No, I have not mixed up my spelling of “soul” verses “sole”.
This last weekend, while watching herring feed on krill in a tide line, I suddenly noticed a very small transparent fish.
Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was a larval form of some species of flatfish.
I was able to dip the little guy / gal into my dive mask for a few pictures and, due to the size of the lettering in the mask, I know that the fish was only 2.7 cm.
Planktonic Sand Sole. Only 2.7 cm. Photo: Jackie Hildering
I was in awe of how transparent s/he was; that I could see the bones and heart; and that this small, fragile planktonic stage could ever survive to grow into an adult.
These sorts of “finds” are as awe-inspiring to me as any sighting of a whale. The thick planktonic soup of our rich cold oceans is full of the larvae of so many species. Anemones, nudibranchs, sea stars, crabs, etc. – they all start off as zooplankton and the incidence of what sort of plankton are present often gives scientists an indication of what may be happening with the marine food web.
It is like a world of hidden secrets to me and of course I wanted to find out all I could.
What species of flatfish was this – halibut, sole, flounder?
I do not have the expertise to know but, oh so thankfully, there are those out there willing to share their great knowledge.
She connected me with zooplankton taxonomist Moira Galbraith of the Institute of Ocean Sciences who confirmed that this was the larval form of a Pacific Sand Sole (Psettichthys melanostictus), a species that can grow to 63 cm. She also shared that the transparency of the larval fish serves as camouflage, reducing the chances of it being eaten before reaching the life stage where it settles to the ocean bottom and hides on and in the sand.
But wait, what are those two little zooplankton guys attached to the larval sole? They are copepods, but what kind of copepod? What does their presence mean ? Are they parasitic? And there I go down the marine id rabbit hole.
One thing I know for sure though – and forgive me for the following pun because the emotion behind it is very sincere – how I hope this little planktonic fish will be a . . . sole survivor.
This great item by Puget Sound Sea Life has been brought to my attention and includes the following: ” . . . within several days to weeks, depending on the species, the larva undergoes a radical metamorphosis. The right or left eye migrates from it’s normal position across the top of the head to the other side of the body changing some skull bones in the process . . . . After metamorphosis, the fish settles to the bottom on it’s left side, develops skin color on the right side and continues growth as a juvenile. Adapting a bottom-dwelling life style allows flatfish to exploit a common habitat – flat sandy bottoms which are very common in the subtidal zone. Many fish avoid this habitat because of the lack of rocks or other features that would provide a hiding place. Flatfish can hide from predators by burrowing, leaving only their eyes above the surface. In addition the habitat is home to an abundance of prey such as worms and shrimp. With both eyes on the upper side they can use 3D vision to hunt and detect predators. There has been considerable controversy over the origin of flatfish, but recent discoveries of several fossil intermediate forms show that eye migration evolved gradually some fifty million years ago.”
With regard to the ectoparasites on the sand sole larva, Marie-Josée Gagnon and Moira Galbraith have again been very generous with their knowledge. It is impossible to know the species from my photo but, due to the size, it is likely a recent infection and could be (1) first stage Chalimus; (2) Lepeophtheirus bifidus – which, unlike most parasites of benthic marine species is host specific – only being found on the rock sole or possibly, (3) the isopod Gnathia. I valued having affirmed too that adults and young live in different environments to eliminate competition for the same resources but also to provide a buffer or separation to prevent transfer of disease or parasites.
Get the app that alerts you when you enter a Rockfish Conservation Area.
Update: Fisheries Notice March 25, 2019 The use of a descending device is now required by condition of licence to assist in the conservation and survivability of rockfish being returned to the water. Because of their closed swim bladders, rockfish brought to the surface suffer barotrauma, causing the swim bladder to inflate and reducing the probability of their survival upon release. Handle catch as little as possible, using wet hands to preserve the protective slime coat, and return to the water at depth of capture as quickly as possible (under two minutes). To avoid catching rockfish, move to another fishing location.”
