A Master of Disguise

The halibut resides on ocean bottoms of clay, sand, gravel, and occasionally among rocks.  It prefers soft bottoms because of its aptitude to stir up the bottom with its fins and wiggle into the sea floor (see the video at the far bottom of the screen).  The parts of the halibut that remain uncovered by the stirred up sediment will adapt to the color of its surrounding environment via chromatophores, pigmented cells in the dermis that are under nervous control. The halibut uses its eyes to detect color variations and effectively imitates them via different variations of these colored cells.  The fish nearly disappears into the floor, leaving only its protruding eyes and mouth noticeable. 

 Wayne. "bastard halibut". (image). <http://www.flickr.com/photos/deep-blue/82165649/> Accessed 7 April 2009Tim and Kris. "A tank full of halibut." (image). <http://www.flickr.com/photos/timandkris/2492609577/>. Accessed 7 April 2009.

Once camouflaged, it becomes very passive until a predator approaches quickly, or prey moves within striking distance of a hungry halibut.  Many times, if one halibut sinks upon another hiding on the floor, the bottom halibut will remain still until the one on top moves on (see picture above and to the right). 

The halibut has incredible patience, and is typically found hiding on the ocean floor.  But it's also an active and powerful swimmer when in pursuit of prey.  Unlike most other flatfish, it has a more muscular, elongated body and caudal tail which allow it to move with violent, powerful, shaking motions.  Waves sweep across its flat body, resembling a flag in the wind.  This characteristic allows this fish to feed on quicker, more powerful prey.  The halibut’s large mouth and strong jaw add to its capability to feed on bigger fish.

Take a look at the videos below to get a glimpse at the underwater behavior at the halibut. Afterwards, if you'd like to learn more about how the halibut acquires some of its incredible features, go on to read about its development from a larva to a full-grown adult.

Because the halibut is a master of disguise, it is uncommon that a diver will see one swimming around.  This is a rare video captured by Cary Anderson, exemplifying the halibuts' swimming style. Take a look at his website, eagleeyepictures.net

This video, taken by Thomas Lockie Jr., depicts a halibut's ability to flop its body in order to stir up the sand so that it can hide the majority of itself under the settling sea floor.