Craig Leone and Kristin Baerg were walking on the beach near Deception Pass recently when something out of the ordinary caught their eye.
“[It was] just a flash of silver,” Baerg said. “I didn’t know if it was a metal pan or what.”
It turned out to be a 6-foot-long fish with an eye the size of a human fist. Leone’s first thought was, “That’s a freaky looking fish.”
Its official name is Trachipterus altivelis, but most people know it as “King-of-the-Salmon.”
According to Makah legend, the ribbon-like fish leads the salmon to their spawning grounds every year. It was forbidden to kill one for fear of disrupting the salmon run.
“They’re out there,” said Tim Carpenter, the curator of fish and invertebrates at the Seattle Aquarium. “They’ve always been a resident of waters around here.”
Leone and Baerg spent weeks trying to track down information about their mystery fish. T. altivelis typically resides in the ocean at depths of 3,000 to 4,000 feet, so there isn’t much information about the fish out there. Many of the fishermen Leone and Baerg spoke with had never seen such a fish.
According to Jackie Hilderling, who runs the Marine Detective website, only four “King-of-the-Salmon” fish are known to have washed ashore around the Salish Sea as of October 2017. Carpenter could not confirm the exact number of specimens found on our beaches but did call the fish an “uncommon species.”
Leone and Baerg didn’t keep the fish they found, but they think they’ve got something better than that.
“It’s a story that we give to the grandkids,” Leone said.