This photo is of a Yelloweye Rockfish that has died from barotrauma, also known as “pressure shock”.
Many rockfish species are particularly sensitive to reductions in pressure since the air in their swim bladders expands substantially. The swim bladder is a buoyancy control organ and even when slowly reeled in from a depth of only 20 m (60’), a rockfish’s swim bladder can expand to three times its size, putting pressure on the fish’s organs.
As is the case with the Yelloweye Rockfish in the photo, the swim bladder can expand to the point of causing the fish’s eyes to bulge out of their sockets and its esophagus to be pushed out of its mouth (the esophagus is the first section of the digestive tract). I know this is likely a sight that may not enhance your appetite for your rockfish catch but please read on since, contrary to the thinking of many, this IS reversible whereby the rockfish stands a good chance of survival.
Colossal “management” errors were made with overfishing slow-growing rockfish. Many species are extremely long-lived, slow to sexually mature, and the big, old females are the most fertile – producing the most eggs and hatching the largest number of healthy young.
For example, Yelloweye Rockfish are believed to have a lifespan of up to 118 years. They don’t reproduce until they are at least 12 years old, and the old females can incubate up to 2.7 million eggs! Know that there are 38 species of rockfish off the coast of British Columbia.
This means that species are very slow to reproduce whereby, if you catch lots, especially the big females, you can devastate populations very quickly.
Another nail in the coffin of rockfish is that many adults also have high site fidelity so that by fishing one area, you can wipe out a community of fish. Click here for my blog on having found back the SAME individual rockfish in the SAME spot after EIGHT YEARS. This is why Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs) are essential, where it is most often illegal to do any hook and line fishing (see restrictions here).
But, what is you accidentally catch a rockfish outside these areas?
There are studies that support that if you were to quickly recompress the fish, it would stand a very good chance of survival, even where it appears dead at the surface. The fish could be brought back to depth with barbless weighted hooks, or commercial “fish descenders”.
This video make the life-saving potential of fish descenders very clear.
From Island Fisherman Magazine: “Common types of descending devices include a simple, inverted barbless hook, a spring-loaded clamp, and a pressure-release clamp. Of the different devices available, the most effective and simplest to use is a depth pressure activated release device, the Seaqualizer . . . Automatically opening at preset depth, the motion of the boat or the actions of the rockfish as it descends will not prematurely release the fish.“
How wonderful it would be if more people would undertake the effort to recompress the fish, knowing how dire the situation is for many rockfish species. Imagine the further positive impact if people would choose to return the depleted species to depth even when they haven’t reached their catch limit, especially the big, highly productive females.
But, even if there was to be such enlightenment, many rockfish populations are so depleted that they need far more protection.
Again, Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs) are essential. These should be areas known to be the territory of depleted rockfish populations. Since these are no-fishing zones, there is no chance of barotrauma and the rockfish populations that live in the area are given the time to rebuild to have more sexually mature fish and more big old super mamas.
See below for the extraordinary feeding method of the King-of-the-Salmon by which they extend their jaw. This member of the ribbonfish family belongs off our coast. To date I have not been able to verify if the origin of the name of the species is indeed from Makah legend.
Update September 18, 2020: King-of-the-Salmon washed up at Whiffen Spit (Sooke) documented by Dana LeComte (photo below).
Update July 18, 2020: Live King-of-the Salmon documented by Gary Bodine at Pillar Point, Washington.
Update June 24, 2020: ~1.5 m long King-of-the-Salmon found struggling to stay upright by Al Champ and Wendy Cooper in East Sooke (photo and further details below).
Update June 8, 2020: King-of-the-Salmon documented by Harbor WildWatch in Salt Creek, west of Port Angeles, Washington. They provided the insight that “We speculate that this individual swam too close to shore and was killed by the waves as there was no evidence of predation. These are thin delicate fish adapted to the deep ocean. The tide pushed it up into the creek where it was discovered.”
Update August 2019: King-of-the-Salmon sighted in the shallows in Telegraph Cove, British Columbia on August 19th. Sighting and photos by Greg and Kim Ashton. Photos below.
