Scientists are baffled as to how a group of small fish native to Japan survived a journey across the Pacific after they were found on a boat swept away by the 2011 tsunami and washed up last month on the coast of Washington state.
The batch of striped beak fish — five in all — were discovered submerged in the hold of the 20-foot-long fishing skiff, dubbed the Sai-shou-maru, on Long Beach in southwestern Washington, according to Reuters.
The vessel, found beached right-side-up, was confirmed this week to have originated from the region of northern Japan that was devastated in the immense tidal surge generated by the March 2011 Fukushima earthquake.
Other boats that were carried away by the tsunami previously washed up along the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Alaska, as have chunks of piers and large quantities of other debris. But the fish found aboard the Sai-shou-maru are the first vertebrates — animals with backbones — known to have made the voyage.
Marine biologists studying the phenomenon are puzzled about precisely how striped beak fish, natural denizens of warmer, shallow southern Japanese waters, ended up as live stowaways in the well of the boat and how they endured a two-year journey across the ocean.
"It is quite remarkable," Curt Hart, a spokesman for the Washington state Department of Ecology, told Reuters. "Everyone is very amazed that these fish survived for two years in that hold."
The fish were apparently swept up with the skiff as it was washed down the coast of Japan and out into the Pacific.