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

Posts from the ‘Other Fish Species’ category

For the Love of Fish – Bilz Rockfish

What on our blue planet is going on in this photo?!

 

Well, this is William van Orden aka “Bilz Rockfish” of Quadra Island. Since 1995, he has been driven to make replicas of NE Pacific Ocean fish species and other marine life. It was my great fish-nerd joy today to spend some time with him and his wife Barb.

Above, William is holding the mould from the exact fish in the image below. This is the King-of-the-Salmon that died near Oak Bay on September 21st, 2017 (Photo is from the Oak Bay News). For more on this remarkable species, see my blog item at this link.

By making moulds of fish and marine invertebrates that have died as a result of bycatch or washing up like this, William can then make exact replicas for the purposes of education, conservation and art. Incredible care is taken to ensure that every detail is captured in the cast and that the painting is as accurate as possible for the species.


Replica of the head of the September 21st, 2017, Oak Bay King-of-the-Salmon.

 

Replicas of the head of the same King-of-the-Salmon. As a result of this, I learned that the nose can push outward as you see by contrasting the top and bottom casts (from the same fish). Presumably this would be to hunt prey which include “variety of fishes, amphipods, copepods, euphusiids [krill species], fish larvae, polychaetes [bristle worms], squids and octopuses.” Source: Love, Dr. Milton. Certainly More Than You Want to Know about the Fishes of the Pacific Coast: A Postmodern Experience. The fish you see in the background is a 71 cm long Opah (Moonfish). These are fish species that belong in the NE Pacific Ocean but we so rarely get to see them and their awe-inspiring adaptations. 


From the Bilz Rockfish website: “Every scale, pore and wrinkle is duplicated. The cast fish are then coloured with acrylic paints using an extensive collection of photos and notes. The quest is to create a permanent three-dimensional record of every fish [species] found along the Pacific coast. With over 400 different molds cluttering his shop, it would appear that the quest has turned into an obsession.

Indeed, the detail is remarkable (as is his wonderful ichthyology obsession). For example, today I realized why Starry Flounder must be called STARRY Flounder. See all the tiny star patterns on the fish’s skin?

Cast of a 64 cm Starry Flounder.

I also learned something more about the “design” of female anglerfish.

Likely you know that anglerfish females have a lure that contains bacteria which create light (bioluminescence) to attract prey in the deep, dark depths that they dwell. This lure is marked “A” in my image below. What I learned from William is that the lure can be reeled in closer to the female’s mouth and  . . . as “A” is drawn inward, “B” gets longer i.e. “B” is the counterweight to the lure appendage!

 

 

Speaking of appendages, see the little male attached to the female anglerfish? The male bites onto the female and fuses with her. He gets her nutrients. She gets his sperm. I have included a National Geographic video clip at the end of this blog that shows a mated anglerfish pair.

Below, is a cast of 90 cm Rougheye Rockfish determined to be at least 150-years-old. The age was determined by scientists counting the annual growth bands on this individual’s otoliths (ear bones). Research has determined that the species can even get to be 205-years-old!

Other fish in this image are a Decorated Warbonnet (facing left below the Rougheye Rockfish) and, on the right, a deep-dwelling fish (a clue being the huge eyes to pick up on very low light) with the enchanting common name of Ox-eyed Oreo.

 

The fish in the image below is a cast of a 137 cm Longnose Lancetfish (who you calling long nose?!). The species is thought to most often be in the depths off our coast. However, William has found shallow dwelling species like sticklebacks and Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers in the stomachs of individuals he has cast. This suggests that at least those individuals were in the shallows. An additional great quote by Dr. Milton Love is “Longnose Lancetfish are another species for which the term “little is known” fits like a snug shoe.”

137 cm long Longnose Lancetfish. To the left, a male Steelhead (spawning stage). To the right, the Opah (Moonfish). And below, a 10 cm Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker. See him/her?

I have wanted to see William’s workshop for a long time. We’ve been in communication over the years as we have just a few interests in common. 🙂 I have used some of his casts for educational purposes (e.g. his replicas of salmon species) and I might even have a few casts hanging near the shower. Hey! All the cool kids are doing it (at least we marine biology / diver types).

But of course, there is also solemness to seeing the replicas of these awe-inspiring marine neighbours. They are the result of animals who have died.

This struck me the most powerfully with what you see in the image below. These are Ochre Stars with Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, cast by William in an attempt to bring more awareness to the plight of the sea stars.

