Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

 
 

'Neon' lampfish light up waters

 

March 10, 2011



 

A surge of northern lampfish this week attracted thousands of gulls and dozens of seals to Chilkat and Chilkoot inlets.

"It’s like a hooligan run, almost," said 36-year Lutak resident Richard Buck, who was out Sunday and Monday nights, watching schools of the glowing, blue fish on the water’s surface near the ferry terminal.

"They flash blue at night, or if you catch one. It’s really a pretty, neon blue," Buck said.

Numbers of the four-inch fish also were seen near Letnikof Cove, and dozens were washed up on the beach there.

Holly Davis and her three sons discovered about 50 near the skiff launch while looking at ice falls on Mud Bay Road Sunday afternoon.

"One was still flopping on the beach. My sons were quite interested," Davis said.

Such surfacings occur about every five years in upper Lynn Canal as well as at Lincoln Island and Point Retreat in the southern canal, said Bruce Wing, a federal research fishery biologist in Juneau.

Wing said the fish are considered a "midwater" species, ranging at depths between 120 and 2,400 feet below the surface. But something happens in February or March. "There’s some anomolous condition in which deep water is drawn to the surface," bringing the lampfish up. "It’s usually associated with cold weather and strong winds."

A fjordal water circulation pattern, in which more saline water is drawn up from the bottom of the canal, can cause surfacings of deeper-water species, Wing said.

Lampfish don’t like bright sunlight and are most likely to be on the surface at night. They are attracted to spotlights at night, but will stay at the fringe of the light cone, he said.

Wing said lampfish make up a large portion of the biomass at the midwater range and are a food source for species ranging from king salmon to baleen whales. Like eulachon, they’re rich in oil, making them good forage for marine mammals, as well.

Lampfish live three to seven years and are "pelagic spawners," discharging their eggs to drift in the water, he said.

Wing said he doesn’t know why some of the fish wash ashore. "It could be that they’re disoriented or they get trapped in a pocket of water, but I don’t know what traps them."

That roughly matched Holly Davis’ hypothesis: "I think maybe they took a wrong turn," she said.

Since late December, strong north winds along Chilkat Inlet have regularly drawn hundreds or more gulls to an area just south of Pyramid Island to feed. Whether they’ve been eating lampfish or something else isn’t clear.

Pam Randles of the Takshanuk Watershed Council said capelin, a larger, smelt-like fish, were found about two weeks ago in Portage and Viking coves. Buck said there were about 20 seals in front of his house a week ago, plus some sea lions.