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Fish native to Japan found in tsunami wreckage in Washington

SEASIDE, Ore. (CNN) — More than two years after the Japan earthquake and tsunami, researchers made a startling discovery in a 20-foot Japanese fishing vessel that washed ashore last month near Long Beach, Wash.: five tropical fish, alive and well.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said it is the first time that vertebrae have been found ashore with debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami.


One of the knifejaw or striped beak fish native to Japan that was found in tsunami wreckage on the Washington Coast March 22. (Photo: Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

Five of the fish, commonly called a knifejaw or striped beakfish, were found on board the wreckage  of the boat that washed ashore in Washington March 22.

The fish are native to warmer waters near Japan, China and the Korean Peninsula.

The five stowaways, roughly the size of your palm, lived in a cozy spot at the back of the boat.

A 20- to 30-gallon containment hold in the boat’s stern lost its cover, and that part of the boat was submerged as the vessel drifted in the ocean, said Allen Pleus, a scientist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. That “created like a cave they could go in and out of,” Pleus said.

Pleus said most debris out in the ocean attracts fish, so it’s not surprising these fish found a home in the debris. But it is surprising they survived the nearly 5,000-mile journey.

“It’s very rare that you’d see something like this,” Pleus said. “Obviously, fish are very robust and we are learning this on all of the species that come across.”

When researchers first explored the boat, they saw just one of the fish in the holding tank. They collected it in a bucket and took it to Long Beach City Hall.

Someone at City Hall called the Seaside Aquarium in Seaside, Ore., to come and get it. Fish and Wildlife personnel found three more in the tank’s murky water. Finally the boat was towed to a state yard, where the fifth fish came swimming up to Pleus.

The one that went to the aquarium will live out its life there. General Manager Keith Chandler says it’ll go on display Saturday.

“He is a pretty cool fish, and I just wonder if there are more out there,” he said.

The other four had the honor of contributing to research at Oregon State University, where researchers will dissect them, learn their ages and what they’ve been eating.

Sea anemones, scallops, crabs, worms and sea cucumbers that hitched a ride on the same boat also will be studied.

The surviving beakfish has been dubbed the “Tsunami Fish” and will be on display starting Saturday at the Seaside Aquarium.


19 Comments to “Fish native to Japan found in tsunami wreckage in Washington”

    kathy m said:
    April 5, 2013 at 9:36 PM

    That just seems so wrong, that they are only letting one live and killing the other 4, in the name of research? Really??? Fail!

    regina pittman said:
    April 5, 2013 at 9:49 PM

    i totally agree! That is just wrong! And to call it an HONOR of contributing.. it's just wrong.!

    RKS said:
    April 5, 2013 at 10:01 PM

    Yes its so wrong. How do you know that these wouldn't end up being the next invasive species in the US? Think Burmese Pythons and Iguanas in Florida. For all we know they cold wipe out an entire food supply for other animals native to our waters. Still think its a bad idea that they killed 4 of 5 and didn't allow them to breed?

      Hmm said:
      April 7, 2013 at 8:34 AM

      Speculation about "being the next invasive species" is not science. And what was done to these organisms is nolong-view science but short-sighted curiosity.

    Andrea H. said:
    April 5, 2013 at 10:23 PM

    I can't speak for Regina or Kathy but yes, I still think it's a bad idea!

    Why can't all 5 live out their lives in aquariums?!? I would love to see them on display at a WA aquarium! That would cause no harm to the natural environment and these awazing fish would be allowed to live out their lives after surviving the tsunami!

    I can see how dissecting one or two may be useful to try learn how they survived the long, cold journey, but 4 shouldn't need to die!

      Kamakazi said:
      April 6, 2013 at 1:55 AM

      Why not? Japan kills an insane number of whales and dolphins, what's a few fish. Make soup…

        Hmm said:
        April 7, 2013 at 8:38 AM

        Great. First no thoughtful science in dealing woith the find. Now no logic to defend the decision. lol

    Hmm said:
    April 7, 2013 at 8:31 AM

    So Oregon State University was glad to grab headlines that these fish survived, then killed them for curiosity because they wanted to study them now instead of observing longevity??? They couldn't have studied them another way or for other information?? Some shabby, short-sighted "scientists"…Doesn't sound like a university to support with contributions…

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