Update September / October 2017: There have been 4 known King-of-the-Salmon washed shore in southern British Columbia / northern Washington. See details and photos below.
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 had never seen one before.
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 maximum confirmed length is 2.45m (Savinykh and Baitalyuk. 2011). 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 is said to originate from Makah First Nation legend. The legend is said to be that the fish was believed to be the “king” that would lead salmon back to their rivers to spawn and that 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. HOWEVER, I have never been able to verify if this is indeed a Makah legend and am currently (September 2020) trying to find out if there is indeed validity to this.
When one of these very rare and unique fish does wash ashore, it usually draws a lot of attention. See the video and photo below for a large King-of-the-Salmon found near Oak Bay, British Columbia on September 21st, 2017. A second one was also found near Oak Bay a few days later on September 26th. A third was found on a beach off Hood Canal, Washington on October 3rd, 2017. And a forth was found in Sidney, British Columbia on October 29th, 2017. (See photos below).
Range: The species’ range is believed to be from the Gulf of Alaska to Chile.
Diet and Feeding Method: 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), polychaetes (bristle worms, small pelagic fish, young rockfish, squid, and octopus. Part of what makes the species so unique is that they can capture (and process prey) by extreme protrusion of the upper jaw. See photos below.
From Ferry, et al (notably the ONLY research I could find on this species): “T. altivelis does appear to have earned the title of “most extreme”in terms of premaxillary protrusion. The distance to which the upper jaw is protruded anteriorly away from the head exceeds that of any other known species . . .the gut was examined in an attempt to gain further insight into this species’ecology. The gut was empty, but the anatomy was unusual and potentially suggestive of extreme foraging habits. There were hundreds of very small diverticuli lining the gut, which suggest to us a mechanism for increasing digestive surface area and/or efficacy. This species has been described as a deep-midwater forager on crustacean zooplankton (Hart, 1973; Shenker, 1983), which is consistent with such mechanisms.”
Predation: 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).
Swimming: From Dr. Gavin Hanke of the Royal BC Museum: “King-of-the-Salmon swim by passing a sine wave down their dorsal fin – they can get a fair bit of speed just by doing that. They can also reverse using the same fin flutter. They slowly turn by putting a curve in the body. However, in the first few seconds of the linked video you can see that they also swim in a more typical fishy way (using eel-like body oscillation) when they need a burst of speed or a really quick turn.” See video below of one swimming.
And THAT appears to be all that is known about the King-of-the-Salmon – yet another one of our remarkable marine neighbours.
From Ferry, et al (2019): ” While much work remains regarding the ecology ofT. altivelis and its relatives, it is certain that this fish holds many surprises yet in store”. No doubt.
As is the case for many species in the sculpin family, male Buffalo Sculpins guard the eggs from predators and fan them with their pectoral fins to aerate them and stop growth of algae / bacteria. Sometimes they guard the eggs laid by multiple females. When you consider that a female can lay between 19,000 and 32,000 eggs, the males have a lot of fertilizing and guarding work to do! Their guard duty lasts 5 to 6 weeks until the eggs hatch.
Many of the photos below show how you the males lie with their flat heads directly upon a cascade of eggs. The clusters of eggs laid in the Spring allow me to find this incredibly camouflaged fish much more easily than I normally could. When I see a golden, orange or greenish shiny mass of eggs, I know a male Buffalo Sculpin has to be very near by. The bright colour of the eggs suggests that they might be toxic to many species, further protecting them from predation.
Very interestingly too, there is a species of fish known to parasitize on the care provided to the fertilized eggs by Buffalo Sculpins. Spinynose Sculpins (Asemichthys taylori) will lay their eggs on top of the Buffalo Sculpin eggs. The Spinynose Sculpin eggs will hatch faster and it is even possible that the presence of the eggs slows the development of the Buffalo Sculpin eggs. This “nesting parasitism”, is a “behavior previously unknown among marine fishes. This study is the first report of interspecific nesting for marine fishes” (Kent, Fisher, & Marliave, 2011).
