Here I feature a sample of the fish diversity you might discover on beach walks, exploring tidepools, or fishing the exposed northern Oregon shore. The species I’ve highlighted don’t include the surfperches, which I give their own page. The common names and my organization are more or less those of Miller and Lea (1972) and Love (1996).
For ID help, I consult Love (1996) and Miller and Lea (1972). Then, if I’m still uncertain, I ask experts who’ve graciously agreed to assist. In the end, identification mistakes are mine.
Now, let’s check out some fishes!
Prionace glauca, blue shark
This beautiful blue washed ashore on December 8, 2019, on Samoa Beach, California. Unfortunately, it looks like a casualty of bycatch.
Every so often, you’ll encounter a mermaid’s purse washed up on the beach, but not too often. When they do, they’re quite a curiosity. The purse in the first panel is the first one I recall finding. It’s featured in Mermaids Purse. The Marine Detective’s post, Big Skate Egg Case/Mermaid’s Purse, gives some great natural history and examples of other egg cases you could encounter in the Pacific Northwest.
Hydrolagus colliei, spotted ratfish
The clupeids, herrings, shads, and sardines can pose identification problems for non-experts like me. The examples below are my best ID bets, but I’ll confess there is some uncertainty.
Let’s look at the clupeids I’ve found washed up on the beaches.
Clupea pallasi, Pacific herring
My examples are small immature fish in the 2.5-4 inch range.
Sardinops sagax, Pacific sardine
Sardines have spots on their backs and striations on the gill plate. Their body is less deep than American shad, which also has spots and gill striations.
The fish immediately below is a puzzle. It’s got a spot on its back and sharp-keeled ventral scales that look like your finger would catch on. But would they? And it’s hard to say if there is much in the way of striations on the gill plate.
I’m pretty sure the fish immediately below is an American shad Alosa sapidissima. Shad bodies are deeper than herring or sardines.
Oncorhynchus kisutch, silver, or coho salmon
Alepisaurus ferox, longnose lancetfish
Lancetfish wash up eery so often. This one is featured in Oceanic Predator Washes onto the Beach.
Three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteus, aculeatus– The sticklebacks I come across are ones cast up onto the beach. They live in almost every coastal stream. Why do they end up in the surf? Threespine sticklebacks appear in Stranded Sticklebacks.
Greenling (juvenile), Hexagrammos – The tow images below are the same fish, first when I encountered it cast up on the beach, then cleaned up and released into a sand-filled tide-pool. This juvenile Hexagrammos appears in Stranded Greenling raises eternal question: To Assist or Not Assist?
Pacific staghorn sculpin, Leptocottus armatus
Ammodytes hexapterus, Pacific sand lance
The image below shows two sand lance in a sand-filled tidepool
The video below shows the same two sand lance swimming around, waiting for the turn of the tide.
Sand sole, Psettichthys melanostictus
Unidentified juvenile pleuronectid- I found this nearly transparent beach cast juvenile on the central Oregon coast, July 2018.
Another unidentified pleuronectid- The suggestions I’ve gotten so far are starry flounder and maybe curlfin turbot. Do I hear any other suggestions? Just a few centimeters long, this is a beachcast fish.
Common mola, ocean sunfish, Mola mola
Love, M. 1996. Probably more than you want to know about the fishes of the Pacific coast. Really Big Press, Santa Barbara, California.
Miller, D. J. and R. N. Lea. 1972. Guide to the Coastal Marine Fishes of California. California Fish Bulletin Number 157. California Department of Fish and Game, Sacramento.
Note: This page was updated on August 14, 2021.
You have misidentified a Shad as a Sardine.
Hey there, Adam. I believe you are right. I am grateful to you for pointing that out. – Steve