Fish Identification: Garibaldi

The state marine fish of California, the Garibaldi damselfish (full name) is a common sighting off eastern Pacific waters.

Physical description

Garibaldis have the usual damselfish look: steep sloped head, heart shaped caudal fin, and the flowing dorsal and anal fins. However, the most identifying characteristic is their distinctive orange color. In fact, this bright red-orange color provides the fish with its name. It is named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian revolutionary famous for his red shirt.

Juvenile garibaldis are not as bright in color, and often have shiny blue spots which disappear with age.

Garibaldis grow up to 30 cm (12 inches) in length. Between their length and unmistakeable color, they should be easy to spot and identify.

Geography and habitat

As mentioned, garibaldi damselfish call the coastal waters off the western U.S. home. They are particularly common in San Diego, Los Angeles, and the islands of both these cities.

Garibaldi are fiercely protective of their home, particularly when eggs are present. They have even been known to nip at humans who approach too close to a deposit of eggs.

They are found at depths up to 100 feet in rocky areas, which they prefer to call home.


Since it's the state marine fish and all, California has taken measures to protect garibaldi damselfish. This link summarizes the legislation, but in short, you're not allowed to kill or take garibaldi without a special permit.

Further reading

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Photo by Stan Shebs

Juvenile photo by Randy Morse