As you can see, the Buffalo Sculpins’ red, brown and pink colouration makes them very difficult to discern from the similarly brilliantly coloured life around them. They will remain absolutely still so as not to give away their presence. Their relative, the Red Irish Lord, has the same survival strategy. (See this previous blog item for photos and information on the Red Irish Lord.)
The camouflage, in addition to reducing the risk of predation by bigger fish and seals, allows the Buffalo Sculpin to be a very successful ambush hunter of shrimp, crabs, amphipods and small fish. It has been suggested that they eat mainly algae since this has so often been found in their gut but I am willing to bet that the algae ends up in their stomachs as a result of the buffalo sculpins grabbing prey ON the algae!
This is a Salmon Shark (Lamna ditropis) that washed up dead on a beach in Carrot Park in Port Hardy, B.C. on November 23rd, 2011.
Salmon Shark found dead on Port Hardy beach on November 23, 2011. Photo: Mandy Ludlow.
Local Department of Fisheries and Oceans staff conducted an external examination and collected the unfortunate shark so that a full necropsy could be done at a later date. Although salmon sharks are common in the North Pacific, examining the body may allow science to find out more about the species and how this individual died.
The dead Salmon Shark was just over 1.5 metres (length from the nose to fork in the tail = fork length). The species can be 3.7 m and weigh up to 454 kg.
Cut in the pectoral fin suggesting the shark died as a result of by-catch in the longline fishery. Photo: Mandy Ludlow.
Salmon Sharks are of no threat to humans, however, the species does suffer impacts from humanity.
The Port Hardy Salmon Shark had external injuries that suggest it may have been caught in a fishing net and possibly even shot. It had a large cut on its tongue and on one of its pectoral fins and there was a circular hole behind the dorsal fin. Many shark species suffer the threat of by-catch in nets since they are targeting the same species we humans are fishing for.
If it is determined that this shark indeed was caught in a net, this may be particularly interesting since I believe there are no openings for net fisheries at this time of year.
Cut also found on the shark’s tongue. Photo: Mandy Ludlow.
Although Salmon Sharks feed on many species of fish, they are indeed a very successful predator of salmon.
Salmon Sharks can regulate their body temperatures to be higher than the temperature of the surrounding water. The Salmon Shark, in fact, has a higher body temperature than any other shark species. Apparently, even when the water is 2° C, their internal temperature can be 16° C.
This ability to thermoregulate is why, in part, Salmon Sharks can be incredibly fast. The US Navy has recorded speeds of up to 80 km/hr.
I was heartened by the response of the majority of people to the death of this shark. It seems society might be moving beyond the “Jaws Effect” where we demonized sharks because we have bought into their fictitious portrayal.
Many of us now seem to embrace shark fact rather than fiction, realizing that sharks pose little threat to humans; that they have been shaped by some 200 million years of evolution; that globally they are struggling to survive; and that they have an essential role in marine ecosystems.
Hole behind the dorsal fin. Photo: Mandy Ludlow.
Sharks, as top-level predators, strongly shape food webs. Loss of such predators has proven to have profound effects on the number and diversity of other species.
The unenlightened are still out there though. It may be an inevitability that sharks get caught in fishing nets but they need not then be shot or butchered. Locally, I have seen evidence of both.
[Update: December 22nd, 2011 – The necropsy revealed that this was a female shark. It is also now known that the shark was caught in a hook and line sable fish fishery and that the hole behind the dorsal was the result of a hook. It is rare that there is shark bycatch in this type of non-net fishery.]
Skin parasite (ectoparasite). I have no expertise here but had suggested that this a copepod from the Caligidae family.
For further information on Salmon Sharks, please refer to the natural history information fromARKivebelow.
Salmon shark image from ARKive site. Click image for two ARKive videos of salmon sharks hunting. Credit: BBC Natural History Unit.
