Hakai Magazine

Coastal science and societies

One Great Shot: The Safest Place

For a yellowhead jawfish, fatherhood is a mouthful.

Authored by

by Henley Spiers

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jawfish with eggs in its mouth

A yellowhead jawfish father takes the concept of protecting its young to the extreme: keeping more than 100 fertilized eggs carefully sequestered in its mouth. The fish occasionally opens wide, spits the eggs out, and collects them again, rotating them in the process to ensure even oxygenation. Mouth-brooding lasts between one and two weeks. During that time, the parent forgoes food, devoting all energy to caring for its spawn.

While working as a dive instructor in Saint Lucia, I became fascinated with the behavior of the local jawfish. By diving the same sites regularly, I was able to keep tabs on their reproductive cycles. For me, the most exciting stage is once the eggs are nearly ready to hatch—they turn silvery, and eyes appear within each individual sphere. Close to either sunrise or sunset, and often on a full moon when the currents are strongest, the male jawfish will release its tiny, freshly hatched young into the water column.