Most of the information about the Pacific sand lance
comes from studies in the San Francisco Bay area. It is likely that this information
applies to Arctic populations, but as little research has been done in the north,
this awaits verification.
The Pacific sand lance has an elongate body that is very slender and slightly
compressed, much like an eel. The sides of their body have about 125130
lateral folds of skin that runs somewhat down and backwards. The dorsal fin is
of a uniform width along most of the back of the fish. The caudal fin is deeply
forked, while the pectoral fins are small and streamlined. The total body length
rarely exceeds 20 cm.
These fish have been found from San Francisco north to Alaska. They have also
been caught in the Bering Sea, the Arctic Ocean, and off northern Europe. Judging
from the areas where sand lances have been caught, they are most likely bay or
estuary breeders. Eggs are shed between March and December, and they are usually
found attached to debris on the bottom. Although the eggs are slightly sticky,
turbulent water leads to their suspension in the water column. Information regarding
the larval stages is limited, but studies have shown that they are mainly pelagic
until reaching the adult stage. At this point the fish becomes a burrower, preferring
sandy bottoms in inshore areas.
Pacific sand lance are not an economically important fish, but they are a major
food source for lingcod, chinook salmon, halibut, and marine mammals.