About OPEFE Mission and Frank Magallanes 1994 to present





We begin with the following statement; 



Like all mission's there is always a beginning. My interest in exotic fish began after watching one of my older brother's Pete, setup his aquarium. He kept neon's and glowlite tetras and other pretty characins. During this same time, around 1957, my interest in piranhas became evident after first seeing the fish in a comic book entitled The Phantom. The comic strip in the newspaper showed the fish leaping over a canoe The Phantom was paddling. I asked my father what the fish was and my father said a Piranha a man-eating fish. Later in life I became more interested in the fish more while visiting a public aquarium in old Monterey, California (Old Fisherman's Wharf) in 1959. I asked my brother about keeping the fish, but he didn't think that was a good idea. At least, that is how I remember it.  In those early years there was little written about piranhas and even less what they were, so I began my own research of the fish. Up to that time, I thought the fish was from Africa based on the old Tarzan (Johnny Weismuller) movies. I also thought the piranha was just a small fish not growing any bigger than 3 inches! How little I knew then, but my perception of the species would change as more information became available.


Property of OPEFE and Chris Howell, UK.

Cut away lips give the piranha a fearsome appearance. NEVER cut lips on live piranha!

Photo by John Tashjian, Serrasalmus nattereri at Steinhardt Aquarium.

Brazilian Black Piranha Serrasalmus niger, Photo by Harold Schultz. Both photos are found in Living Fishes of the World (Double Day), 1961


I found my first bit of information on this fish in a library book titled Living Fishes of the World (1961). There on page 38(12) and 38(13), was the first printed pictures of piranhas I had ever seen other than the drawn picture of one in The Phantom comics paper and the live ones I saw at Monterey. On this page (original photos above) there was a picture of Serrasalmus nattereri (= Pygocentrus nattereri) and the legendary Serrasalmus niger (= S. rhombeus).


TFH January 1966 featuring article by E. Ledesky and William L. Braker.


Then Tropical Hobbyist Magazine (which was more like a little digest book then) published an article by William Braker and the spawning of S. spilopleura (I would later in life contact Dr. Braker).  During this same time period, a Harold Schultz booklet entitled PIRANHAS (1964) gave me more information to fully comprehend and appreciate this much maligned fish. 




Harald Schultz while being better known as an anthropologist, endeared himself to me and other hobbyists on his study of piranhas. His manuscript laid down the foundation on which I have followed through all my years in studying this fish.


Baldus, Herbert.   Harald Schultz.   American Anthropologist.   October, 1966   Vol.68(#5): 1233-1235.


Harald Schultz (1909-1966) was a Brazilian ethnologist who dedicated his career in anthropology to the study of native South American Indians.  Schultz was well known among his colleagues for his friendly relationship with the people he studied, as well as his contributions to ethnographic and archeological collections in Brazilian museums.  As a result of his extended visits with the Umutina, Schultz produced not only an important monograph, but also a film and a collection of artifacts for the Museu de Palista in Sao Paulo .  Schultz was appointed to a position at the Museu de Palista in 1947, which he held until his death in 1966.  Throughout his career at the Museu de Palista, Schultz continued to conduct fieldwork.  Schultz collaborated on a study of the Kraho with Herbert Baldus, producing a collection of Kraho mythology.  He also worked frequently with his wife, Wilma Chiara.  Throughout his career, Harald Schultz made several important and substantial contributions to the Museu de Palista, especially the Seccao de Etnologia and the Revisto do Museu Palista.  In 1962, Schultz’s book Hombu was published and received international acclaim for its account of Brazilian Indian life.  Schultz was also published several times in National Geographic Magazine throughout his career.


But I had other things in life that  needed to take care of, one of them being high school. I would regularly visit the local pet store named Pet World (prior to that, it was known as the Oxnard Aquarium). The pet store sat next to the only public park in Oxnard at that time. The park remains, but has changed much since then. There, I became friends with Woody Trout and Woody helped me get my first live juvenile piranha (P. nattereri) and many more after 1964. One fish in particular caught my eye. It was a very bright red-throated fish that I knew, almost instinctively, was Serrasalmus spilopleura ( = S. sanchezi), according to the Schultz book. The fish was for sale for a huge amount of money $39.95. In 1965 that was a lot of money!!! The fish was 7 inches long and I felt the pull that all piranha collectors have, the need to buy the fish. My parents thought I was a bit strange wanting such a fish and the purchase amount was too much for my parents to afford. I was already given up my lunches to save money to buy juvenile piranhas (unbeknownst to my mother), and this fish was out of the question. Still I had to find a way to get it. So I talked my biology teacher (Jerry Lipman) to purchase the fish for the school science lab. There I was able to enjoy the fish and learn about it. It gave me the motivation I needed to continue studying piranhas. It was also during this time that Woody mentioned to me the fish in question was actually S. sanchezi.



