Japan Tsunami Debris Brings Live Fish To Washington State

Japan tsunami debris brought live fish across the Pacific Ocean to Washington State. The unlikely stowaways hid out on a slow-moving skiff from Japan to Long Beach, Washington.

Of the five fish discovered in the back compartment of the 18-foot-long boat, one is still alive. It is currently being kept at the Seaside Aquarium in Oregon.

The live fish hiding out in possible tsunami debris usually live off the coast of Japan and Hawaii, making them a very strange find in the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest.

It is possible that the skiff — and the live fish — was part of the roughly five million tons of debris dragged out to sea by the devastating tsunami that struck Japan in March of 2011.

But, as Allen Pleus, the aquatic invasive species coordinator at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, cautions, the fish “could have been picked up going close by the Hawaii coast.”

About 1.5 million tons of debris is likely floating in the Pacific Ocean. While most of it will end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, some of it has already washed ashore along the West Coast of North America and in Hawaii. The most notable Japanese tsunami debris to wash ashore so far were two large cement docks in Washington and Oregon.

Both docks have been dismantled, though officials worry that more debris will bring invasive species to the coast. While the docks were confirmed to be from Japan, the Japanese government has not yet confirmed that the skiff is tsunami debris. Despite the lack of confirmation, the boat’s registration number was traced back to the region where the massive wave hit.

Along with live fish, scientists also discovered algae, several crabs, marine worms, scallops, blue mussels, and even a sea cucumber (never before found on other tsunami debris). The boat was a perfect little ecosystem for the five fish to cross the ocean with. Pleus added:

“In this particular case, the water conditions were right and the boat landed upright and was basically washed ashore. It had a nice 20- to 30-gallon aquarium intact in the back.”

A Long Beach local found the boat. They scooped up one of the fish and brought it to the City Hall. Officials there got in touch with Washington Fish and Wildlife biologists who had the remaining fish euthanized for study. The sole surviving fish remained at city hall until officials called the general manager of the Oregon aquarium.


The general manager, Keith Chandler, identified the tropical fish as a striped beakfish, which is rarely spotted in tropical waters outside Japan. Chandler took the fish to Seaside Aquarium where it is in quarantine.

Pleus added that the discovery of the live fish in the Japan tsunami debris will change how biologists think about invasive species from Japan. Officials initially assumed that no species could survive the trek across the Pacific Ocean to pose a threat to the West Coast. But when the first dock laden with teeming marine life washed up in Oregon, they discovered they were wrong.

While live fish are certainly the most interesting find so far regarding the Japan tsunami debris, there will likely be several tons more. Check out the infographic below for an explanation on where tsunami debris is showing up.

Japan Tsunami Debris Predictions

[Infographic via LiveScience, Featured image via E-190]