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Strange Opah Fish Found at Sunset Beach Very Rare for Oregon Coast

Published 07/15/21 at 5:45 PM PST
By Andre' GW Hagestedt, editor

Strange Opah Fish Found at Sunset Beach Very Rare for Oregon Coast

(Gearhart, Oregon) - Crew at the Seaside Aquarium called it "pretty bizarre." (Photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

Those were manager Keith Chandler's words when he and his crew responded to a trippy find on the north Oregon coast, after a witness called in a strange fish lying around at Gearhart.

“That's a pretty cool find for a Wednesday morning,” he said.

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What personnel found was an opah (Lampris guttatus), also known as a Moonfish – something the aquarium has likely never seen before. It's a rare find around these parts, likely very rare. Although Chandler admits he might've seen a baby one years ago. There's been one other documented case of a catch some 37 miles off the north Oregon coast back in 2009.

This particular opah was 3.5 feet long and 100 pounds, a rather startling find for Chandler and the crew. After getting a report at 8 a.m. and then seeing photographs, crew quickly responded and recovered the fish.

“It created quite the stir at the Aquarium where folks were encouraged to come take a look at this beautiful and odd looking fish,” said the aquarium's Tiffany Boothe.

Boothe said Opah can grow as big as 6 feet long and get over 600 pounds.

“They inhabit pelagic (meaning they live in the open ocean), tropical and temperate waters where they feed on krill and squid,” Boothe said.

“I may have seen one years ago that we got that was caught on a fishing boat – a baby one,” Chandler said. Aside from that, there's no instance of an encounter with the aquarium.

Boothe said its eye was almost three inches wide.

“It is reported that their meat tastes like a mix between tuna and swordfish,” Boothe said.

According to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), opah is a smart seafood choice as it's managed responsibly and their population is believed to be quite healthy.

The opah is a colorful creature with a lot going on visually. NOAA said the opah's fins and mouths are red, and their eyes are encircled with gold.

Yet not much is known about their biology as they live deep in the ocean, but scientists assume they're much like other palaegic fish. When caught, they're usually about one to six years old, and often a bycatch of fishermen trying to snag swordfish.

“Opah spawn in warm surface waters throughout the year in the tropics and more seasonally in cooler waters,” NOAA said.

This makes them usually residents of places like Hawaii or farther south around California.

So what was this one doing up here on the Oregon coast? Scientists don't know much about their ecology, Boothe said, but they do have some things in common with the sunfish (Mola mola) that aren’t just visual.

“They come up here from time to time in the summer just like Mola mola,” Boothe said. “Rarely do we see them washed ashore though. They follow their food in the warm water current offshore. We really don’t know how many or how often. Fisherman will see them more frequently than beachgoers.”

She also noted they are one of very few fish that can raise their body temperature above that of the ambient water temperature.

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