JOYCE — It’s big, weird and looks a little bit like something out of a nightmare.
And it’s almost never shown up before on the North Olympic Peninsula, according to a Gig Harbor-based environmental group.
An incredible find washed up on shore at Salt Creek Recreation Area this weekend.
A group called Harbor WildWatch was holding a virtual beach walk Sunday when a paddleboarder reported finding a “massive, dead creature” submerged in Salt Creek.
The “creature” turned out to be a “King-of-the-Salmon” (Trachipterus altivelis). It was 4.4 feet long. According to Harbor Wildwatch, only four or five of this species have been documented washing ashore in British Columbia and Washington. The most recent was in 2018.
A Google search about the species shows an article about a King-of-the-Salmon washing up on shore in Seaside, Ore., in 2006.
A King-of-the-Salmon is not actually a salmon. It’s in the ribbonfish family and lives in depths down to 3,000 feet along the Pacific coastline from Alaska to Chile. Ribbonfish are rarely seen alive because they tend to live in such deep water.
Carly Vester, communications specialist for Harbor WildWatch, described a scene that sounded like it came from an episode of “Seinfeld.”
“We were finishing an amazing day on the beach when a paddleboarder in the creek called out to us, ‘Are you biologists?’,” Vester said. “[He] described a massive dead creature with an alarmingly large eye submerged up the creek. He let our team use his paddleboard to take a look and helped us gently bring the animal on shore to take a closer look.”
James Losee, region program manager with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, confirmed this is a very rare find.
“I’ve seen one or two, ever,” he said. “And I’m a fish geek.”
He said it’s not necessarily a rare fish, but that they live in the deep ocean, so people almost never see them. Sometimes fishermen trolling for salmon will catch them in deep waters.
The fish’s common name – King-of-the-Salmon – comes from the legends of the Makah. Their legends hold that these fish annually lead salmon back to their spawning grounds. The catch or consumption of King-of-the-Salmon was forbidden by the tribe, as it was feared the death would stop the salmon run.
The specimen measured about 53 inches (4.42 feet) in length and has eyes as big around as a coffee cup. While it was fully intact, it had general deterioration of the dorsal fin. The coloration had also faded significantly.
“Based on the condition, I would estimate that it washed up no more than three days ago,” said Rachel Easton, education director for Harbor Wildwatch. “Since there isn’t any noticeable injury, we think it’s likely that this specimen somehow was caught in the surf and washed ashore.”
King-of-the-Salmon are known to grow up to 6 feet in length and eat krill, small fish, copepods, octopus and squid. Known predators include the bigeye thresher shark and longnose lancetfish.
“I had never seen anything like this,” said Stena Troyer, science specialist for Harbor WildWatch. “And we have discovered some incredible things on the beach over the years.”