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Meeting The Marine Neighbours – The Lumpsucker - Cyclopterus lumpus

One of the joys of being able to call the waters off Selsey, my office, is the opportunities it has given me to meet my marine neighbours. These short articles will take a closer look at some of the simply amazing neighbours we have around the UK coastline and personal reflections on my encounters.


I thought I would start with Cyclopterus lumpus commonly known as the Lumpsucker. It is not the prettiest name which is perhaps apt for this visitor to our waters. Here for just a few short months between Feb and early May, I could name those who SCUBA dive every year in the hope of meeting them. There are two local sites from Selsey where we have encountered them over the years, The Far Mulberry and on the ledge of the Mixon Hole. My first encounter was on The Mixon Hole, I was on a safety stop and exploring the ledge, whilst the 3 minutes counted down, my eye caught a movement to right, and I remember thinking what am I looking at? Partially covered in weed, it was still, apart from fins gently moving, the egg cluster was located just in front of where it was sitting.


 

Male lumpsucker sitting on sandy bottom guarding his egg cluster
Lumpsucker on the Mixon Hole Ledge

They can be hard to miss with a dense rugby ball shaped body, large wide head, and rows of bony tubercles that look like warts. The male keeps his mating colours which give him a subtle blue/grey top and not so subtle pinkish/orange underside. Adult males can weigh as much as 5kg and grow to be about be 55cms long, however the average is closer to 25cms. In summary look for the lumpy, rotund, bright bellied fish on guard and you have a lumpsucker.


 

They migrate for spawning and feeding and have been known to cover more than 100km during the cyclic migration. I have only ever seen males, probably because they are an extremely devoted father who stays with his egg cluster from laying to hatching. The clusters consist of anywhere between 15,000-150, 000 individual, large round, cream, or pale-yellow eggs, which are moulded to fit the surface it is on, often a rock. He is not only guarding his babies but can be seen fanning with his fins and poking his head in to break up the mass, this most likely is helping to oxygenate the eggs.


He stands guard using specially adapted pelvic fins to hold him in place as needed. The pelvic fins have fused to form a powerful sucker that he uses to attach to a rock and ride out the rough weather. They can still be dislodged, which is when we find them washed up on the shore at Selsey after spring storms.


On hatching, the baby lumpsucker is only 6-7mm and resembles a tadpole. His job done, Dad returns to the preferred depth of between 50 and 300 metres. We are not sure how deep they can go but the deepest recorded came from 838 metres, these are true deep-sea adventurers. 

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