Tiny fish travel 5,000 miles from Japan to Washington in very odd way

rare barred knifejaws

Five Japanese fish no bigger than the size of one's palm survived a 5,000-mile, two-year journey from Japan to the shores near Long Beach, Washington, where fisheries biologists discovered them in the most unusual place: An 18-foot fiberglass skiff.

The boat was the latest debris to wash ashore along the Washington coast from the 2011 Japanese earthquake/tsunami, and when officials checked it out, they discovered the five fish known as barred knifejaw or striped beak fish swimming in a built-in compartment at the rear of the boat, according to The Seattle Times.

"Finding these fish alive was totally unexpected, and it is pretty unusual to find live fish," state fish and wildlife biologist Bruce Kauffman told the Times.


"There [were] five fish total we found in the boat's compartment, and this is the first time we've seen vertebrates come ashore in tsunami debris."

Fisheries biologists told the Times that the compartment resembled an aquarium with enough sea-life growth to feed the fish and enable them to survive.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Facebook page on Wednesday added this, "Our Aquatic Invasive Species staff found other Japanese species of sea anemones, cucumbers, scallops, crustaceans, and worms alive in the very rare ‘aquarium’ of water inside the upright boat."

Leanna Reuss, the tsunami debris coordinator for AmeriCorp in Long Beach, told the Times that the compartment looked as if it had been enclosed with a lid at one point.

"It looked like most of the boat was floating underwater, and the fish used it [the compartment] as a shelter to stay alive," Reuss told the Times. "Otherwise, I don't think they could have survived the long drift across the ocean."

The boat called the Saisho-Maru was discovered north of Sid Snyder Beach on March 22, but the news of the find was only announced Wednesday on WDFW's Facebook page.

Only one fish remains alive, and it's being kept in a holding tank at the Seaside Aquarium in Oregon until it is healthy enough to be put on display.

A large dock, other boats, and a motorcycle were among the latest other debris to wash ashore from the tsunami, but none carried any barred knifejaw fish.

Photos courtesy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.