Salmon Shark Information
A formidable hunter, the salmon shark (Lamna ditropis) is sometimes mistaken for the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), but can be distinguished by its shorter snout and the dusky blotches that mark the white abdomen of adults (3)(4). The rest of the salmon shark’s stocky, spindle-shaped body is dark bluish-grey or blackish, with white blotches around the base of the pectoral fins. The first dorsal fin is large, while the second dorsal and anal fins are tiny and are able to pivot. Its crescent-shaped tail gives it impressive propulsion through the water (2)(3), while its large, well-developed eyes enable it to spot potential prey (2), and its large, blade-like teeth are well suited to gripping slippery fish(2)(3).
The salmon shark occurs in the North Pacific Ocean. From Japan, North Korea, South Korea and the Pacific coast of Russia, its distribution extends east to the Pacific coast of the U.S.A., Canada, and probably Mexico (3). See this species on Google Earth.
The salmon shark is a coastal and oceanic shark, inhabiting waters between 2.5 and 24 degrees Celsius, generally from the surface down to depths around 152 metres, although one individual has been recorded at 255 metres (3).
Occurring singly or in schools of several individuals (3), salmon sharks are long distance, high-speed predators (2), occasionally seen at or near the surface in some areas. They can maintain their body temperature well above that of the surrounding cold water of the North Pacific, and may have the highest body temperature of any shark (3). This allows them to maintain warm swimming muscles and internal organs, so they can still hunt effectively in cool waters (2).
The salmon shark is considered to be one of the main predators of the Pacific salmon, and its voracious feeding on this fish has earned it its common name (3). However, it is an opportunistic feeder that consumes a wide variety of fish that also includes (amongst many others) herring, sardines, pollock, Alaska cod, lanternfishes and mackerel. It also feeds on some squid and is sometimes attracted to by-catch dumped back into the ocean by shrimp trawlers (3).
After spending the summer in the north of their range, the salmon shark migrates south to breed. In the western North Pacific they migrate to Japanese waters whereas in the eastern North Pacific, the salmon shark breeds off the coast of Oregon and California, USA. The young are born in spring after a gestation period of around nine months (3). The salmon shark is ovoviviparous (young hatch inside the female; they are nourished by their yolk sac and then ‘born’ live), and oophagy (when the growing embryos eat unfertilized eggs to gain nutrients) has been recorded in this shark (4). Most litters contain between two and five young. Male salmon sharks are thought to mature at about five years and live to at least 27 years; females reach maturity at eight to ten years and are known to live to at least 20 years (3).
The salmon shark is often caught as by-catch in Japanese, United States and Canadian fisheries. When caught, often just the fins are taken for shark fin soup and the rest is discarded, although sometimes the flesh may be sold for consumption in Japan and the United States (4). Many fishermen view salmon sharks as pests, as they often damage fishing gear, making them more likely to be killed if captured (4). In addition to the threat of by-catch, some recreational fishing for this shark occurs in Alaskan and Canadian waters (4), and some commercial fishing has taken place in the past, such as in Prince William Sound, Alaska (5).
In 1997, the Alaska Board of Fisheries closed all commercial shark fishing in state waters and implemented strict regulations in the state sports fishery for salmon sharks (4). Measures such as these are vital in protecting this species’ future, until further research can determine the conservation status of this magnificent predator.
Click here for two ARKIve videos showing Salmon Sharks hunting.
Click here for the petition to ban shark fin products in Canada and here for video by astounding 18-year-old Madison Stewart about the vilification of sharks and the atrocities of shark-finning . . . 73 million sharks killed/year for their fins = 190 sharks killed/minute.
Update February 2nd, 2021
This blog was written in 2011 reporting this to be a Mola mola.
I can now share that this is NOT a Mola mola. It is a Mola tecta! It is now known that there are two species of Mola in the NE Pacific Ocean. See the CBC news article announcing this here: Meet the Hoodwinker, the Ocean Sunfish we Misidentified for Years.
Mola tecta is the Hoodwinker Sunfish. See diagram at the end of this blog for the discerning characteristics.
