California sheephead, Bodianus pulcher

About this species

An adult California sheephead (Photo © Douglas Klug)

IUCN Red List: Vulnerable

(-) Decreasing

Labridae, the wrasse family

Monterey Bay, California to the Gulf of California, Mexico


The California sheephead is a large marine fish that can grow up to 90 centimeters long and weigh over 35 pounds. All California sheephead are born female and change into their male form as they grow older. Both sexes have white chins and large teeth. The male form has a black tail and head.

Habitat & Behavior

California sheephead occurs nearshore in rocky reefs and kelp forests up to 55 meters in depth. They feed primarily on sea urchins and crabs during the day and take shelter in rocky areas at night.


California sheephead are classified as vulnerable by the IUCN due to residential and commercial fishing in California, which led the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to establish fishing regulations in 2002.

About this map

The bright yellow areas in this map show reef habitat that is more suitable for California sheephead, while dark blue areas are less suitable. Researchers modeled suitability across all currently known reefs in the Southern California Bight (the dashed gray line shows the extent of the modeled area). The model has a spatial resolution of 200 meters and includes areas shallower than or equal to 45 meters deep.

California sheephead (Photo © Jonathan Williams)

Data source: Species distribution model derived from Zellmer et al. 2019 in Frontiers in Marine Science, 6. [link]

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Amanda J. Zellmer for generously sharing this coastal marine biodiversity data.

References: FishBase. “Semicossyphus pulcher.” [link]