'It's a first': Poisonous porcupine fish washes up on Vancouver Island

A rare poisonous fish was found earlier this month washed up on the shore near the Vancouver Island community of Jordan River, about 70 km west of Victoria. 

The fish, a spotted porcupine fish, has been preserved as part of the Royal B.C. Museum’s collection. 

Gavin Hanke, the curator of vertebrate zoology, said as soon as he heard about the find, he knew it was special.

“It’s a first,” Hanke said. “I knew it was a new arrival and a real shock for British Columbia.”

Hanke said the fish was found on the beach in some eel grass with evidence of birds having picked over it. 

“[That] kind of troubles me, considering it’s a toxic animal,” he said. 

Gavin Hanke gets calls from people every week about different finds in the province, but he knew this fish was special. (Liz McArthur/CBC)

The tissues of the porcupine fish contain tetrodotoxin, he explained, which can cause paralysis and eventually asphyxiation.

Any time you see a strange animal or plant, it’s best to contact the museum and ask someone what it is, Hanke said.

“I get phone calls every week with people dropping off a bird or a mouse or a shrew or something I’ve got,” he added. 

Unknown origin 

A sample from the fish will be sent for DNA analysis to identify which population it came from, but it might be difficult to determine exactly how it ended up on a Vancouver Island beach. 

Hanke speculates it could be a pet trade animal, a pet on a fishing boat thrown overboard or — his strongest guess — it swam up from California.

The fish is yet another strange anomaly found in B.C. in recent months, including: a nest of invasive Asian giant hornets in Nanaimo, a piranha in Westwood Lake (also in Nanaimo), and a tropical olive ridley sea turtle found near Port Alberni. 

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