Then Vietnam interrupted my schooling and I left for that war in 1970 after completing Airborne training at Ft. Benning, GA. During the war, I was medivac out for injuries sustained and spent time in a San Francisco Army hospital. After I was released, I re-visited the Steinhardt Aquarium and saw a live fish captioned as S. niger. The fish was only 6 inches total length and very dark. Little did I realize this same fish would re-enter my study of piranhas and the future OPEFE web site. During this visit I took several photographs of the fish and purchased a reprint of Living Fishes of the World. I also purchased a hobbyist pamphlet which discussed S. niger and included a front page photograph (see photo top left); COVER Anchor, The Journal of The San Francisco Aquarium Society (35 cents). Title of this pamphlet was Piranha! Cannibal and Coward (August 1971). I returned home, but found that I no longer fit in with family or friends. Vietnam had changed me forever. I was not able readjust to family or friends. So I left for Hawaii in search of something in life that I needed. I spent much of my time at the beach, talking to fishermen and sometimes taking home a caught saltwater fish (mostly Moorish Idols, a type of beautiful saltwater fish). I also discovered that the island didn't allow piranha possession. I lived there for about 8 months and then made a decision to return back to the mainland. I returned and found a job at two (2) radio stations and began reestablishing my collection of piranhas. 


I attended Moorpark Jr. College at Moorpark, California. My love of the piranhas continued eventually doing a mini-documentary about the fish for the Radio/TV department there as part of my college credit. It was also during this time I purchased my first Orinoco red-belly, known as Serrasalmus nattereri (= Pygocentrus cariba). I questioned myself why this fish would be a Serrasalmus nattereri since it had a prominent black spot and none that I purchased had it. But these questions remained unanswered until much later when I wouid speak to Dr. William L. Fink in 1992. I tried again to fit in with family and friends, but Vietnam still haunted me. I found material in Field and Stream article entitled "The Little Fish Who Eats People" written by A. J. McClane. In this magazine, there were several piranhas listed by common name; 1) Kitchen Boy Piranha 2) Red Piranha 3) Natterer's Piranha 4) Blacktailed Piranha 5) Donkey Castrator Piranha 6) Black Piranha 7) White Piranha and 8) Wimple's Piranha. I would later identify this piranhas as; The Kitchen Boy Piranha (Serrasalmus eigenmanni), Red Piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri), Natterer's piranha (Pygocentrus piraya), Black-tailed Piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri), Donkey Castrater Piranha (a very large and dark, Pygocentrus cariba), Black Piranha (S. rhombeus), White Piranha (strongly resembles S. hastatus) and the Wimple's Piranha (Catoprion mento). During those formative years, I was able to secure more piranhas including a large Serrasalmus niger (S. rhombeus, nearly a foot long), an unknown convex-anal fin Serrasalmus species, Pygopristis denticulata, P. piraya, some Pristobrycon species, P. nattereri (southern). 


The actual photograph of the fish I bought in 1975

Photograph of the large S. .rhombeus purchased as S. niger

Unknown convex anal piranha. Probably S. maculatus

Actual photograph of 1966 S. sanchezi being sold as Red Snapping Tetra.

Red Snapping Tetra aka Serrasalmus sanchezi, 1966


I finally decided to return to the military. I had no real peace in my life and I needed to leave again. I thought Army life would be the answer for me, even though Vietnam was still haunting me. In the latter half of 1976, I left for Germany and 2 years later was informed my collection which was in the care of a relative was lost. I was heartbroken but there was nothing I could do. I visited the zoological parks in Germany and tried to find more piranhas. To no avail until my return to the United States in 1979. I spent four years remaining in the military until I decided I need to get out. I was unhappy with the changes of the "new modern U.S. Army" and the politics that entered it. So I left with my wife and children for a new life. In 1985, I attended New Mexico State University, but had to interrupt my studies because of family obligations. I had begun communication with author John R. Quinn of TFH who wrote Piranhas Fact and Fictions and was formerly an Oregon resident. 


