The body of the black seabass is stout and robust with a large head, pointy snout, and large oblique mouth. The eye is set high and there is one sharp flat spine located near the caudal end of the operculum. The upper jaw extends to the center of the eye. The dorsal fin is continuous with males having noticeably higher fins than females. The pectoral fins are long and rounded, extending almost to the anal fin. The pelvic fins are large and originate posterior of the pectoral fins. The rounded anal fins originate below the soft portion of the dorsal fin. The caudal fin has three lobes with one extended upper ray in adults; juveniles have rounded caudal fins. Males in breeding condition develop an adipose hump on the nape (in front of the dorsal fin). Large scales cover the body of this fish, but it is naked at the head. The black seabass is a smoky gray, dusky brown or blue-black above, fading to a slightly paler color underside. The center of each scale is pale blue to white which forms longitudinal stripes along the back and sides of the fish. In addition, the sides sometimes appear mottled or with dark and light vertical crossbars. Males in breeding condition have vivid hues of fluorescent blue and green around the eyes and the nape while the females are lighter in color and brownish or blue-gray. Juveniles have four color phases: overall light gray phase with small dark spots; dark phase with pale white spots; striped phase with a horizontal dark stripe; and a barred phase having six vertical bars.