Strawberry Isle Scuttlebutt
by Rod Palm, Tofino
A weird critter indeed! Alepisaurus ferox or Longnose Lancet Fish or, I kind of like the scientific abbreviation, f-Alfe. He/she (being hermaphroditic, it makes no difference to them, patrol the open ocean waters from the surface to as deep as 400 fathoms. For Alfe's 2 meter length and all his ferocious appearance,
He is not a very formidable predator. His scimitar-like teeth are not strongly rooted and appear to be utilized for caging small fish that he gulps down whole rather than tearing into larger prey. His known menu consists of snail fish, small hake, sculpins, octopus, squid, worms, krill, jellyfish or even each other. Oh yes, we can't leave out Spiny Lumpsuckers, they love Spiny Lumpsuckers. It comes to mind that I have to ask you here, "Even with their adhesive disc, who in all sobriety would name a fish 'Lumpsucker'." They would get a lot of teasing in a school but fortunately they are pretty much loners. Alfe has a watery muscle structure that does not allow for high speed or strong aggression. It's thought that with his dorsal fin down and facing his prey, he is really not much of a presence. Given a successful approach, he may use his long body and large dorsal fin to entrap one or perhaps several prey.
Every now and again we get one of these critters to have a close look at. The latest one was delivered to us by the Lawson family who had it wash up, apparently live, in front of their house on the open ocean side of Wickaninnish Island. It was in three pieces. Likely its mushy muscles had just been battered apart by the surf. Alfe's passing was likely without forewarning as an internal investigation shows the organs with no obvious trauma and the stomach is full. Generally when we get morts they have been ill and their stomachs are empty so this is a real treat. The mouth and throat have bits of fucas, grass and well worn small driftwood pieces that are likely there as a result of rolling around in the surf. In the stomach, the unmistakable presence of 4 gravid Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers is first noticed. The size and numbers of roe these little fish are carrying is impressive in that they are externally obvious in their large size and represent close to half of the fishes volume. There are several other small fish that we had to send of to our taxonomist Dr. Chas Low for identification. The results tell us that our friend also dined on snail fish, sculpins and worms. Lumpsucker's habitat is near intertidal to 80 fathoms so Alfie was hunting comparatively shallow water in his depth range.
Here in Clayoquot Sound, whale sightings seem to have returned to normal after the surprisingly low numbers we experienced in July. In August Humpback Whales were daily sighted along with reliable gray whales and Kawkawin (Killer Whales) give us 15 days of visitation. Adventure tourists were often treated to 3 species of whales, sea lions, seals, otters and countless water birds all within a 2.5 hour tour.
A highlite of the month was on the 14th when Orin Lawson found 4 Kawkawin in the fog 3 miles off the La Croix Group. Orin was able to keep track of them until Peter Schulze got on scene with one of our research cameras. Peter got good left and right side images of the whales but It took close to three weeks to track them down as being visitors from California. In July of 1992 we put a feather in our society hat when I got the first photographic proof that California Kawkawin visit BC waters. We named those animals the Movie Stars and they have occasionally returned for holidays.
From 11 year old Naeco's journal-August 16
At 7:00 in the morning dad dragged us out of bed to go see some Kawkawin (killer whale) when we got to where they were the fog dropped on us and the GPS didn't work so dad had to figure out a compos course. It was so fogy that it took us a half and hour to get to Tofino and the fog was all the way to Tofino, then dad got a call that they were up the inlet, we almost didn't go because of the fog but we decided to go anyways. Then finally we found them! It was the secret agents, Innis and her big bull Arrow, then when the whales went down we saw a little seal, then a minute latter no seal and the whales came up Arrow was up on the surface for a while and his dorsal fin was wobbling around, dad said that he had some thing in his mouth and he was shacking it around he also said that it was probably the baby seal we saw. When we were following them it was clear for a while then it got fogy again. Dad knew we were getting hungry so he called in on the VHF to one of the whale watching boats that we were really hungry, a while later a boat (Howay Tom on the Clayoquot Spirit) came along side us and gave us some breakfast and a whole carton of cranberry juice, and on top of that he paid for it! When we opened our boxes of food it was this sandwich with bacon, eggs, tomato, and lettuce and then there was hash browns on the side it was soooooooo good!!! When we caught up with the whales again Nixie got some really good pictures of the right side of the whales and I think I got some pretty good pictures of the left side. After that we went home, we had spent 7 hours out on the water with the whales.
Thanks to Howay Tom, who'da thought you could get delivery out on the ocean.
Special thanks go to the gifted Joanna Streetly for the incredible illustration she did for this article.
The Strawberry Isle Research Society in Tofino conducts primary research and monitoring of various marine ecosystems in Clayoquot Sound. The Society promotes public interest and awareness of the marine environment and supports other researchers in their related studies.
To become a member of the society and to support its efforts, please contact Rod Palm at 250.725.2211, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the society's website at www.strawberryisle.org
Spiny Lumpsuckers and other creatures of the sea are featured in this edition of 'Scuttlebutt' by Rod Palm, researcher with the Strawberry Isle Research Society in Tofino.