Tsunami Fish Survive at Oregon Coast Aquarium

yellow jacksA group of fish that traveled across the Pacific from troubled waters after Japan’s 2011 tsunami have found a permanent home at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. A press release from the aquarium described the process that scientists, aquarium technicians, and curators went through to rehabilitate this small family of marine survivors.

The fish were initially rescued from a hull that washed up on the Oregon Coast in April 2015. Due to a joint effort by the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Hatfield Marine Science Center, the hull was towed into Yaquina Bay, where 20 yellowtail jacks and banded knifejaw were found within the confines of the hull, thought to have been trapped in the boat from a young age. After genetic testing was performed, both the yellow jacks and knifejaw were found to be species from the East Asian Pacific, or specifically the region of Japan, confirming that the fish were marine survivors of the country’s combined earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster of 2011.

The fish were confined to quarantined tanks for the first six months after they arrived at the aquarium. Because of the risks of spreading exotic parasites, invasive algae, or foreign medications to the Oregon Coast, staff had to keep the fish separate from the rest until they were confirmed to have a clean bill of health. The fish also had to be acclimated to the water temperatures of display tanks, and were fed gradually until they were large and strong enough to be able to survive. Since they all had lived for at least three to four years on tiny invertebrates that floated into the wells in which the fish were trapped within the hull, some were left stunted with underdeveloped jaws. They were fed krill, shrimp, and gel food, diced into tiny pieces, until they were able to eat regular fish food.

Since being rescued, about a dozen yellow jacks and one knifejaw have survived. All of the remaining hitchhiking fish have since been moved to regular exhibits. The knifejaw now lives in the California kelp forest in the aquarium’s Coastal Waters Gallery, and the yellowtail jacks can be found in the aquarium’s Open Sea exhibit in Passages of the Deep—known to aquarium visitors as the Shark Tunnel. And fear not, folks—the sharks are fed a steady diet of meat to keep them from harming our newcomers.

By Kiki Genoa

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