Decorated Warbonnet (Chirolophis decoratus)
By Scott Boyd
The Decorated Warbonnet can be a difficult fish to find and photograph, due to its wary nature and habit of hiding in tiny burrows and crevices well away from divers. However, when found, this fish displays prominent cirri on its head that resemble an Indian Chieftain’s Warbonnet, for which it was aptly named.
Found at depths from 50 to 300’, you would think the distinctive yellow and brown markings of the fish would give it away, but I’ve seen many divers pass right over the top of a warbonnet without being aware that it is there. Decorated Warbonnets are distributed from Northern California, across the Aleutians to Russia, and are sometimes referred to as a decorated prickleback.
Despite its coloration, the lavish decorations, large eyes and thick lips make the decorated warbonnet look more like some type of cartoon character than a fish. Behind the frilly head is a compressed eel-like body that can be up to 17 inches long. They are very secretive and rarely venture out from their homes inside small rocky crevices, which they often share with small shrimp (their primary source of food).
The nearest dive site that frequently yields several decorated warbonnets is the Les Davis Marine Park on Tacoma’s Ruston Way Drive. One of the several resident warbonnets likes to hang out inside the actual tail of the fish sculpture that can be found on top of concrete blocks there.