Resembling small eels, sand lance are burrowing ﬁsh that are important as food for many gameﬁsh. They are excellent to eat when prepared in the style of whitebait. Quantities of sand lance are often dug up in the intertidal zone by people seeking clams.
IdentificationSand lance are small, slim, elongated, and round-bodied ﬁsh with no teeth, usually no pelvic ﬁns, no ﬁn spines, and forked tails. Although the sand lance has a long soft dorsal ﬁn, it does not have a ﬁrst dorsal ﬁn. The body has sloping ﬂeshy folds, and there is a distinct ﬂeshy ridge along the lower side; the straight lateral line is close to the base of the dorsal ﬁn.
Fin-ray and vertebral counts distinguish the American sand lance from the northern sand lance; the American sand lance has 51 to 62 dorsal ﬁn rays, 23 to 33 anal ﬁn rays, and 61 to 73 vertebrae, whereas the northern sand lance has 56 to 68 dorsal ﬁn rays, 27 to 35 anal ﬁn rays, and 65 to 78 vertebrae. Sand lance can be distinguished from young eels by their separate, rather than continuous, dorsal and anal ﬁns, and by the rounded caudal ﬁn of the eel.
SizeSand lance grow to a length of about 6 inches.
Other NamesSand launce, sand eel, launce-ﬁsh, sandlance; French: lançon.
DistributionSand lance occur in temperate and colder parts of the Atlantic and Paciﬁc Oceans. On the western Atlantic coast, sand lance range from north Quebec to North Carolina.
Northern sand lance are believed to inhabit deeper waters, whereas American sand lance inhabit inshore areas. Paciﬁc sand lance range from the Sea of Japan to arctic Alaska, the Bering Sea, and to Balboa Island in Southern California. The arctic and the Paciﬁc sand lance may be separate species.