This last trip to the low tide line, though, the shallows were littered with dead and dying small fish; I was able to identify three species.
|Another Pacific sand lance, Ammodytes hexapterus. These grow to about 11 inches long, so this is a youngster.|
In one small area, I counted over 50 of these, all dead, but still fresh, surprisingly still untouched by gulls or crabs. They were all young; the adults spawn and die in mid-winter here. I am wondering what caused this die-off.
|A larger sand lance, still alive, but barely. The back is a glittery blue-green, which should help with camouflage in the eelgrass beds, at least from above. At night, they burrow into the sand, to hide from predators.|
Mixed with the sand lances, a few darker, larger fish stood out.
|Pacific snake prickleback, Lumpenus sagitta. About 8 inches long.|
|Another. This was still alive, but not able to swim away.|
Again, these were young fish; the adults grow to 20 inches long and spawn in the winter.
One more; a beautiful singing midshipman, no longer able to sing.
|A steampunk fish, looking as if he were made of riveted plates. Plainfin midshipman, Porichthys notatus, about 8 inches long.|
These are night-swimming fish; during the day, they hide under rocks. I found a male, guarding eggs, about this same time three years ago, under a rock at the boat launch. He was fatter and longer than this one.
The "rivets" are lines of photopores, cells that emit light. They may help to attract prey at night. (Although we don't really know that; it's human speculation. We do like to imagine that we understand Ma Nature.)
|Belly up, showing the pattern of photopores, and his delicate colouring.|
|Zooming in to the tail end, to show the little lights, and - look closely - tiny waving three-fingered hands, all in a row.|
I didn't pick this one up; some midshipmen have poisonous spines. I'm not sure if this species does, but I'm not risking it.
And I'm left wondering why all these suddenly showed up dead, all at once. The water was clear, it smelled fresh, there was no scum or oil sheen. There is construction going on 'way back at the shore, but that's a full kilometre away. Worrisome.