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The Pacific WildLife Foundation is a non-profit coastal and marine research and education society  that inspires an appreciation for objective scientific research and conservation of the ocean. We conduct original research, develop novel education programs, and inspire an appreciation for conservation of the ocean. 

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Sand Lance Ammodytes hexapterus

The sand lance and the herring play important roles in pacific ecosystems as food for other fish, birds and marine mammals. They are especially important in the diet of juvenile salmon and nesting seabirds such as the rhinoceros auklet, marbled murrelet, and tufted puffin. Many of the familiar creatures along our shore such as the mussels, starfish, crabs and clams begin their lives as plankton afloat in the meadows of phytoplankton. Tiny larval sandlance join the plankton and rely on these massive beds of tiny plants and animals for food. As they grow, the sandlance converts plankton into fish tissue. The great schools of sandlance then become targets for predatory fish, birds and mammals. Squealing flocks of gulls and diving seabirds often indicate the presence of sand lance just below the surface. 


Sand Lance Distribution and Migration

The sand lance spends part of its year offshore and inshore always in very large schools. It has a wide distribution from southern California to the Sea of Japan and across the Arctic Ocean.


Sand Lance Behaviour

Adult sandlance migrate to sandy-gravel spawning beaches. Adults wriggle into the sand to deposit eggs near the top of the beach on high tides between early November and mid-February in British Columbia (Hart 1973). The fish often become coated in fine grains of sand and go unnoticed. The tiny eggs measure  0.7-0.9 mm in diameter and their creamy colour make them near impossible to see among sand grains. Four weeks later the eggs hatch and the 5 mm long larval sand lance join the plankton. At about 20 mm in length, the sandlance are quite mobile and they begin to form into schools and take on the silvery blue color of the adults. Schools enter bays and inlets for the winter and spring. Sand lance feed in open water during the day and burrow into sand at night to avoid predation. During the day, their schools are attacked from below by dogfish, salmon and sea lions that drive the schools into tight defensive balls. From above, flocks of gulls, cormorants, murres and auklets descend on the balls of fish.


 Sand Lance Conservation

There is little commercial interest in the sand lance and no direct threats. However, there is concern that the species is susceptible to oil spills and destruction of beaches where it lays its eggs (Golet et al. 2002). The spawning habitat of sand lance in Puget Sound, Washington is considered a "marine habitat of special concern" in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) Hydraulic Code Rules.




Bertram, D.F. and G.W. Kaiser. 1993. Rhinoceros Auklet nestling diet may gauge Pacific sand lance recruitment. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 50: 1908-1915.

Golet, G.H, P. E. Seiser, D. McGuire, D. D. Roby, J. B. Fischer, K. J. Kuletz, D. B. Irons, T. A. Dean, S. C. Jewett, S. H. Newman. 2002. Long-term direct and indirect effects of the 'Exxon Valdez' oil spill on pigeon guillemots in Prince William Sound, Alaska . Marine Progress Series 241: 287-304.

Hart, J. L. 1973. Pacific fishes of Canada. Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Ottawa.


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