2011 Japan tsunami animal collection now resides at the Royal B.C. Museum

2011 Japan tsunami animal collection now resides at the Royal B.C. Museum

WATCH: March 11 is the seventh-anniversary of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. As a result of that natural disaster,  an estimated 20 tonnes of debris swept out to sea. Attached to the flotsam, tiny marine animals hitched a ride, eventually washing up on west coast beaches.  Since 2011, scientists in Canada, the United States, and Japan collected the specimens.  Now they’ve all been sent to the Royal B.C. Museum.  Mary Griffin reports.

Wave after waves slammed into the coast of Japan, sweeping up everything in their wake seven years ago. And as the water retreats, it took everything with it.  In the aftermath, flotsam from the devastation wash up on the shores of North America. On docks, metal barrels, plastic containers, were tiny marine organisms, hitching a ride.

Curator of Invertebrate Zoology Henry Choong said now the tiny animals found on that debris are now in boxes. 

“The true value of this material, is it tells the biological story of the tsunami,” Choong said.

Swept out to sea by the tsunami, these marine organisms not only survived but thrived, in some cases for years. “Collectively we’ve been able to learn a lot about how organisms are transported across long distances,” Choong said. “And what happens during that voyage.”

Their journey is the longest-documented transoceanic survival and dispersal of coastal species by rafting. And the entire collection of Japanese animals found up and down the west coast now resides at the Royal B.C. Museum.  For Choong, the preservation of the organisms is critical. “In a museum, these specimens can be catalogued, preserved, and maintained in a way that allows us then to go back to this material in years to come.”

Pascale Archibald painstakingly unpacked the boxes.  A recent Camosun College graduate, she recognizes the significance of the work. “This is a project that doesn’t come around ever, really. It’s once in a lifetime opportunity to work on something like this,” Archibald said.

With this collection scientists, from around the world will study how invasive species populate new areas and how detection might not occur for years, or even decades.

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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