As a result of writing this blog in 2011 (with the great photos taken by friends), I was contacted in 2020 by the researcher who could discern this species, Marianne Nyegaard who works in New Zealand. Now, in my role with the Marine Education and Research Society, we are helping get more sightings of Mola off the coast of BC to get a better sense of relative abundance. To relay sightings, please see this link.
Something very unexpected landed near the Port Hardy seaplane base on October 20th, 2011 – a dead Mola tecta. This species of ocean sunfish looks like a cartoon character rather than a relatively fast-moving, deep-diving fish whose design has been perfected by millions of years of evolution.
Chad Chrighton, the pilot who found the Mola tecta near the seaplane base. Photo credit: Mike D’Amour (North Island Gazette).
This fish species is aptly named since Mola means “millstone” in Latin and indeed this fish looks like a huge, flat, gray circle and has rough skin. It appears to have no body, only a giant, round, flat head with a small beak-like mouth. It is propelled by two pointy fins (dorsal and anal) and is steered by a wide, rounded, rudder-like tail.
Photo credit: Erika Grebeldinger.
Mola species were believed to be passive drifters who travelled only at the surface, wherever the current took them. However, satellite tracking studies have revealed that they dive deeper than 600 m and travel an average of 10 to 20 km per day, the same distance traveled by open-ocean shark species.
Matthew Drake measuring the Mola tecta To give you get a sense of size, Matthew is 2m tall (6.5′). Photo credit: Erika Grebeldinger.
They are certainly a rarity on the inside of Vancouver Island however and I greatly appreciate that Matthew Drake let me know about this find and that he undertook a necropsy of the giant together with Louisa Clarke and Natasha Dickinson.
This Mola tecta measured 2.00 m wide, from beak to tail fin, and 2.06 m long, from the tip of one pointy fin to the other. It may have weighed more than 200 kg. Remarkably, this is small for its kind. Mola tecta hold the record for being the largest bony fish on earth with an average mass of 1 tonne. The largest Mola mola (cousin to Mola tecta) ever recorded was 2,235 kg and 3.10 m by 4.26 m (it was struck by a boat near Australia in the early 1900s). Note that the whale shark can be more than 9 times bigger than this but, it is not a bony fish.
Mouthparts. Photo credit: Mandy Ludlow.
Matt and the team concluded that the Port Hardy Mola tecta was female which meant that she could have up to 300 million eggs in her one ovary. This is another record for the species: having more eggs than any other animal with a backbone. Another astounding fact is that the larvae could grow to be 60 million times their weight at hatching.
The investigation also revealed partially digested jellyfish in her gut, which is the typical prey of Molas / Sunfish. Their diet also includes small fish, eelgrass and crustaceans and they are able to spit out and pull in water and food with their unique mouthparts. As with all species that feed on jellies, a conservation concern is that they mistake plastic bags for their food. However, there was no evidence for this being the cause of death for this particular Mola tecta.
Maybe parasites were a factor in her death? The team found lots of skin and intestinal parasites! Some of the round worms in the guts were even still alive. Parasites are common for Mola molas. In fact, it is now believed that the behaviour of “sunning” at the surface (hence, ocean “sunfish”) might be so that birds can feed on the skin parasites and that jumping more than 3 m out of the water might help dislodge some parasites too. Mola tectas are also found associated with drifting kelp patches, where small fish can clean away the pests.
HOLY MOLA you never know what you are going to find in our amazing marine backyard.
All the information collected was reported to oceansunfish.org and the mouth parts are on display in Telegraph Cove’s Whale Interpretive Centre.
Her intestines were an astounding mass of worms. Likely the species include the parasitic flatworm, Nematobibothrioides histoidii which is thread-like but can grow to be over 12 m (40′). No one apparently knows just how long they can become, in part because dissections/necropsies on Mola mola are rare events. Photo credit: Natasha Dickinson.
Parasites near the eye. Photo credit: Mandy Ludlow.