 

He had also made a cast a of the species most impacted by the Syndrome off our coast – the Sunflower Star. It made me clench my teeth and hold back tears, understanding fully why he made this replica. Because, it is conceivable that this could become the only way we see this species, once so common off our coast. For more on Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, please see this link. 

Deepest of sighs.


Below, more images of Willam’s work and the promised video showing a mated anglerfish pair.

To contact William / Bilz Rockfish, click here. The ideal for rare fish finds (deceased) is that they be of use to science and be cast for the purposes of education and conservation.

Underside of a 51 cm Black Skate.

 

Grunt Sculpin (species to 9.3 cm).

 

Close-up on the mould for the King-of-the-Salmon.

 

Below, National Geographic video of mating anglerifish. Species is the “Fanfin Sea Devil” (Caulophryne jordani). 

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

King-of-the-Salmon at ~1.5m long. Photo: September 2017 by Collin Jay Johnson; near Tattoosh off Neah Bay Washington; depth ~100 fathoms.


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.

Darren Rowsell with the King-of-the-Salmon found on March 23rd, 2012 near Port McNeill. Photo Joanne Rowsell.

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 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 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. 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).

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).

See video below of one 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.”

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


Sources:


King-of-the Salmon found near Oak Bay, British Columbia on September 21, 2017 by Ben Clinton Baker. It will end up on display in the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea in Sidney, British Columbia. Photo: Oak Bay News. Click here for the story.  Below, video of what is presumably this individual when still alive. Credit: Peter Rowand. 

 

Second King-of-the-Salmon found near Oak Bay in September 2017. Photo: Emily Walsh, September 26, 2017.

 

Third found: 1.8 m long female King-of-the-Salmon found on October 3rd, 2017 off Hood Canal, Washington by Chris and Randi Jones. As relayed to Randi by Dayv Lowry of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife “this is the first reported occurrence of this species in Hood Canal ever, and the only other one found in Puget Sound was discovered on a beach back in the 1990s near Tacoma.”

 

Same fish as in the photo above. Female King-of-the-Salmon found off Hood Canal, Washington
 on October 3, 2017 by Chris and Randi Jones. It was 1.8 m long (71′) and 3.3 kg (7.25 lb) and necropsy found that “there was nothing in the gut to indicate it had eaten recently”.  and Photo: Lisa Hillier; Washington Department 
of Fish & Wildlife. 

 

Fourth King-of-the-Salmon found in the fall of 2017 in southern British Columbia / northern Washington. This one was found on October 29th near Sidney British Columbia 100 m north of Reay Creek. Report and photo by Josh Grant. Coordinates: 48°38’03.3″N 123°24’22.7”W

 

 

Sighting of a King-of-the-Salmon August 19, 2019 (at least 70 cm long). Greg and Kim Ashton relayed how “We had just tied up our boat in the marina and were walking to shore when Kim spotted what at first we thought was an eel, but quickly realized it wasn’t but some type of fish we had never seen before. It was in five to six feet [~2m] of water and then swam up into shallower water . . . I was amazed at how it seemed to be looking at us and how brightly colored chrome-like its body was . . .”. Video of this individual (below) reveals this individual may not have been healthy.

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. Source: http://access.afsc.noaa.gov/ichthyo/LHDataIll.cfm?GSID=Trachipterus!altivelis
Credits:
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.

 

Lingcod – Fastidious, Fanged Fathers!

Every year, our local dive club does several dives for Ocean Wise’s lingcod egg mass survey from around the end of January to March 10th.

Lingcod male guarding eggs

Lingcod male guarding an egg mass (generally – the larger the egg mass, the older the female that laid it). Photo: ©Jackie Hildering.

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. 

 

Male Lingcod with my buddy with her slate, having just recorded depth, size and condition of the egg mass. Buddy is Natasha Dickinson. ©Jackie Hildering.

 

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 male guarding egg mass (lower right). ©2015 Jackie Hildering

Lingcod male guarding egg mass (lower right). ©Jackie Hildering.

 

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.

Serious teeth. ©2012 Jackie Hildering.

Serious teeth. ©Jackie Hildering.

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!

Huge egg mass and male Lingcod with battle wounds. It is so meaningful to me that we are likely often documenting the same males year upon year. The males apparently court, mate and guard near the same rocks every year.  ©Jackie Hildering.

