What is a Sea Raven?

R. Britton

The sea raven is a fish that has the scientific name of Hemitripterus americanus and has many other common names, including the puff belly, whip sculpin, sea hen and scratch belly. The sea raven can be divided into three genera, and there are eight species altogether. This spiny fish normally is found along the Atlantic coast of North America and in the northern Pacific Ocran.

Sea ravens may feast upon hake.
Sea ravens may feast upon hake.

These fish range in color from a deep red to yellowish brown, and they usually have a yellow belly. The upper side of the sea raven is rough in texture, because it has very small prickles all along it back. The body of the fish is stouter than most other sculpin, and it has a large head with many rows of sharp teeth. The most distinctive feature of this fish is the fleshy tabs that hang from the sea raven's lower jaw and in front of its eyes. When the sea raven is caught by a fisherman, it fills itself up with air and water, similar to a puffer fish, and the fish needs to be burped before being thrown back in the water to enable it to swim again normally.

Sea ravens are sometimes caught accidentally, especially by commercial fishermen using nets or traps.
Sea ravens are sometimes caught accidentally, especially by commercial fishermen using nets or traps.

The sea raven fish are bottom feeders and prefer to live amongst the rocks at the bottom of the sea. They live in areas of water that are more than 6.5 feet (2 meters) in depth. These fish prefer the water temperature to be no more than 57 degrees Fahrenheit (14 degrees Celsius).

A voracious feeder, the sea raven it eats large quantities of food and will eat any invertebrates, even those larger than itself. The ability to camouflage helps the fish when capturing other fish that it eats, including herring and silver hake. They also eat crabs, lobsters and clams as well as sea urchins.

The sea raven breeds from mid-autumn to mid-winter throughout its normal geographical range. The female fish lays its eggs, which number around 200 in each cluster, on the branches of the finger sponge Chalina. The eggs are fairly large in size with a strong protective membrane and are yellow when they are spawned but soon change to an amber color. Female adults contain more than 15,000 eggs, so it is believed the female deposits her eggs in many clusters throughout the spawning season.

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Discussion Comments


@medicchristy: I would guess that it was just a normal sea raven. The first couple of spines of the first dorsal fin are long, the next few are shorter, and then the next are longer. The fin has an outline unlike any other sculpin.

The sea raven has very distinctive features, including fleshy tabs, simple and branched, on its head. There are 4 to 8 of those tabs along each side of the lower jaw, three pairs on top of the snout, and others above and in front of the eyes and the upper jaw.


I saw a picture of a sea raven and it appeared as though the spines were broken on the dorsal fin because they seemed to range in size. Is that normal or had this fish possibly been attacked?

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