More great ectoparasites. Photo credit: Matthew Drake.
Her single ovary. Can have 300 million eggs. Photo credit: Natasha Dickinson.
He discusses the shark species found in our cold-rich waters in the Pacific Northwest: “We have some of the largest species of sharks in the world swimming in these waters”.
Great video of sharks and I particularly appreciated Dr. Harvey-Clark’s explanation of the ecological link between rat fish and bluntnose sixgill sharks and, related to this, the latest research on the “ocean wanderings” of sixgills.
If you ever see a Basking Shark in British Columbia: call 1-877-50-SHARK (1-877-507-4275) or, if less urgent, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please see info below to aid ID.
Photo by Chris Gotschalk (Wikimedia Commons)
It’s a first. Canada has now (2011) acknowledged the endangerment of a marine fish species – the Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maxiumus).
Basking Sharks used to be common in the coastal waters of British Columbia. As the second largest fish species in the world, they could be half the size of a city bus (12 m and 4 tonnes) and could be seen at the surface of the ocean, “basking” there to feed on plankton. It’s a long-lived species too, believed to be able to reach 50 years of age.
However, even the most seafaring fisher is now unlikely to ever see one off the B.C. coast. There have been less than 25 sightings of Basking Sharks since 1996. So what happened?
We slaughtered them.
These sharks were put on the Canadian fisheries “Destructive Pests” list in 1949, and from 1955 to 1969 there was a federal eradication program directed at these benign, plankton-eating giants. In these years, the federal fisheries patrol vessel, the Comox Post, even had a blade mounted on its bow, designed specifically to slice Basking Sharks in half.
This species of shark has only the tiniest of teeth and does not compete for a commercial fishery like the sea lions, seals and Killer Whales that were also culled in that time period. The motivation for the “pest control” of these gentle giants was that they got trapped in gill nets, causing damage to fishing gear.
Click here for this annotated Basking Shark colouring sheet by Romney McPhie who is not only a shark scientist but clearly also an artist (and very skilled educator)!
As an indicator of how far we have come since then, imagine the social outrage today if a magazine celebrated the ingenuity of the Comox Post’s blade, illustrating how the executioner’s tool was used accompanied by the text “Huge 30-foot basking shark is almost cut in two by sharp-edged ram. The sharks, floating lazily near the surface of the water, are no match for this skillfully handled vessel, which heads directly into a school and catches an individual shark before it is aware of its plight”. November 1956’s edition of Popular Mechanics featured just that and the June 22,1955 front page of the Victoria Times included a photo with the text “This is a basking shark, basking and leering. But the smirk will soon be wiped off its ugly face by the fisheries department, which is cutting numerous sharks down to size” (from The Slaughter of B.C.’s Gentle Giants by Scott Wallace and Brian Gisborne).
Further: “After the initial flurry of press commentary on the shark blade in 1955 and 1956, the Comox Post went about its daily job, firing bullets into the occasional sea lion, seal, or merganser and slicing sharks when seasonally abundant. At the end of each fishing season an annual report was written, and over the years the entries for basking sharks appear to diminish. The blade was used over a period of 14 years in the Barkley Sound region, during which time 413 kills were recorded.” In 1956 alone, 105 Basking Sharks were reported to have been killed.”
Basking Sharks survived as a species for at least 30 million years but have been pushed to the brink extinction in B.C. by just a couple of decades of human intolerance, misunderstanding and mismanagement.
But as a testament to how quickly human social evolution can occur, we have gone from being executioners to acknowledging the species’ endangerment in just over 40 years. In February 2010, the Pacific population received legal protection by being listed as “endangered” under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. The Recovery Strategy was finalized at the end of July, 2011.
Only history will tell if our evolved enlightenment is enough or if it came too late for the Basking Shark and many other marine species. The fact that you care enough to read this blog item is every reason for hope.
Above: Basking Shark sighting July 17,2017 in Caamano Sound, BC. Video by Archie Dundas of the GitGa’at Guardians via Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Presentation by yours truly and Romney McPhie of Fisheries and Oceans Canada for Ocean Day 2022.
