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Barracuda-like Lancetfish Found on S. Oregon Coast

Published 04/02/22 at 5:25 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Barracuda-like Lancetfish Found on S. Oregon Coast

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(Gold Beach, Oregon) – A lovely spring day along the southern coast shores of Oregon, somewhere near Gold Beach. The sun is shining, it's a bit chilly and windy but the scenery is engaging. You're walking along the beach and all of sudden you spot what looks like a barracuda in the sands. You think to yourself, “wait, what?” (Photo courtesy "Paul")

That's something like what one Oregon Coast Beach Connection reader named Paul just went through. He was strolling along somewhere near Gold Beach Saturday morning when he spotted this unusual creature – which clearly had its head separated from its body, probably by predators making a meal out of it.

Taking a photo of it and dumping that into certain functions of Google later on, he was able to come up with a likely match. Paul found an older article from Oregon Coast Beach Connection showing just such a creature.

They often look like barracudas to many people, but they're they are in fact the Longnose Lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox), something that's a little rare along the Oregon coast or Washington coast. They do get found a few times a year up and down the Pacific Northwest shoreline, but it's not common by any means.

Courtesy Paul - the body of the creature at Gold Beach

Lancetfish are a bit more common in some areas offshore from the Oregon coast or Washington coast, although they live far down in the ocean, according to Seaside Aquarium's Tiffany Boothe. With its long, iridescent body, spiky parts and toothy grin, it looks a bit menacing – not unlike some of the stranger creatures lurking far below the surface.

“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.”

Even with its relative infrequency of beach strandings, there are occasional bursts of them. There was an unusual run of lancetfish 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.

A whole lancet fish, courtesy Oregon Coast Aquarium

It's no surprise then that the lancetfish is known as quite a predator, with what Newport expert Terry Morse called “formidable teeth.” Morse encountered a live one wriggling around the beach once back in the late 2000s.

Other finds documented by Oregon Coast Beach Connection include on the south Washington coast in 2020 and one by Garibaldi on the north Oregon coast.

“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.”

Boothe said they have poor digestive systems, and when necropsies are done on them they find stomachs full of whole fish.

““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,” Boothe said. “Their unique feeding habits, along with the varying range of depth that they occupy have scientists studying their stomach contents.”

You'll begin to see more of them in spring and summer along 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. MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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Courtesy Seaside Aquarium

Lancetfish in Long Beach, Washington, courtesy Seaside Aquarium

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