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.
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.
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.
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).
And that appears to be all that is known about the king-of-the-salmon – yet another one of our remarkable marine neighbours.
- Alaska Fisheries Science Centre; Ichthyoplankton Information System
- Fishwise Universal Fish Catalogue
- Salem News; July 23, 2006; “Strange Fish Found on Beach Near Seaside”