Japanese fish survive 5,000-mile trip across Pacific in tsunami boat

One of the fish washed up in Washington state
One of the fish that washed up in Washington state.

Scientists are baffled as to how a group of small fish native to Japan survived a journey across the Pacific after they were found on a boat swept away by the 2011 tsunami and washed up last month on the coast of Washington state.

The batch of striped beak fish — five in all — were discovered submerged in the hold of the 20-foot-long fishing skiff, dubbed the Sai-shou-maru, on Long Beach in southwestern Washington.

The beached vessel was confirmed this week to have originated from the region of northern Japan devastated in the immense tidal surge generated by the March 2011 Fukushima earthquake.

Other boats carried away by the tsunami have previously washed up along the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, as have chunks of piers and large quantities of other debris. But the fish found aboard the Sai-shou-maru are the first vertebrates known to have made the voyage.

Marine biologists studying the phenomenon are puzzled over precisely how striped beak fish, natural denizens of warmer, shallow southern Japanese waters, ended up as live stowaways in the well of the boat, and how they endured a two-year journey across the ocean.

“It is quite remarkable,” Curt Hart, a spokesman for the Washington state Department of Ecology, told Reuters. “Everyone is very amazed that these fish survived for two years in that hold.”

The fish were apparently swept up with the skiff as it was washed down the coast of Japan and out into the Pacific.

Scientists surmise that the fish made their home beneath the boat for much of the trip as it drifted upside down and partially submerged, feeding on other organisms that became encrusted or otherwise attached to the inverted vessel. Then they might have been scooped up into the skiff’s hold when wind or waves righted the vessel, Hart said.

Nourishment mystery

The middle of the Pacific is far less rich in nutrients than coastal waters, raising questions of how the fish found enough food to survive the trip, said Jeff Adams, an expert at Washington Sea Grant, an agency supporting marine research.

The 6-inch-long striped beak fish, named for their protruding mouths and black-and-white striped markings, were the most surprising of an estimated 30 to 50 species of marine organisms that hitchhiked across the Pacific with the skiff.

Other stowaways included various types of algae, anemones, crabs, marine worms and shellfish.

Many were believed to be non-native species, and all were treated as potentially invasive — capable of displacing native organisms and disrupting the natural ecological balance if allowed to escape into the environment and propagate.

As a precaution, state officials swiftly removed the Sai-shou-maru from the shoreline before samples of organisms were collected for study, and the boat was scraped and steam-cleaned, Hart said.

Four of the fish found alive in the boat on March 22 have since died, and the lone surviving specimen has been moved to an aquarium in Seaside, Ore.

The Sai-shou-maru is not the only Noah’s ark of potential invasive species carried to the West Coast by the tsunami. Several more Japanese boats have washed ashore since last year in Washington, Oregon and California, and a fishing vessel found drifting off Alaska was scuttled by the Coast Guard.

Dozens of non-native and potentially invasive species — more than hitched a ride aboard the Sai-shou-maru — were previously found attached to two large hunks of piers that washed up, one in Oregon and one in Washington, Hart said.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

MTA announces service changes for Sunday

The MTA has announced service changes ahead of Sunday's People's Climate March, which will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Riders using…

Local

NYPD launches Twitter account for L train

The NYPD recently launched a Twitter handle dedicated to the L train and its riders. According to @NYPDLtrain, officers went underground Thursday morning to hand…

Local

Bushwick community space offers activists a place to…

A new Bushwick community space offers community activists to meet, create, learn and throw back a few cold ones. MayDay, located 214 Starr Street in Bushwick,…

Local

Activists gearing up for Sunday's "historic" People's Climate…

If all goes according to plan, more than 100,000 people will gather near Central Park West on Sunday morning and march through midtown to raise…

Arts

EXCLUSIVE: Backstage with Adam Jacobs at 'Aladdin' on…

Metro shadowed Adam Jacobs backstage at "Aladdin" on Broadway.

Movies

Review: Terry Gilliam's 'The Zero Theorem' is better…

Terry Gilliam's latest, "The Zero Theorem," concerns a reclusive malcontent (Christoph Waltz) struggling with the search for the meaning of life.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and a being called Emily get…

Esperanza Spalding is about to spiral off in a brand new direction that may or may include an alter ego named Emily.

Movies

Review: Bickering family dramedy 'This is Where I…

A talented cast sits Shiva in the bickering family dramedy "This is Where I Leave You," although it's more sap than yuks.

NFL

J.J. Watt poses unique challenges to struggling Giants…

Watt, arguably the best defensive player in the league, is the leader of a surprising Texans (2-0) team that has already matched last season’s win total.

NFL

Eric Decker 'unlikely to play' against Bears: Source

Jets wide receiver Eric Decker's status for Monday night’s game against the Bears is in doubt after he missed practice again Wednesday.

NFL

Preston Parker, not Odell Beckham, will replace Jerrel…

Tom Coughlin noted the next man up will be unheralded veteran Preston Parker.

NFL

NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)

NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)

Parenting

A sneaky way to serve kids fruits and…

"My First Juices and Smoothies" gives smoothie recipes for kids.

Style

3 things we love from Day 1 of…

The highlights from Day 1 of Milan Fashion Week.

Sex

Why don't more couples use condoms?

  Call it the “condom moment.” That’s the name the authors of a new study have given to the pivotal conversation every couple should be…

Sex

Need an idea for a first date? Here's…

Picture your idea of a nice first date. Is it dinner and a movie? A visit to an interesting museum exhibit? Instead, an expert on…