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Rare and Live Snake Eel Found on N. Oregon Coast, Rescue Attempted

Published 03/09/22 at 5:02 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Rare and Live Snake Eel Found on N. Oregon Coast, Rescue Attempted

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(Rockaway Beach, Oregon) – A simple visit to the Oregon coast turns into a learning moment. That's what happened to Israel Knight, according to Seaside Aquarium, who was wandering Rockaway Beach this weekend when he came across something he didn't expect, something he'd never seen. Well, not in real life, anyway. (All photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium)

Seaside Aquarium's Tiffany Boothe said Knight found a long, very long snake on the beach, which is not something you normally see. Interestingly enough, Knight knew what it was when he called the aquarium: a Pacific snake eel (Ophichthus triserialis). Not only was this a rare find for Oregon but it was still alive. Pacific snake eels are found much farther south in warmer climes and not around here.

This was something unusual.

“Knowing that it was very unlikely that the snake eel (which is not a true eel) would survive if returned to the ocean, staff at the aquarium asked if he could find a bucket or container and fill it with saltwater to store the snake eel in until they could arrive,” Boothe said. “Israel quickly solicited help and while his help was looking for a container, he kept the snake eel as comfortable as possible, pouring saltwater on it to avoid it drying out.”

As aquarium staff arrived, Boothe said they immediately knew they made the correct call by not returning the snake eel to the ocean.

“It was very lethargic and had obvious injuries,” Boothe said.

Boothe said it's now at the aquarium in an isolated holding tank. It's a path they've been down twice before. Neither lived beyond their rescue attempts.

“While we are hopeful it will make a full recovery, it has a very, very long road ahead,” she said.

For decades, the Seaside Aquarium had not encountered any such creature, although they knew of finds in Bandon and Lincoln City in previous years. Then all of a sudden, one was found on the Washington in 2019, and another in Gearhart in 2020. At that time, the aquarium was closed to the public due to the pandemic, but was still responding to creatures found on the beaches.

Both were similar situations of lethargy and injury, and both were taken back to the aquarium in an attempt to bring them back to life. Both died shortly after.

Oregon Coast Beach Connection covered both those events, and each time manager Keith Chandler said they assumed the snake eels would likely die. They could not get either to eat.

“They typically range from northern California down to Peru, they are rarely seen this far north,” Boothe said. “It is not known why exactly we are seeing these live snake eels on the beach, especially this far north but it is likely connected to warming ocean conditions. When we asked Israel how he knew it was a Pacific snake eel he said he remembered seeing the news about it in 2020.”

All three of these snake eels were found in March, with the first two oddly found on March 14.

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