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Bottomfish Identification: Sculpins

Buffalo Sculpin
Enophrys bison

Occasionally caught by recreational harvesters in Puget Sound. Caught incidentally in the commercial fishery off the outer Washington coast.

Description: The body of the buffalo sculpin is mottled and blotched in shades of brown, green, greyish and reddish brown and can change color to blend into its surroundings.  The spinous and soft dorsal fins are separated, similar to both brown and red Irish lord.  The fins of this species are usually banded.  The features that distinguish this sculpin are: its long, smooth spine that extends from the upper cheek with a smaller spine below; the wide head with short, steep snout and mouth that extends to the middle of the eye; and a lateral line that is high on the back with large, raised scales.  The remainder of the body is unscaled.   

Maximum Size: To 37 cm (14.5 in) in length.

Maximum Age: Information is lacking for this species.

Range/Habitat: Buffalo sculpin range from Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska to Monterey, California. They are most commonly found in inshore rocky and sandy areas to a depth of 20m (65 ft). The maximum recorded depth for this species is 227 m (743 ft).

Fun Fish Fact:  Enophrys from two Greek words meaning “on eyebrow” for the ridges over the eye; bison refers to North American bison and the horn-like spines on the pre-opercular bones.


  • Eschmeyer, W.N., E.S. Herald and H. Hammann, 1983. A field guide to Pacific coast fishes of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, U.S.A. 336 p.
  • Humann, P. and H. Hall, 1996. Coastal fish identification: California to Alaska. New World Pubns Inc.

Photos: W. Palsson and WDFW