The Red Irish Lord (Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus; up to 51 cm) is a fish of incredibly stunning diversity of colour. Right down to its flecked, bulging eyes, this ambush predator is a master of camouflage.
But how can you be camouflaged when you’re a fish of insane red and/or orange colouring? When you live in the rich, cold waters of the Northeast Pacific where Nature has doled out colour so liberally, you fade into the background even when so vibrantly coloured.
They are a favourite species for we underwater photographers since, as ambush hunters, they remain still even when annoying divers are flashing lights in their eyes or when a crab is sitting on their heads (see below).
What inspires me to now share a blog item on this sculpin species, is the awe I felt upon seeing the diversity in colour among the Red Irish on yesterday’s dive. We found four individuals among the pinks, reds, yellows and oranges of sponges, soft corals, hydroids and anemones and of course, we missed many more as they were too well-camouflaged!
I hope that your sense of wonder is also stimulated in realizing that the Red Irish Lords are able to change their colour, pattern and shading to match their surroundings!
Below, meet the four I saw on the day of writing this blog.
Update February 2022: With regard to the Lingcod Egg Mass Survey, Ocean Wise is not hosting the project in 2022. I have had a meeting with Ocean Wise and replicated the data form used in the past so that divers can submit the data and ensure continuity in the dataset of this longterm project.
Update November 2021: New research finds Lingcod replace ~2 of their 500 teeth every day.
Every year, our local dive club does several dives for Ocean Wise’s lingcod egg mass surveyfrom around the end of January to March 10th.
The survey is the result of concerns about the overfishing of this fish species and is conducted just after the spawn (January to February) when females leave the males to guard the egg masses from predation by species like sea stars. There are very few deadbeat dads in this species!
The data collected provide insight into the abundance and reproductive success of Lingcod in British Columbia and include: depth of the egg masses; their size (grapefruit, cantaloupe or watermelon sized); if the eggs are being guarded by a male; and their state of development (new, eyed or rotten). We are very fortunate that our area appears to have relatively abundant and large egg masses. At the end of this blog, you’ll find my 2.5 minute slide show of their life history.
But let me first take you on a wee retrospective journey.
My understanding of the behaviour of these magnificent fish has now evolved to where I now take photos of the extremely territorial males guarding their large orbs of fertilized eggs, but it certainly wasn’t always that way for me. The following is a much exaggerated perspective from when I was a very new diver doing their first Lingcod egg mass survey.
In 1999, I had only ever done 14 dives and had never even seen a Lingcod while diving. So, in preparation for the survey, I consulted my trusty field guide and felt well-prepared knowing the information below:
LINGCOD (Ophiodon elongatus)
Size: To 1.5 m and 37 kg.
Description: Large head, mouth and teeth; dark blotches on a slender, tapering, mottled body.
Habitat: Adults on rocky reefs and in kelp beds to 2,000 m; juveniles on sand and mud bottom.
However, nothing could have truly prepared me for meeting the awe-inspiring and highly dedicated Lingcod Fathers for Future Generations Club.
That first experience with the survey in 1999 led me to writing the following tongue-in-cheek “updated” field guide information in my dive log.
LINGCOD (Megadontos fishious)
Size: &%$#@ huge!!!!!
Description: Teeth sharp, large and fear inducing; species camouflaged for added surprise value; ability to make themselves appear even larger and more menacing by fanning out huge gill plates (opercula). Note: Wise for divers to retreat if this behaviour is observed.
Habitat: Adult males found anywhere that groups of dive slate carrying divers like to congregate.
Comment: Egg masses are said to have eyes at some stage of their development but no living diver can confirm that this is the case!
This is an awe-inspiring fish species indeed. I have even had a male knock my dive slate out of my hands during a survey. Ironically, I was recording “absent” under the column for whether a male was guarding the egg mass!
Note that the common name of Lingcod is confusing as they are not a cod nor a ling (another fish species).