British Marine Life Study Society

Black Goby
Common Name(s):
   Black  Goby 
Scientific Name:
Gobius niger
Family: Gobiidae 

Usual Size:  17 cm 
to  63 g 

by © Andy Horton


Medium-sized goby (a family of small fishes with a notorious reputation of being difficult to differentiate, characterised by a pair of dorsal fins, and a pelvic fin fused into a weak suction cup). The first dorsal fin is elongate, especially the third and fourth spines,  in this species (but not in Gobius paganellus) during the breeding season. Cream, fawn or sandy with black blotches, sometimes it will appear black. In breeding coloration the elongate first dorsal fin is distinctive. 

Black Goby
Black Goby
Rock Goby
Photographs by Richard Yorke

Presence of black sensory papillae on the head of the Black Goby is an excellent ID character. 
Note the absence of black papillae on the Rock Goby.

It appears that the elongated first dorsal fin spines are not always present.  This has suggested four possibilities, i.e. misidentification, hybrids, a third species, or that the fish loses (or fails to develop) the elongated spines. Further research in progress. Comments welcome. 
Further research shows that young specimens lack the elongate dorsal fin which in the specimen developed a small elongation at a size of 75 mm (August 2002) but it had lost the elongation by the length of 90 mm (January 2003) (Specimen from Kingston beach, 2002). 

The fish is probably Gobius niger, but in this photograph the appearance is very similar to the Rock Goby

A new species Gobius couchi has been described. 

The big black smudges on the side of the body obscure the smaller spots and are diagnostic (in British seas). The absence of large blotches can indicate the similar Rock Goby. These smudges are obscured in breeding coloration of both G. niger and G. paganellus and sometimes at other times. 

32-45 scales on the lateral line, less than the Rock Goby. 

Link to the Porcupine Society 1998 Talk on this subject.

Two males and a female Gobius niger in a territorial display (click on the text to find the photograph). Photographed at Tjärnö Aquarium by Mike Noren. Quite proud of this one.

Similar Species: Rock Goby, Gobius paganellusColour scheme (except when breeding), size and habitats are the same as the Dragonet, Callionymus lyra

Spring around the British coasts. The eggs are laid on the underside of rocks and shells, usually in shallow water below low water mark, but also in large estuaries where the salinity may be reduced. Male fish turns a blacker tinge when guarding the nest.  The third and/or fourth spine of the first dorsal fin is longer than the others and this is never the case with the similar Rock Goby. 

Photograph by Luke Richards (IOW)

Photograph by © Luke Richards from a specimen found under a rock in the River Medina (IOW)

The eggs are laid in a single layer (1.5 mm in height) and guarded by the male. The eggs will hatch between 6 & 13 days (depending on temperature). This is a considerably less time than G. paganellus.

In sandy and muddy areas, usually with rock as well, below low water mark and sometimes found intertidally in large pools. The adults are found at low water mark in late summer and autumn, and occasionally under rocks in spring. 
Found in low salinity areas, possibly brackish (>3.0%), e.g. estuaries, Baltic.

Small crustaceans, worms, small fish. 

Off all the coasts of Britain and further afield, Baltic, in the shallow seas off the coast of southern Norway, France, Spain, Portugal, temperate Africa, Mediterranean., Black Sea. 

River Adur, Black Goby location in autumn


Old Fort pools adjacent to the Training Wall, River Adur, at Shoreham Beach, Sussex. (outer estuary)
Kingston Beach, Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex. (outer estuary)
Outer Estuary main stream, River Adur, Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex. 
Horsea Island Divers Training Pool, Hampshire. (saline pool). 
River Medina (Isle of Wight)

Additional Notes:

Reproductive Traits Of Gobius Niger (Teleostei: Pisces) Following A Salinity Stress: Is It Really A Sedentary Lagoon Species?
C. Pampoulie, F. Priour, J.L. Bouchereau, E. Rosecchi, A.J. Crivelli

Horsea Island: There were dozens or hundreds of them with:
1)  a dark spot on the top of each dorsal fin when raised, very clear in some, less so in others
2)  dorsal fin with faint spotting in lines along them like the Painted Goby, Pomatochistus pictus, but less obvious
3)  some of the largest with the anterior dorsal fin clearly pointed
4)  row of dark blotches along the flanks was very typical of almost all individuals, but I would not regard this as diagnostic
5)  quite happy on mud which is unlikely for the Rock Goby
6)  tolerant of non-standard salinity.                                                                         Horsea report by Jane Lilley

July 2003
My 5 and 7 year old sons recently caught two black gobies while fishing in Argyllshire. The fish were caught off a pier in Tayvallich (OS reference 742871, Landranger sheet 55).
They were both about 6 inches (15 cm)  long and each displayed extended dorsal spines - in fact there were distinctive long (0.5-1.0 cm), flowing, trailing tips to the first 2/3 spines - possible as a result of the extremely low current flow in the sheltered 'appendix' to a sea loch in which they were living ? Dark blotches were present and fused fins below. Underwater, when viewed from above they appeared black.

Information wanted: Please send any records of this fish, with location, date, who discovered it, how it was identified, prevalence, common name and any other details to Shorewatch Project EMail 
All messages will receive a reply. 
Shorewatch Project

Link:  Gobies1.htm
Information supplied by Andy Horton (British Marine Life Study Society

Differences between Blennies & Gobies

Gobies are difficult to identify. Photographs in books cannot be relied upon because the identifications of British species are wrong over 50% of the time. 

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