Rare fish that washed ashore leads salmon to spawn, according to legend

Super rare fish find

Dana LeCompte was out for a family walk at Whiffen Spit in Sooke when something shiny caught her eye.

“We thought it was a piece of metal, a piece of a shipwreck or something,” said LeCompte.

Daughter Sadie Liptrot, 15, and LeCompte’s sister, Karen who was visiting from Vancouver, were in for surprise.

They had stumbled upon a rare fish find.

It was a king-of-the-salmon (Trachipterus altivelis), a deep-sea-dwelling species of ribbonfish. Its common name comes from the legends of the Makah people west of Strait of Juan de Fuca, whose legend says this “king” leads the salmon to their spawning grounds each year.

The fish was about 1.5 metres long, razor-thin and in perfect condition, so LeCompte believes it had only recently washed ashore.

Since sharing the photo on social media, LeCompte has had hundreds of views and shares. 

King-of-the-salmon are deep-water fish ranging from Chile to Alaska that normally live in the open ocean at depths up to 900 metres, and are rarely seen until they end up in a net or occasionally wash ashore.

Only a handful of cases are documented.

According to Marine Detective, a blog documenting sea creatures by Port McNeill biologist Jackie Hildering, two of the fish have been discovered in Oak Bay — on Sept. 21, 2017, and another five days later. A third was found on a beach off Hood Canal, Washington on Oct. 3, 2017. A fourth was found near Sidney on Oct. 2, 2017, about 100 metres north of Reay Creek.

The timing suggests the First Nation legend of the fish is accurate as salmon begin massing for spawns into rivers this time of year.

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