Japanese Tsunami 2011

Tsunami boat washed up in US found to have live fish on board

Six fish survive in bait box on Japanese vessel washed up in US after disaster two years ago

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 April, 2013, 4:45am

Since a tsunami struck Japan more than two years ago, a variety of debris has washed up on US beaches - including large boat docks and a soccer ball, found in Washington state's Olympic National Park, from the Otsuchi Soccer Club.

But they have been trumped by the discovery of six live fish, stowed away in a water-filled bait box aboard a 6-metre Japanese boat that washed up on the Long Beach Peninsula in southwestern Washington.

Researchers had already seen live crabs, sea stars and algae clinging to debris, but they had never encountered live fish that drifted on their own from Asia, said John Chapman, who specialises in aquatic biological invasions at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Centre.

"This comes out there on the far end of the bell curve, I think," Chapman said. "We know that it does happen that things disperse like that, but it's on a million-year scale, not within a century or anything like that."

Five of the fish were euthanised to prevent the introduction of a new invasive species along the US west coast. But the other is on display at the Seaside Aquarium in Seaside, Oregon.

Aquarium curator Keith Chandler said he was called to City Hall in nearby Long Beach, not long after the boat washed up at the end of last month and shown the surviving fish - known popularly as striped beakfish or a barred parrotfish - swimming in a bucket.

"They didn't want to let this fish go, and they didn't want to let it die. They didn't know what to do with it," Chandler said. "So we decided to put it on display, where people can take a look at this long-distance traveller."

The semi-tropical, reef-dwelling fish is a popular food item in Japan. Chapman said it's not clear how the fish made it across the ocean.

Certainly they weren't trapped in the bait box the whole time, he said. More likely, the small, dinghy-like boat was partially submerged for most of the voyage, and the fish swam in and out of the box for shelter. "They likely lived associated with the boat for two years," he said.

Chandler said he was surprised to see the fish survive a voyage in water much colder than that to which they're accustomed. "But I guess they had two years to acclimatise," he said.