This Weeks Creature Feature ... The Cutest Fish in the Bay?
There are many fish in the sea. The census of the Chesapeake extends to the thousands, filling 324 pages of Fishes of Chesapeake Bay.
But few are as cute as the young northern puffer John Mayer, captain of the charter fishing boat Marauder, caught in the Patuxent River about six miles above Solomons.
This little fish was so cute that Mayer carried him in a bucket to Calvert Marine Museum, which agreed to a rare adoption. “Walk-in identifications are always welcome, but under most circumstances you will be asked to return living creatures to the location where you found them,” says museum spokeswoman Theresa Cimini.
So cute that, says Mayer, it’s “going viral” on his Facebook page. So cute that Mayer says Puff was featured among the waterspouts and praying mantises by Baltimore WMAR meteorologist.
Yes, he is cute, all puffed up as his kind does to deter predators.
But not so rare. Though Mayer has not caught another in 10-plus years of chartering, not since childhood, Sphoeroides maculatus swims from Newfoundland to southern Florida, including in its range the Bay, especially the lower reaches.
Marketed as sea squab, it was, according to Fishes, “important as a food fish along the mid-Atlantic coast through the 1960s.” As a local delicacy in Chesapeake Country, puffer is known as sugar toad.
Its Japanese counterpart, fugu, is toxic yet eaten as a risky delicacy.