[Tweeters] Some Like it Dark

Jeff Gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Thu Sep 7 08:04:55 PDT 2017

Oh, sure, we all know about birds that revel in the dark - like owls, nighthawks, night herons. Once on the beach at Galveston Texas I enjoyed watching Black Skimmers lit by the car headlights as they skimmed the gulf waters at night -they fish by feel, not by sight so much. Anyhoo, it was cool to see them in the headlights

Recently, at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center I spied some dark-loving fish around the float there.The first were young Sablefish, which I "discovered" for the first time last summer - I'm getting better at picking them out from the other resident fish, mostly by behavior and shape - they usually move slowly compared to more zippy Sticklebacks, Sandlance, Herring and Shiner Perch, and have a distinctive slow flapping of their largish pectoral fins. Otherwise to most they're just another small fish.

These are young Sablefish(3 to 8" long) and I'm seeing many more of them this year than last. But as they grow older they go deep into the darkness of our waters. The deepest parts of Puget Sound are around a bit over 900 ft . The Sablefish has been caught at depths of 9000 ft deep in the ocean. Down in the depths it grows slowly (oldest specimen over 90 years old) and can get to be about 45"long and 50" pounds max. Known as "black cod" in the commercial trade (a sustainable fishery in these parts) it has been compared in quality to Chilean Sea Bass (a very non-sustainable fishery) the best fish I've ever eaten (much to do with my former wife Holly who is an expert seafood cook). So there you go. I've only eaten Chilean Sea Bass twice, before I learned of their plight. I hope to eat a sablefish someday- they are expensive.

Then on Monday I spied an unusual sight - a small Ratfish near the surface. The Ratfish is sort of related to sharks and rays - like those fish they have a cartilage support system rather than bones - who needs bones if your family has been around for 300 million years- a real success story. Anyhoo, I spotted this little fish (about 4" long) with my binoculars and notified Ali the Aquarist (who happened to be around,) and with the help of a young aquarium helper who turned out to be a "Ratfish Wisperer" who talked the young Ratfish close enough (true story) to the dock for Ali to net. The young Ratfish was a beautiful thing, it's big pectoral fins looked like butterfly wings to me.

Well the next day I came back to see how "ratty" was doing- not so well as it turned out. Ali did some research and found that Ratfish need darkness and do better in round tanks so Ratty got shipped over to the Feiro Marine Life Center in Port Angeles which apparently has more appropriate facilities for little Ratty.

Ratfish, while unusual, and beautiful , in my view, are seldom seen,loving the dark deeps as they do. I did have a chance to watch them at Elliot Bay Marina a few years ago while working on boats. My idea of a cigaret break (I don't smoke) was to hang my head over the dock float and watch marine creatures. At lowish tides, and clear water conditions, I could watch full-grown Ratfish (about two feet long) ghosting along the bottom, about 20 feet down. Cool. I even caught a Ratfish as a kid fishing deep for Salmon with my uncle Chuck - they have a dangerous, and somewhat poisonous big spine in front of their dorsal fin - so don't just don't go idly grabbing one.

I was impressed by the care taken by Ali at PTMSC to find a place for little Ratty. Ratfish are not exactly rare, in fact they are about the most abundant fish in Puget Sound these days, but largely unknown because of their deep water inclinations. By research it turns out that that their biomass exceeds that of any other fish species in Puget Sound by a long shot. Google the excellent Seattle Times article "Rise of the Ratfish in Puget Sound" for more info. Meanwhile, I'm hoping that Ratty does well in Port Angeles, and that people get to see her, or him.

Jeff Gibson

gone fishin'

Port Townsend WA
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