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Spiky, Bitey-Looking Fish Washing Up on Oregon Coast Lately: Why, What They're Not

Published 05/02/23 at 10:44 PM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Spiky, Bitey-Looking Fish Washing Up on Oregon Coast Lately: Why, What They're Not

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(Oregon Coast) – There has been quite the run lately of an unusual-looking fish along the Oregon coast. Oregon State Parks and Recreation (OPRD) is reporting a fair amount of these spiky, toothy fish, found from Bandon all the way up to Nehalem Bay. Some have even been alive, according to the agency.

They are often confused for barracuda, but they are an entirely different kind of fish altogether, known as the longnose lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox). They may look similar, but that's about all the lancetfish has in common with that beastie. Barracudas are not found along the Oregon coast or Washington coast.

Finding a lancetfish was until recently considered somewhat rare, but now with the advent of social media and lots of cell phones out on the sands officials are realizing they are merely uncommon - at least when it comes to finding them on the beaches.

In fact, Seaside Aquarium found one farther north near the wreck of the Peter Iredale early this week. Some of those reported by OPRD were actually still alive or partially alive, and one was apparently able to swim away. That has also happened to the aquarium in the past, but usually encounters with them still alive in the surf have not ended well.

Photo Oregon Coast Aquarium

The question everyone is asking these days is why are they showing up? That is a bit of a mystery, which adds a little more spice to these intriguing Oregon coast finds.

Keith Chandler with Seaside Aquarium has dealt with a lot of them in the past. Usually, finding just one is a telltale sign.

“We don't really know why,” Chandler told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “Are they in the middle of some kind of mating, or whatever? It's kind of like when there's a lot of sea turtles washing up. If there's one then all of a sudden there'll be a bunch of others. If there's one lancetfish then there are a lot of them. And that's just what's happening.”

Courtesy Seaside Aquarium: a lancetfish on the south Washington coast

Other possibilities, Chandler said, is that they're coming up from the deep towards the surface in the search for food, then getting washed ashore.

Indeed, 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.

Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium said the fanged lancetfish is a bit of a puzzle in itself.

“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.”

It's no surprise then that the lancetfish has quite the reputation for being a deadly predator. Take a gander at that long line of what are often called formidable teeth.

“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.”

One thing scientists do know about them is that they have poor digestive systems. Necropsies done on them often find a good deal of undigested prey.

If you find one on the beach, OPRD is asking you take a photo and post it to their Facebook page or the NOAA Fisheries West Coast pages.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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