 

Huge female Lingcod. After age ~4, females grow twice as fast as males. By age 10 to 12, they are twice the size of males of the same age. Bigger females lay larger egg masses – up to 500,000 eggs! More on the life history in my slide show below. ©Jackie Hildering.

Note that the common name of Lingcod is confusing as they are not a cod nor a ling (another fish species).

For detailed information on the survey, survey reports and on the biology of Lingcod click here for the Ocean Wise webpage. 

Okay, maybe not looking so serious here. :) ©2012 Jackie Hildering.

Okay, maybe not looking so serious here. 🙂 ©Jackie Hildering.

 

Guarding egg mass. ©Jackie Hildering.

 

So much to protect. ©Jackie Hildering.

Kelp Greenling Colour and Courtship

While diving this morning, I came across a kelp greenling couple while they were courting (Hexagrammos decagrammus to 60 cm).

In addition to being fascinated by the courtship behaviour, I was struck by the intense colouration, especially of the courting male.

Male kelp greenling. Normal colouration. ©2013 Jackie Hildering

Male kelp greenling. Normal colouration. ©Jackie Hildering

Mature male and female kelp greenlings look very different but I had never fully realized how the males’ gender specific colour intensifies during courtship.
Their bodies become much paler while the heads remain dark blue.

Courting male on left (note how much lighter the body is than the head); female on the right. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Courting male on left (note how much lighter the body is than the head); female on the right. ©Jackie Hildering

My 1.5 minute video below shows the courtship behaviour. After that there is a photo of eyed kelp greenling eggs.

Kelp greenling eggs in a giant barnacle shell. See the eyes?! © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Kelp greenling eggs in a giant barnacle shell. See the eyes?! ©Jackie Hildering

Fish Forever – The Wisdom of a Nine-Year-Old

Nature gave us sockeye salmon this year. A red-scaled, bounding life source, some 34 million fish strong.

This has led to human voices shouting out in all from gratitude to greed; from delight to denial.

Predictably, sadly, there have been far too many who have been at the “greedy denial” end of the spectrum. I will not tire you with that here though.

I want to fish out two voices of sanity from the ocean of opinions. One voice is that of reporter Stephen Hume from the Vancouver Sun. The other is nine-year-old Avery Walker who I am privileged to have as a member of my Northern Vancouver Island Young Naturalists’ Club.

Stephen Hume, award-winning author,  in The Vancouver Sun: “Columnists who apparently wouldn’t know the difference between a sockeye and a sculpin cluck and scold in a Toronto newspaper. One enthusiastically advances the argument that we should whack 30 million of the 34 million returning salmon . . . . . Instead of permitting a lust for instant gratification to derail a natural process for rebuilding small stocks, now is the time for restraint, for harvest restraint is a critical investment in future abundance. So enjoy your sockeye. Be grateful for this gift from nature. But don’t let the gong show of greed sway us from good stewardship.”

Avery Walker - Salmon Superstar. Photo by Larry Walker and Anna Marchand.

Avery Walker, 9-year-old Young Naturalist, with his prize-winning submission to the Wild Salmon Circle’s “Spawning Ideas” contest: “I fish only with barbless hooks, I’ve taken all the treble hooks from the all the buzzbombs I have and replaced them with single barbless hooks. I don’t jig the fish, I fish the ones who bite. Sometimes this is really hard to do, because not all of my friends fish like this, and so they sometimes take home more fish than I do. I abide by the regulations about which salmon I can keep and which ones I can’t. I never go over my limit. Or keep undersized fish. Most of the time, I catch and release. I love to fish, and I want to be able to do it forever.”

Thank you Avery. Thank you Stephen. Thank you all who make choices that may allow us to have  . . . fish forever.

For insights into the need for precaution in managing the harvesting and threats to the Fraser River sockeye, please click here for information from “Save Our Salmon”.

It’s Raining Fish?!

Juvenile yellow-tail rockfish.

Recently, I noticed a lot of splashing in a tideline off Telegraph Cove, BC. I share my observations with you via the little video clip at the link below.

You’ll note that it looks like big rain drops are hitting the water.

I discovered that what was creating the splashing were juvenile yellow-tail rockfish feeding on zooplankton. The zooplankton, including a small species of krill, had been concentrated at the surface by the big tidal exchange. There had been almost a 4 metre exchange between high and low tide (more than 12 feet).

I also discovered a very unique larval fish in the tideline that day but will share that discovery in a future “The Marine Detective”.

Click here for the video of the yellow-tail rockfish feeding in the tideline.

Enjoy!