The Finescale Triggerfish (Balistes polylepis) is the latest resident of the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium’s Beneath the Pier exhibit. Triggerfish are usually associated with tropical water, but their range stretches from San Francisco all the way to Peru. This fish has a feisty reputation and reportedly has been seen attacking sharks. Our triggerfish was shy at first, but has lately been seen coming right up to the glass, seemingly to check out our visitors and making it hard to tell who is observing whom.
Triggerfish are often found in caves and crevices, but are also seen swimming in the open along the sandy bottom adjacent to rocky reefs and in waters as shallow as 10 feet. With powerful jaws and a set of eight teeth on each jaw, this fish is equipped to eat spiny sea urchins, small crustaceans, mollusks and other animals that are normally protected by a shell or armor.
The finescale triggerfish can reach a length of up 30 inches and usually weighs up to 10 pounds. The largest reported specimen was 16 pounds. Fossils of finescale triggerfish teeth dated at 25 million years old have been found in Santa Ana and Bakersfield.
Some triggerfish are toxic if eaten, but the finescale triggerfish has never been found to be toxic. Still the finescale doesn’t show up on the dinner table often because their tough hide makes it difficult to skin.