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Freaky Fish Often Mistaken for Barracuda on Oregon, Washington Coast

Published 05/22/21 at 7:05 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Freaky Fish Often Mistaken for Barracuda on Oregon, Washington Coast

(Long Beach, Washington) – From Port Orford and Reedsport, through to Cannon Beach and Westport, Washington and beyond, you may spot them on the beach. But you might be thinking you're looking at a barracuda. (Photo courtesy Oregon Coast Aquarium)

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Nope. Those don't exist here, but something called a Longnose Lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox) does, and they're found a few times a year along the Washington coast or Oregon Coast. Seaside Aquarium's Tiffany Boothe says they encounter maybe one to three a year.

Yet in some ways the lancetfish, with its pointy appearance, long, iridescent body and spiky bits, is somewhat rare. It's not a common find, with those statistics, and it lives far out to sea and far below it.

“Little is known about the longnose lancetfish,” Boothe said. “We know they range from the southern Bering Sea to Chile and occupy surface waters down to 6,000 feet.”

Newport-area naturalist Terry Morse said you can tell the lancetfish is a predator by what he called its “formidable teeth.” He actually encountered one still alive on the beach in the late 2000s, but it didn't last long.

Another was found and documented on the southern Washington coast in 2020 (photo at bottom), and around that time another washed up near Gariabldi, documented by Mark Sass and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).

Photo courtesy Seaside Aquarium (rotated for easier viewing of the lancetfish)

“Resembling a barracuda this is one fish you would not expect to run across along the Oregon coast,” Boothe said. “Their beautiful large eyes, sharp fang-like teeth, and serpent-like body distinguishes this fish from most others living in the Pacific Northwest.”

Another aspect that is known about them is that they have poor digestive systems.

“So when you look at the contents of their stomachs you will usually see whole fish and other prey items,” Boothe said. “We also know that they are not picky eaters, they are known to eat over 90 different species of marine life, including each other, and unfortunately, are attracted to plastics. Their unique feeding habits, along with the varying range of depth that they occupy have scientists studying their stomach contents.

“By studying what the longnose lancetfish is eating scientists can better understand how the marine food web is changing over time (if at all). It may also help understand changes in the food web brought on by events like El Nino or La Nina.”

Spring and summer is when you start to see these sleek weirdos show up on the Oregon coast and Washington coastline. Boothe said scientists aren't exactly sure why.

However, they tend to get caught in fishermen's nets as bycatch, then thrown back in the ocean. That's one reason you see them wash up.

Boothe said Longnose lancetfish can reach lengths of 7 feet and weigh up to 20 pounds.

There was an unusual run of them all over the Oregon coast in May of 2008, with as many as 20 spotted in areas like Cannon Beach, Seaside, Warrenton, Newport and Lincoln City that spring. MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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Lancetfish found on southern Washington coast courtesy Mark Sass

Below: photos courtesy Proposal Rock Inn, Neskowin

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