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Weird Little Fish Found on S. Washington Coast, Near Oregon

Published 01/03/2019 at 4:05 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Weird Little Fish Found on S. Washington Coast, Near Oregon

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(Oregon Coast) - Sometimes, the naturalist work of the north Oregon coast's Seaside Aquarium takes the crew northward just over the border, and sometimes their finds are unique, even rare or weird. (Photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium).

The Seaside Aquarium is part of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which means it responds to distressed animal or stranded bodies of sea creatures – a territory that includes from about Garibaldi up to the Washington coast's southern area.

Crew from the aquarium were dealing with a stranded sea lion on the Long Beach Peninsula this week when they discovered something they hadn't found before. It was a relatively small thing, a fish called finescale triggerfish (Balistes polylepis), which is almost never seen this far north.

Tiffany Boothe of the Seaside Aquarium snapped the pics and told the story.

“After the recent storms and heavy surf, a unique fish was found on the Long Beach peninsula,” she said. “While staff from the Seaside Aquarium were responding to calls about a live distressed sea lion on the beach, a strange fish with large protruding teeth caught their eye. A closer look at this unusual fish revealed that it this was not a fish typically found in the Pacific Northwest.

“Along with the unusual teeth it had a very long hard and thin dorsal fin, a compressed round body, and tiny pectoral fins. With a little research it was concluded that this was a finescale triggerfish (Balistes polylepis). Finescale triggerfish typically range from Mexico to Chile and rarely as far north as Southern California.”

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife does have a description of it on its website, which means it can at times be found here. Still, it's only in the marine species ID page of the agency's website, and not much space is given for it.

It begs the question: what on Earth was it doing on the south Washington coast?

Boothe looked up a scientific paper from Northwestern Naturalist published in the spring of 2016, regarding warm water anomalies and how fish from warmer waters may move northward. It – and other papers – have noted similar things. During the winter El Nino of ‘82 - ‘83, finescale triggerfish were found as far north as Alaska, Boothe said.

“In 2014, one specimen, along with another warm water fish Louvar (Luvarus imperialis) was found off the coast of British Columbia, the first ever reported in that area,” she said.

Other papers have noted the fish being discovered in Yaquina Bay in the ‘50s, apparently the first time in Oregon. Earlier than that, the species was considered an anomaly even in southern California.


This past summer was a weird one on the Oregon coast, with warmer waters and “the blob” apparently driving rarer species closer to shore. In on case, a very rare beaked whale was spotted near Depoe Bay. Normally, Humpback whales gorge themselves up north near Astoria, but they were largely seen on the central Oregon coast in what Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department believes was ample feeding grounds farther south. They never made it north.

Scientists believe the infamous “blob” growing off the west coast was enabling species normally more suited to warmer waters to come in closer.

Boothe sees a connection.

“So, with the warmer waters we experienced in the later part of this summer and the appearance of some other warm water creatures like the thresher shark found down in Manzanita it is not too alarming but fascinating nonetheless,” she said.

What happened to the sea lion they had originally gone to check out? Boothe has an answer as well.

“And for those of you concerned about the distressed sea lion, it was fine,” she said. “Just needed some rest from the wild ocean conditions.” More photos below.

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