King-of-the-Salmon, Trachipterus altivelis
The King-of-the-Salmon, Trachipterus altivelis, whose common Spanish name is rey de los salmones, is a member of the Ribbonfish or Trachipteridae Family, known collectively as listoncillos in Mexico. Its common name comes from a legend of the Makah People west of the Strait of Juan de Fuca (between Washington State and Victoria, British Columbia), which holds that this fish leads the salmon to their annual spawning grounds. Catching or eating King-of-the-Salmon was forbidden, as it was feared that killing one would stop the salmon run. Globally, there are ten species in the Ribbonfish Family placed in three genera, of which six species belong to the genus Trachipterus.
The King-of-the Salmon have elongated, ribbon-shaped bodies with a long dorsal fin that runs the length of their body. They are silvery with crimson-colored fins and have a black area above their eyes. Juveniles are an iridescent silver with four dark blotches above their lateral line; adults are silvery green with light spots. They have large eyes and a small protruding mouth. They lack an anal fin. Their caudal fin is highly asymmetric with the upper lobe being well-developed in juveniles with 7 or 8 rays pointing upward at a 45o angle and the lower lobe being also well-developed in juveniles. Their dorsal fin runs the entire length of their body and has 165 to 184 rays with the first 5 rays being elongated in juveniles. Their pectoral fins are small and rounded and their pelvic fins are minute. They have no scales.
The King-of-the-Salmon are found at depths up to 4,000 feet. They reach a maximum length of 2.0 meters (6 feet 7 inches) and grow in an allometric fashion, with different body parts growing at greatly varying rates. They move in a serpentine way, relying on the undulations of their body and on their dorsal fin to propel them through the water. They consume copepods, krill, small pelagic fish, rockfish, squid, and octopus. In turn they are preyed upon by the Bigeye Thresher Shark, Alopias superciliosus and the Longnose Lancetfish, Alepisaurus ferox. Reproduction is oviparous with planktonic eggs and larvae. They are a poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters the King-of-the-Salmon are found in all waters of the Pacific.
The King-of-the-Salmon is an easy species to identify due to its unique body shape with red trim and red tail and cannot be confused with any other species.
The King-of-the-Salmon are fairly abundant with a wide distribution but are seldom seen by humans. They are of limited interest to most and have not been evaluated from a conservation perspective.
King-of-the-Salmon, Trachipterus altivelis. Fish collected from 4,000-foot water off Point Loma, California, August 2010. Length: 29 cm (12 inches). Collection and identification courtesy of H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.