Live fish use tsunami debris to cross the Pacific

Finding a Japanese skiff on a Seattle beach probably isn't a really big surprise these days, but when someone came across one a couple of weeks ago, they did discover something pretty surprising — live fish that apparently made the entire journey across the Pacific with it.

"There was five fish total we found in the boat’s compartment, and this is the first time we’ve seen vertebrates come ashore in tsunami debris," said Bruce Kauffman, a biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), told the Seattle Times.

[ Related: Live fish found in likely tsunami debris ]

Apparently the fish are from the species Oplegnathus fasciatus, also known as striped beakfish or barred knifejaw. They're normally found living around coral reefs off the coast of Japan, but apparently some have also been seen near Malta and Hawaii. So, there's a chance that they might be from Hawaii, and thus would not have made the entire trip across the Pacific, but odds are they probably did.

How did these fish survive in the back of a skiff all the way across the Pacific Ocean?

It seems that, over time, the compartment they were found in turned into something like a large aquarium for them.

Allen Pleus, the coordinator of the Aquatic Invasive Species program at the WDFW, told LiveScience:

The boat floated partially submerged with its stern a few feet under the ocean's surface, and the lidless compartment became a "little cave" where the fish could hide...
The boat also hosted algae, several crabs, marine worms, a sea cucumber, scallops and blue mussels. All told, it was a perfect mini-ecosystem for the stowaway fish.

Of the five of these fish found, one of them is still alive. It was scooped out of the skiff by whoever found it, and is now at the Seaside Aquarium in Oregon, where it will apparently be put on display.

[ More Geekquinox: Fish deformities prompt call to reopen freshwater lab ]

Debris from the 2011 Japan tsunami is becoming more and more common on west-coast beaches, and the amount of debris washing up is predicted to peak sometime this year. Finding these live fish crossing the Pacific with a piece of it is pretty surprising, but with an estimated 20 million tonnes of it floating around, this probably won't be the most surprising thing we find.

(Photo courtesy: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Geek out with the latest in science and weather.
Follow @ygeekquinox on Twitter!

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting