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While highly appropriate, the name "Greenling" is not itself a species of fish, but a family of fishes known scientifically as Hexagrammidae. Thus "greenling" does not apply to a unique species unless accompanied by a descriptive adjective. Common names of greenlings include the painted greenling, the ling cod (no relation to cod), the whitespotted greenling, the masked greenling, the rock greenling, the kelp greenling, Atka mackerel and two Japanese species, "Aburaco" and "Kujimi." All nine species qualify as "greenlings" as they are in the greenling family, but popular usage restricts greenlings to the five species with "greenling" in their name.

Kelp greenlingGreenlings are generally small, brilliantly colorful fishes that inhabit the rocky shores of the North Pacific Ocean. Each species is highly distinctive. Males are usually more brilliantly colored than the females. Most are skillfully able to match the color of their surroundings. Specimens from regions of green algae will be colored green. Specimens from regions with red algae will be a brilliant red. An exception to this chameleon ability lies in the males of the kelp greenling. During breeding season, the head, forepart of the body and forward fins are covered with small, brilliant, electric blue spots that are surrounded by black spots to give the fish a very colorful appearance. Very few fishes in the world are so brilliantly marked.

Masked greenlingMost species in the greenling family are medium sized, males slightly larger, maturing to a size of about one foot. The Japanese species and painted greenling are a little smaller; the ling cod is much larger and can reach a size of five feet and about one hundred pounds. The greenling is an elongated, fine scaled fish with a large mouth provided with small, but deadly, sharp teeth. Its cone shaped head, symmetrical body and well developed fins enable this predatory species to swim swiftly in pursuit of its prey. All greenlings lack air bladders, so all tend to be strongly negatively buoyant and must perch on the bottom or cruise about using their pectoral fins as planes. One of its most remarkable features is its elaborate sensory systems, five lateral lines on each side, three along the back, one between the pectoral and pelvic fin and one along the lower side. These structures are sensitive organs for feeling vibrations in the water and serve as a sonic system for detection and location of its enemies or prey.

Greenlings inhabit the shallow coastal waters, ranging from the surf zone to 100 meters or so. Although the family is distributed across the arc of the North Pacific from Japan to Baja Mexico, all but the Kujimi and Aburaco occur in American Territorial Waters, with various ranges between the Aleutians and California.

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