A poisonous puffer fish has floated into B.C. waters.
The tropical species native to the coast of southern California was found on the shore of Vancouver Island earlier this month.
According to the Royal B.C. Museum, the puffer fish—a spotted porcupine, to be precise—carries tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxin that can cause paralysis in mammals (including humans) and even asphyxiation. Contrary to a popular misconception, however, the puffer fish’s sharp spines do not carry the toxin and the animal is not poisonous to touch. Its tetrodotoxin is contained in internal organs (especially the liver and gonads), which means that the poisoning of a human could likely only occur when those parts of the fish are eaten.
“Finding a puffer this far north, it’s exciting, but it’s also quite odd to what it’s doing here and how it got off course,” B.C. Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences CEO Jim Powell told CTV News. “They’re such a wee fish, and if you’ve ever seen them try and swim, they’re not the fastest, you know? They’re not Olympians.”
He added that tropical fish accustomed to warmer waters can die after finding themselves in B.C.’s colder areas of the Pacific Ocean.
It’s not known how the puffer ended up on a beach on Vancouver Island, about 70 kilometres west of Victoria. It’s possible it was brought to the region as a pet and subsequently released into the wild or disposed of there after it died in captivity.
It’s also possible the fish swam from California on its own, Gavin Hanke, curator of vertebrate zoology at the Royal B.C. Museum, told CBC News.
If that was the case, it wouldn’t be the first time that a species from warmer southern waters somehow made it all the way to B.C.
Earlier this month, an olive ridley sea turtle was found in the ocean near Port Alberni. It was almost frozen to death but since then has recovered with the help of B.C. marine biologists.
In July 2017, scientists with UBC's Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries warned that climate change could bring tropical marine species north to our colder waters.
"For many of the fish, as well as shark species, including great white, the distribution will shift with ocean warming," associate professor William Cheung told CBC News.