Freaky Fish and Other Finds on Oregon Coast
Newport photos by Terry Morse
(Newport, Oregon) - A host of oddities have been showing up on the Oregon coast lately, most notably a lot of the freaky, prehistoric-looking fish known as lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox). Meanwhile, one regular odd example of nature that normally shows up this time of year is strangely absent.
Newport beach expert Terry Morse cruises the sands quite often, so he’s apt to find more than the average beachgoer. But even he’s come up with a few surprises.
In mid-May, Morse found a semi-live lancetfish lying around the beach below Don Davis Park in Newport’s Nye Beach area. These are fairly rare finds on the beaches of the Oregon coast, because they live as deep as 6,000 feet.
“I saw something long and skinny wriggling around on the wet sand near the tide line, surrounded by a small group of people,” Morse said. “The tide was about to overtake the wriggler, so I hurried to see it. It was a 4' (120 cm) long longnosed lancetfish.”
Morse noted the fish’s skin appears iridescent and it has dagger-like teeth, along with gorgeous blue eyes.
The creature was still alive - but barely.
“A well-meaning passerby decided to rescue the fish by dragging it back into the water, although he had been told that others had already tried it and that the fish was too weak to hold its own against the surf,” Morse said. “Eventually, he tired of walking it around to aerate its gills and let it go. The surf then battered the fish into nearby rocks.”
Morse said the Hatfield Marine Science Center’s Bill Hanshumaker told him four others were seen in the central coast area, and another fifth up at Pacific City.
Up on the north coast, about ten have been found on the beaches, ranging from Warrenton, just north of Seaside, and then down to around Cannon Beach.
Seaside Aquarium manager Keith Chandler said they’ve been getting these calls and then retrieving them, most of which were also partially alive.
“It’s really unusual to have this many,” Chandler said. “It’s the year of the lancetfish, I guess. I don’t even know of what they’ve found down around Garibaldi or Rockaway, if any were there.”
Morse said you can tell the lancetfish is a predator by what he called its “formidable teeth.” It lives from the Aleutian islands south to Chile and hunts offshore waters from near the surface to about 6000 feet deep - or 1800 meters.
The lancetfish find was collected by Hanshumaker for use in public education programs at the Hatfield.
For the second year in a row, the incursion of large amounts of velella velella are noticeably missing from the beaches. Otherwise known as purple sails, these wacky but beautiful little jellyfish typically start stranding in large numbers on the beaches this time of year. West winds blow them in, and many beaches are often covered in them. They frequently start decomposing and create an enormous fishy stench on those beaches, especially if the tide hasn’t washed them away before a few days of sunny weather kick in.
But this year, like last, they’re missing. Although last year a spell of baby velella showed up early in the spring.
“Yeah, I don’t know why that’s happened again, but they usually show up about now,” Chandler said.
Late last month, Morse made some other interesting beach finds, including a wacky worm known as a polychaete, with red feeding appendages on the bottom.
“Polychaetes are also called paddle-footed worms after the fleshy, paddle-like, bristle-tipped appendages that enable them to move around or anchor themselves in the sand,” Morse said “They feed in many different ways: some are ferocious carnivores, others scavenge or collect detritus from the sediment. From the diffuse nature of its feeding tentacles, I suspect that this one is a detritus feeder.”
He spotted that creature on April 24, along with a red rock crab that was stuck in the sand, seeming to taunt Morse by apparently refusing to move when he approached. Morse comically likened that to a scene in the Monty Python movie “The Holy Grail,” when the black knight refused to move.
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