Tall tale but true: Six fish survive two year Pacific drift in bucket

Striped beakfish after its drift for two years across the Pacific in a bucket
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Tall tale but true. Surviving for long periods drifting at sea after a mid-ocean incident is something that sailing legends are made of. However the tale of six fish drifting in a bucket from Japan across the Pacific Ocean for two years and arriving alive and well in Washington State has to be a first!

Since the Tsunami struck Japan over two years ago many strange things have washed up on beaches up and down the North American coastline. But nothing stranger than the discovery of six live fish, stowed away in a water-filled bait box aboard a 20-foot Japanese boat that washed up on the Long Beach Peninsula in southwestern Washington last week.

At first biologists were at a loss to explain how the fish, all striped beakfish unknown in North American waters but a popular eating fish in Japan, had survived the journey.

John Chapman, who specializes in aquatic biological invasions at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, came up with the likely theory. '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.

Researchers had already seen live crabs, sea stars and algae clinging to parts of the estimated 1.5 million tons of debris unleashed by the March 2011 tsunami, but they had never encountered live fish that drifted on their own from Asia, he added in an interview with Los Angeles Times.

'This comes out there on the far end of the bell curve, I think,' he 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 euthanized to prevent the introduction of a new invasive species along the West Coast; the other is on display at the Seaside Aquarium in Seaside, Oregon.