Pacific Sand Lance   Ammodytes hexapterus

True to it's scientific name, derived from the Greek ammos (meaning sand) and dyo (meaning burrower), this important forage fish burrows in the sand at night to avoid predators.  Found throughout Puget Sound and the coastal North Pacific Ocean, the Pacific Sand Lance occurs in large schools while feeding on zooplankton during the day.  It is often called a "candle fish", but that name more commonly refers to another forage fish, the Eulachon.

This wounded individual was found off the Boston Harbor Marina in August.  Judging from the bite marks on its tail a juvenile salmon or large sculpin attacked it.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been investigating the biology of this species since 1989.  They have found that Pacific Sand Lance reproduction is located in the high intertidal zone.  Spawning occurs mainly in sandy sediments where the female deposits eggs in small clusters and the male fertilizes them.  Eggs have been found in sediments from the beginning of November through mid-February.  Maturing in about a month, the larvae become members of the plankton and begin eating small zooplankton.

The Pacific Sand Lance is very important as food for young salmonids making up some 35% of their diet (young Chinook consume up to 60%).  They are also eaten by a wide variety of other animals ranging from Pacific Cod and Hake to seals and fish-eating birds.

Because of the importance of this fish as a food item to a wide range of marine species, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, using its permitting authority, carefully evaluates proposals for work in the intertidal zone to prevent damage to known spawning beaches.




See a video of the Pacific Sand Lance filmed by Phil Sconce on YOUTUBE