smaller forward set of pectoral fins to poke around and kick up small fish, crabs, shrimp, clams and other invertebrates to eat.
They grow up to about 20 inches long. Long Island Sound is at the northern end of their range, which—in the western Atlantic—extends south down to Brazil.
Look for them in The Maritime Aquarium in the new “Travelers from the Tropics” exhibit, just past the jellyfish.
Oh and back to those visiting seals we mentioned: the Aquarium’s Winter Creature Cruises start Dec. 22, offering the chance to cruise out onto the Sound to observe seals and wintering waterfowl. They’re offered many weekends through March 17. Advance reservations are strongly recommended. Call (203) 852-0700, ext. 2206.