Stranded Greenling Raises Eternal Question: To Assist or Not Assist?

Last week, thanks to a good low tide, I got to explore a stand of Ahnfeltiopsis. The surf was bigger than I wished, but the grove was upon me, and my attention was on the sand-loving red algae people call forked seaweed.

While I was solving seaweeds, the swash left a 75 mm prize flopping in the sand. Greenling, even juveniles, don’t often find themselves stranded on wet sand. How did it come to this? A wave may have swept it from shelter; maybe a gull plucked it then lost it; maybe it was me – intruder in the Ahnfeltiopsis.

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Cast up in the swash, you can’t say the outlook was promising
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A cleaned up version
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Released into a low tide pool, it’s a nice looking fish

In hopes of getting ideas about identification, I posted photos on the TOS Facebook page. I got some ideas for which I am grateful. And I got a question I didn’t expect. Did I help it get to deeper water? The answer is, I released it in a low tide pool where I took the photo above. It could rest and with the rise of tide, find its way to deeper water. Does that sound like a good choice?

Stranded animal choices are hard because they involve tradeoffs; here are mine. A specimen would have simplified a tricky identification problem, but on this day I didn’t have the stomach for pickling. Ignoring it, letting nature take its course, would have been a reasonable choice, but I wanted a photo. Releasing it in deeper water was an option, but the surge was strong and it didn’t seem right to leave an exhausted fish to the swash. The alternative I chose was perfect. Or was it? At 75 mm, my greenling was the largest predator in the pool. I wonder what happened to the tiny tidepool sculpins already living there. Oops.

What would you have done?

Thanks to the way I handled tradeoffs, I have no specimen to show for my efforts and I haven’t been able to identify the fish featured here to species, or even genus. I think it’s a juvenile greenling, maybe Hexagrammos. If you can confirm my guess or have ideas about what species it is, please let me know.

To see some fishes I’ve caught or found washed up on northern Oregon beaches check out my Fishes Other Than Surfperches page. For surfperches, go here.