Just what is an Opah? Tweet talk for Oprah? nope.
A sound you make just to embarrass yourself? Nope.
A manhole-sized fish that washed ashore in Leucadia last year? Yep.
A giant, 100 pound, disc-shaped fish that currently is on a loading dock outside the federal fishery lab in La Jolla? Yep.
Possibly something that could end up on your dinner plate? Yep.
A fish that is here due to climate change? Maybe.
The San Diego Tribune reports that Opah are showing up more often in the eastern Pacific.
In La Jolla, researchers prepare to dissect Opah — also called moonfish — typically have been found in tropical and temperate oceans, and thousands have been caught in Hawaii by longline fishermen targeting bigeye tuna.
Biologist Nick Wagner records the internal muscle temperatures of an opah. Elea Medina • NOAA
But it appears that the opah population is growing or the fish are expanding their range into the eastern Pacific Ocean. And, as they approach our San Diego shores, they may gain attention for being “consumable” partly because of their tasty meat and partly because of their odd appearance.
With regards to the Opah that were caught just off shore, “It’s the fish of a lifetime,” researcher Owyn Snodgrass said. “It’s like winning the lottery. Nobody is expecting one of these. They are just doing something different to try to get a bite and they hook an opah.”
In 2010, a friend of his saw an unusual manhole-sized object wash ashore in Leucadia. “Lo and behold, it was an opah — maybe 100 pounds or something — and it was in perfect condition,” Schwartz recalled.
“It looks just like a toy, but it’s a giant fish,” Schwartz said. “I don’t see how you could not be fascinated. It doesn’t look like something that can swim.”
What little scientists know about opah suggests they are a highly migratory species that can quickly travel long distances. Research also shows opah dive hundreds of meters deep during the day, then come closer to the surface at night.
If you catch an opah, here is who to tell…
He is asking for the public’s help to learn more about opah caught in the region, much like he does with another unusual creature — the basking shark — that he and Dewar track off California shores. Specifically, Snodgrass is collecting opah stomachs for inspection. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.