Cabrillo Fishing Pier and Breakwater
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Cabrillo Fishing Pier gives visitors the chance to try their hand at targeting popular sport fishes that are common in the harbor, such as bass, halibut, mackerel, and rockfish. A walk along the pier also gives visitors a view of the kelp forest that grows along the breakwater, creating a visible canopy at the surface.
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Habitats Located at
Cabrillo Fishing Pier and
San Pedro Breakwater
Habitats near the fishing Pier and the breakwater include riprap and the associated kelp forest, open water, and sandy seafloor that slopes from the shallow areas near the breakwater and the beach into deep navigation channels that
are maintained for commercial shipping operations.
Hover over the images below to learn more about the different habitats located at the Cabrillo Fishing Pier and San Pedro Breakwater!
The breakwater is composed of large boulders that form caves and crevices that provide shelter for animals such as garibaldi, horn sharks, and abalone. Kelp also attaches to these boulders, forming a vertical habitat with a canopy reaching the surface that is similar to a forest in terrestrial habitats. The giant kelp supports numerous fishes such as kelp bass and blacksmith while also providing valuable hunting grounds to seals, sea lions, and seabirds that can dive below the canopy to hunt for f...Learn more!
Open-water areas in the outer harbor are expansive, ranging from shallow areas near the shore to deep areas that fishes can use as refuge to hide from predators. Common animals in this area include schools of baitfish such as anchovy and topsmelt, tiny larval fishes feeding on phytoplankton and zooplankton, marine mammals such as dolphins and harbor seals, and birds that feed on bait fish and rest on the water’s surface.Learn more!
The seafloor in the outer harbor is primarily sandy in shallow areas, supporting numerous fishes including popular sportfish such as sand bass and halibut. Deeper, muddy sediments are home to animals that can burrow, such as clams and worms, in addition to larger invertebrates such as shrimps and crabs that forage along the sediment surface. Deep seafloor habitats also are home to high abundances of queenfish and white croaker, two of the most abundant fishes found on the seafloor in the harbor.Learn more!
What Lives Here?
The kelp forest along the margins of the breakwater supports a large diversity of fish and invertebrates that either feed directly on the kelp or hide amongst the riprap and kelp canopy.
Check out the photos below to see examples of species that have been found near the Cabrillo Fishing Pier and San Pedro Breakwater!
The garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus, pictured here in the outer harbor) is the California state marine fish and is found along the breakwaters and riprap embankments in the outer harbor. They feed on a variety of small invertebrates including worms, small anemones, sponges, bryozoans, crabs, and shrimps. Males are fiercely territorial and take on the responsibility of making a tidy nest made of algae for females to lay eggs in, after which the male takes on the responsibility of protecting the nest until the eggs hatch. As juveniles, garibaldi have bright blue spots, but those fade away as the fish mature.
The horn shark (Heterodontus francisci, pictured here on the San Pedro Breakwater) gets its name from the small spines in front of each dorsal fin on its back. These bottom-dwelling sharks are common on the breakwaters and riprap embankments throughout the harbor, hiding in caves or under ledges during the day and feeding at night on seafloor invertebrates such as sea urchins, crabs, and shrimps.
Habitat: Riprap and Seafloor
The great blue heron (Ardea herodias, pictured here next to the San Pedro Breakwater) is commonly encountered along the harbor shoreline year-round. They nest in colonies along the rocks and on artificial structures throughout the harbor. They hunt for small fish by standing or walking slowly in shallow water or near kelp canopies (pictured), waiting for their prey to swim by and striking quickly with their long neck and sharp bill.
Habitat: Riprap and Seafloor
Spiny lobsters (Panulirus interruptus, pictured here in the outer harbor), are important predators found throughout the harbor, using rock crevices and caves as well as pilings for shelter during the day. At night, they emerge to roam the reef and eelgrass beds to hunt for prey such as sea urchins and other small invertebrates, although they will also eat algae and eelgrass. In Southern California, there are valuable commercial and recreational fisheries for spiny lobster that have been managed by the state of California for over 100 years.
The harbors support large beds of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) that grow on the rocky breakwaters (pictured here) and riprap embankments in the outer harbor. Each stipe (or stem) of this rapidly-growing alga is held upright by small gas-filled bladders at the base of each of the leaflike blades, which form a canopy when they reach the surface. The kelp provides important habitat for fishes, invertebrates, and marine mammals. As kelp blades fall off and fragment, they drift to the seafloor and become food for numerous animals. Storms and strong waves can also dislodge or break kelp off the rocks, which can then drift into the inner harbor and provide food for animals far away from where the kelp grew.
Of the seven species of abalone in California, three were found in the 2018 surveys of the harbor; pink (Haliotis corrugata, pictured here in the outer harbor); green (H. fulgens) and white abalone (H. sorenseni). Using their strong foot, they attach to rocks and feed on algae that has broken off and settled to the seafloor. Nearly wiped out by commercial and recreational fishing, abalone have been protected in Southern California since the 1990s and the white abalone was the first marine invertebrate to be federally listed as an endangered species in 2001. An isolated white abalone individual discovered in the harbor during the 2018 survey and was recovered by NOAA Fisheries staff to be placed in a captive breeding program. The goal of the program is to produce young abalone that can be reintroduced into the wild to preserve these animals for the future.
Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina, pictured here on the San Pedro Breakwater) are the second-most commonly encountered marine mammal in the harbor. They can be distinguished from California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) by their lack of ear flaps and their short front flippers. They can be seen swimming in the open water or hauled out on the sand or on rocks, where they rest to avoid predators and to warm themselves after diving for prey such as small fish, crustaceans, and shellfish.
Gorgonians (such as Muricea pictured here in the outer harbor) are a type of soft coral that grow on riprap and pilings throughout the harbor but are especially common on the breakwaters. Each gorgonian is actually a colony composed of thousands of individual polyps that secrete calcium to form the fan-like structure. Red, brown, and golden gorgonians are found in the harbor, usually in areas with strong currents that deliver food such as plankton and organic matter that the polyps can filter out of the water
Habitat: Riprap and Seafloor
Red (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus) and purple urchins (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, pictured here in the outer harbor) are common herbivores in the harbor, feeding on algae attached to rocks as well as on kelp that has broken off and settled on the seafloor. Hiding in crevices and caves during the day, urchins are active at night looking for food on the rocks or seafloor.
Riprap and Kelp Forests on the Breakwater
The riprap breakwater that protects the Port from waves also provides extensive habitat for fish and invertebrates while anchoring extensive stretches of giant kelp and feather boa kelp. Take a look at the kelp and some of the animals that live on the breakwater and in the outer harbor!
Test Your Knowledge!
How much do you know about Microhabitats?
Which species live in which microhabitats? Drag the photos to their correct locations (on the dots) and click “check” to check your answers!