Barracuda-like Lancetfish Found off the coast of S. Oregon
Posted on 4/2/22 at 5:25pm PST
By employees of the Oregon Coast Beach Connection
(Gold Beach, Oregon) – A gorgeous spring day on the south coast of Oregon, somewhere near Gold Beach. The sun is shining, it’s a bit chilly and windy, but the scenery is appealing. You’re walking along the beach and suddenly you spot what looks like a barracuda in the sand. You’re like, “Wait, what?” (Photo courtesy of “Paul”)
That’s kind of like what an Oregon Coast Beach Connection reader named Paul just went through. He was strolling somewhere near Gold Beach on Saturday morning when he spotted this unusual creature – whose head was clearly severed from its body, likely by predators who turned it into a meal.
When he took a picture of it and later typed it into certain features of Google, he was able to find a likely match. Paul found an older article from the Oregon Coast Beach Connection showing just such a creature.
They often look like barracuda to many people, but they’re actually longnose lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox), something that’s somewhat rare along the Oregon or Washington coast. They are found along the Pacific Northwest coast a few times a year, but this is by no means common.
Courtesy of Paul – the body of the creature on the gold sands
Lancetfish are slightly more common in some areas off the Oregon or Washington coast, though they live far down in the ocean, according to Seaside Aquarium’s Tiffany Boothe. With its long, iridescent body, spiked parts, and toothy grin, it looks a bit menacing – not unlike some of the stranger creatures that lurk far beneath the surface.
“Little is known about the longnose lanceletfish,” Boothe said. “We know they range from the southern Bering Sea to Chile and occupy surface waters to depths of 6,000 feet.”
Despite the relatively low frequency of strandings, eruptions do occasionally occur. In May 2008 there was an unusual series of Lancetfish all along the Oregon coast, with up to 20 sightings this spring in areas such as Cannon Beach, Seaside, Warrenton, Newport and Lincoln City.
A whole lancelet, courtesy of the Oregon Coast Aquarium
It’s no surprise, then, that the lancelet is known to be quite a predator, with what Newport expert Terry Morse called “impressive teeth.” Morse encountered a live writhing on the beach in the late 2000s.
Other finds documented by Oregon Coast Beach Connection are on the south coast of Washington in 2020 and one by Garibaldi on the north coast of Oregon.
“This is a barracuda-like fish that you wouldn’t expect to encounter along the Oregon coast,” Boothe said. “Its beautiful large eyes, sharp fangs, and snake-like body set this fish apart from most others found in the Pacific Northwest.”
Boothe said they have poor digestive systems, and when autopsies are performed on them, they find stomachs full of whole fish.
“We also know that they are not picky eaters, they have been known to eat over 90 different types of marine life, including each other, and are unfortunately attracted to plastics,” Boothe said. “Their unique feeding habits, along with the different depths they occupy, prompt scientists to study their stomach contents.”
You will see more of them in spring and summer along the Oregon and Washington coast. Boothe said scientists aren’t exactly sure why.
However, they tend to be caught as by-catch in fishermen’s nets and then thrown back into the sea. That’s one of the reasons you see them washing up. MORE PHOTOS BELOW
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Courtesy of Seaside Aquarium
Lancetfish in Long Beach, Washington, courtesy of Seaside Aquarium
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