Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Very Rare Fish Find: King-Of-The-Salmon (Trachipterus altivelis)

Darren Rowsell with the king-of-the-salmon found on March 23rd, 2012. Photo Joanne Rowsell.

Here’s a finding to enhance your sense of wonder about the sea and how little we know about its inhabitants.

On March 23rd, 2012 Darren and Joanne Rowsell found this dead specimen on the beach at Lady Ellen Point, Port McNeill, British Columbia, Canada. When the photos landed in my inbox, I almost fell off my chair recognizing how rare a find this was. It’s a king-of-the salmon (Trachipterus altivelis). The adults feed in the open ocean at depths of 900+ m (3,000 feet) so they hardly ever wash ashore and I have never seen one before.

Easy to see why the king-of-the-salmon belongs to the ribbonfish family. Photo Joanne Rowsell.

The king-of-the-salmon belongs to the ribbonfish family (Trachipteridae). You’ll note from Joanne’s photos that the species is indeed very ribbon-like. It is extremely thin and reaches lengths of up to 1.83 m (6 foot). The long, high, crimson coloured dorsal fin is also very reminiscent of a ribbon, tapering down the full length of the fish’s back. These fish move in a snake-like fashion, undulating their long bodies.

The unique common name of the king-of-the-salmon originates from Makah First Nation legend. This fish was believed to be the “king” that would lead salmon back to their rivers to spawn.

King-of-the-salmon. Photo Joanne Rowsell.

To kill one was believed to bring bad luck, causing the death of the salmon.  The Makah, like other fisherfolk, must occasionally have caught one on their lines or in their nets.

When one of these very rare and unique fish does wash ashore, it usually draws a lot of attention. The fish that the Rowsell’s found is relatively small. See the image below of the one found in 2006 near Salem, Oregon. It was 1.83 m (6 foot) long and the head was about 23 cm (9 inches) wide.

King-of-the-salmon’s dorsal fin extends all the way down its back. Photo Joanne Rowsell.

The species range is believed to be from the Gulf of Alaska to Chile.

Smaller king-of-the-salmon do feed closer to shore and their diet is known to include copepods, annelid worms, fish scales, and fish larvae. Larger individuals feed on copepods, krill (euphausids), small pelagic fish, young rockfish, squid, and octopus. I presume that stomach content studies have allowed science to determine that the predators of the king-of-the-salmon include the bigeye thresher shark (Alopias superciloosus), and the longnose lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox).

King-of-the-salmon’s head. Photo Joanne Rowsell.

And that appears to be all that is known about the king-of-the-salmon – yet another one of our remarkable marine neighbours.


King-of-the-salmon found near Salem, Oregon in 2006. 1.83 m (6 foot) long and the head was about 23 cm (9 inches) wide. Source: Salem News; July 23, 2006; "Strange Fish Found on Beach Near Seaside" Click here to read the story.

King-of-the-salmon found near Salem, Oregon in 2006. 1.83 m (6 foot) long and the head was about 23 cm (9 inches) wide. Source: Salem News; July 23, 2006; “Strange Fish Found on Beach Near Seaside”
Click here to read the story.



Plankton life stages of the king-of-the-salmon.!altivelis
A: Matarese, A.C., and E.M. Sandknop. 1984. Identification of fish eggs. In H.G. Moser, W.J. Richards, D.M. Cohen, M.P. Fahay, A.W. Kendall, Jr., and S.L Richardson (eds.), Ontogeny and systematics of fishes. Spec. Publ. 1, Am. Soc. Ichthyol. Herpetol., p. 27-31. Allen Press, Lawrence, KS, 760 p.
B: Charter, S.R., and H.G. Moser. 1996.Trachipteridae: Ribbonfishes. In H.G. Moser (ed.), The early stages of fishes in the California Current region. CalCOFI Atlas 33, p. 669-677. Allen Press, Lawrence, KS, 1505 p.
C and D: Matarese, A.C., A.W. Kendall, Jr., D.M. Blood, and B.M. Vinter. 1989.
Laboratory guide to early life history stages of Northeast Pacific fishes. NOAA Tech. Rep. NMFS 80, 652 p.


7 Responses to “Very Rare Fish Find: King-Of-The-Salmon (Trachipterus altivelis)”

  1. Anonymous

    So wonderful that people share with you and you share with us! otherwise I would never know about these amazing creatures . Thanks MD!

  2. Dino

    I believe deep sea trollers pull these up every so often, I too have seen pictures of these rare beasts. Great to get some background info on why they are called King of the Salmon.

  3. Abby Schwarz

    Enormous eyes correlate well with life in in dark waters. Wonder if it makes vertical migrations as some ribbonfish do.

  4. Valerie K. Yukluk

    My Dad was on a reefnet gear on Lopez island they caught one 6 foot long. 5 lbs in 1958. I have a poloroid picture, but it is in bad shape.


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