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

East Village woman fights off rape attempt from…

An East Village woman fought off an attempted rapist that she woke to find standing on her bed over the weekend, police said.

International

Nearly 300 missing after South Korean ferry capsizes

Almost 300 people were missing after a ferry capsized off South Korea Wednesday, in what could be the country's biggest maritime disaster in over 20 years.

Local

Police look for man suspected of threatening Muslim…

Police seek man suspected of calling a teen Muslim girl a "terrorist" and spitting on her multiple times while on a Queens bus.

News

Explosions in new Boston Marathon bomb panic, 'twisted'…

A fresh Boston Marathon terror alert, which caused Bomb Squad officers to order an evacuation while two controlled explosions were carried out, was today being…

Television

'Orphan Black's' Jordan Gavaris talks Felix's Season 2…

Jordan Gavaris plays heroically helpful foster sibling Felix to main clone Sarah on "Orphan Black." We talked to him about what’s ahead for him in…

Going Out

Accomplice Tour: New York (Spoiler Alert)

When I signed up for the Accomplice show tour, I had no idea what I was in for. But every grimy job comes with a great reward.

Television

TV watch list, Tuesday, April 15: 'New Girl,'…

'New Girl' Nick and Jess are hiding their breakup from the other loft residents. And Winston passes the police academy exam! That guy needed some…

Television

'Orphan Black' is back with 'crazy clone shenanigans'

“Orphan Black” is the little show that could. It had a few things working against it: a sci-fi premise, attracting an audience who had never…

NFL

Jets confident despite Chris Johnson leaving with no…

Jets fans clamored for a playmaker on offense all offseason. It looked like they were going to land that player on Tuesday when Chris Johnson…

NBA

Knicks, Nets rivalry never materialized despite national attention

When the NBA schedule was released, the league anticipated an intense rivalry between the Nets and Knicks with all four games slated for national TV.

NBA

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could…

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could the Mavericks surprise?

NHL

Top 5 New York storylines for Rangers-Flyers playoff…

The Rangers and Flyers have a long history of animosity toward each other. Now they get to rekindle that rivalry in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Home

Steal home decorating tips from Nattystyle blogger Natalie…

Despite the towering ceilings and enviable exposed brick, it’s easy to see how Natalie Decleve’s apartment could be considered a challenge. Perched above the streets…

Home

How to plant a garden in the city

Small on space but big on gardening? You can still have that welcoming oasis of fresh air with an urban garden. Peter Smith, owner of…

Style

Personalize your massage at a private practice

CityTouch customizes spa treatments to meet client's needs.

Style

Victoria's Secret Fashion Show moving to England

It will still broadcast on CBS this fall.