Anyone who has spent time along the shores or in the waters of the Gulf of California can attest to what a magical place it is. My first trip to the Gulf was in November 1998 with a university class that would spend six weeks traveling along the rugged mainland coast of Sonora, Mexico. We studied the biogeography of the Gulf while completing individual projects such as ecological experiments or cataloging organisms. Every day we explored different habitats by snorkeling, scuba diving, tide pooling or trudging through muddy esteros. Every night, exhausted and most likely dirty and salty, we shared an evening meal immediately followed by the most amazing sunset—each one more brilliant than the last. At night we slept in palapas and residencias in small towns or in tents and vans under the open sky in extremely remote locations that took us hours to reach on rough and dusty little roads. It was the most amazing experience of my life, and I became forever enchanted by the Gulf of California.
I am not the first to study the ichthyofauna of this region; I am merely following in the footsteps of many naturalists and scientists such as Hubbs, Walker, Findley, Thomson, Rosenblatt and McCosker. My contribution is this identification key to the families and a comprehensive field guide to the species of fish present in the Gulf of California. Although there are many scientific works dedicated to this area and there are field guides that cover or include it as well, there are currently no published identification keys specifically for this region.
The key provides a method to identify the common marine fish families in the Gulf of California, while the guide provides descriptions and illustrations of over 400 species. Its purpose is to be less intimidating than a technical key for the recreational users of the marine environment and the college student not yet completely familiar with taxonomy or ichthyology. It is also the result of hundreds of hours spent in the water, collecting and identifying fish, illustrating and photographing specimens, studying museum specimens and reading scientific literature so the information will also be relevant to the marine scientist working in the Gulf of California.