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The Little Critter That Looks Like a Spaceship on Oregon / Washington Coast

Published 03/21/2020 at 5:04 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

The Little Critter That Looks Like a Spaceship on Oregon / Washington Coast

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(Oregon Coast) – That old saying of “truth is stranger than fiction” is very real on the Oregon coast and the Washington coast. In some cases, truth is much stranger than science fiction. (All skate photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

Periodically, mostly after a bout of west winds or some major storm action, you might see what looks like a little spaceship flopping around the tideline. In fact, if you’ve ever seen the old show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, this wee wacky beastie may seem familiar: it looks a little like the famed “flying sub” spacecraft-like thingy that launched from the bowels of the submarine the show was based around (see photo below).

It’s called the longnose skate: a dark, sleek and thin creature that usually washes up deceased, if it does at all. It’s a remarkable discovery if you happen upon one still alive however, as they live far beneath the waves at some 100 feet to 2000 feet below. You should consider getting lottery tickets that day - that’s how lucky you’d be.


Above: the flying sub from the Seaview in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. There are still models of these beauties sold on Amazon

Seaside Aquarium is the most vocal on the Oregon and Washington coast about its odd beach finds, and it has plenty of documentation of finding them over the last two decades.

There was one instance in 2007 when the aquarium responded to a beach at Gearhart, finding it still moving. Someone dug a hole around to let it remain in the ocean water, according to manager Keith Chandler back then.

“It was incredible that was it still alive,” Chandler said. “That’s extremely rare.”

Longnose skates are refereed to as benthic, meaning they all most of the their time on the ocean floor. There, they feed on small fish and invertebrates, and they’ve evolved to snag their prey in a unique manner by getting on top of it and pinning it to the floor.

According to Seaside Aquarium, the scientific name is Raja rhina. Average size is about two to three feet, but they can grow to as long as four feet in length.

However, down on the southern Oregon coast, the Charleston Marine Life Center dealt with a larger species called the Big Skate, which gets eight feet long at times. Back in 2018, a research vessel associated with the facility found a “mermaid’s purse” (the term for a skate’s egg casings), which contained the as-yet-unhatched eggs of the large creature.

This has been a somewhat common find on Oregon coast and Washington coast beaches for the Seaside Aquarium, where they discover egg casings with young still alive inside. The facility has had numerous successful hatchings of these over the years and had the babies on display for a time.

Want something even more alien? Check out the round dots on its fins. Those are what are known as eye spots, and they’re used to distract creatures looking to munch on them by making the predators think those are the skate’s eyes. The attacker goes for those eyes but gets nowhere.

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