In 1989, in a work related injury I became disabled and moved to Oregon in 1992. I was also dealing with Post Traumatic Stress from my experiences from Vietnam. My counselor advised me to find a place or a new home where I could find peace and quiet, so I chose Oregon to do that. I had traveled through Oregon before in my early years of the military and I remembered the people here as being friendly with open hospitality. So with my family, we left California forever, abruptly taking my collection of piranhas with me. However, it was here in Oregon that an anonymous tipster told Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) officers about piranhas I had in my possession. The piranhas were confiscated and then I decided to fight the State of Oregon tin Court. Meanwhile, Dr. Fink would send to me the first of many scientific citations pertaining to piranhas and open the door to the future in piranha research at the near-professional level. I spent countless hours in libraries looking for as much information on piranhas that I could. I had little social life and my wife was not to happy, as I spent all my time studying and locating data on these fishes. I took courses in veterinary medicine as a technician and graduated from the School of Animal Science Atlanta, Georgia in 1997. But it remained a field I was not interested in, as the pull of the piranhas was very strong indeed. Aside from my schooling, I wrote many amateur papers including one important (unpublished) article regarding the sexual dimorphism of Catoprion mento. Now, a larger distraction was taking place as I began the search for an attorney to keep the State from confiscating my fishes. Hardly anyone believed I would prevail, but there was something driving me to go on and fight the the ODFW.


Mr. Charles Lee, an attorney from the City of Roseburg represented me pro bono after I explained the true nature of the piranha and my background in science and knowledge of the piranha. I loaded Mr. Lee down with books, material and hours of indoctrination about the natural behavior of the piranha and the historical public fear of them. After 2 weeks of this, we went to court in hopes of convincing Judge Lasswell. .


Judge William Lasswell (District Court) heard the case and ruled that piranhas were not illegal under the present statute which listed all Serrasalminae fish as piranhas. The win in court created a legal precedent across the United States. The picture on the left is from the front page of the News-Review Newspaper. It was later picked up and used by Associated Press (AP) in subsequent articles about Oregon's piranha. The State fined me $25 for possession of one species of true piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri), the two (2) pirambeba (S. rhombeus) were returned to me. The personnel at ODFW were not to happy and my victory and celebration was short lived.


Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife had other plans. One that would take me into a long process of legalizing piranhas throughout all of Oregon. In the meantime, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife then went to the legislature to prohibit my pirambeba. What they could not win in court, they tried to make illegal through the legislative process.


With the help of Senator Bill Fisher (then a State representative) and Senator Rod Johnson, I testified in front of the House Natural Resources Committee. The committee agreed to allow possession of piranhas based on my testimony. Still not ready to concede defeat, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife attempted to influence the Senate, by creating a fear that piranhas would introduce disease and parasites to the salmon population. Again, with the help of Senator Bill Fisher, Senator Rod Johnson and a well-published parasitologist, Dr. Robert J. Goldstein, the House Bill (HB 2611) passed 23 and 5 against to allow possession of piranhas in Oregon. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber signed the bill into law on September 11, 1995 revising ORS Statute allowing possession of Piranhas.


On March 4, 1994, I founded the Oregon Piranha & Exotic Fish Exhibit [OPEFE]. With just 2 aquariums that were strategically placed in my home's 17 foot long picture window, OPEFE grew into an attached building to over 200 aquariums and a number of visitors each year numbering over 3,000. The vast majority of fishes, including piranhas are donated by private aquarist, pet stores, and exotic fish wholesalers from across the country. I chose this business name because 1) of my love of Oregon and wanted this state to be recognized as a legal State. 2) I wanted the piranha fish to be always associated with Oregon and the reversal of a 1970 "non-scientific law" which prohibited the fish based solely on common names. I proudly display my banner with the words:


"Please Do Not Release Unwanted Pet Fish"


And to this day remains the slogan of the OPEFE Web Site and a very important message for people who keep exotic fish and animals. I remain actively involved with the Wildlife Integrity Administrative Rules in Oregon that effect pet owners and the general public. And I have publicly testified many times in support of individual pet owners and the exotic fish industry. The Oregon Piranha and Exotic Fish Exhibit piranhas were for a new children's book called PIRANHA by Elaine Landau (Grolier's Publishing Company in New York). Professional photographer Ben Klaffke took many beautiful pictures of OPEFE piranhas for this book. My piranhas were eventually filmed for a National Geographic Explorer mini-documentary called "Urban Piranhas." The documentary was about people who keep piranhas in the home. This first aired on April 19, 1998 and is currently seen on National Geographic Explorer re-runs.


Standing with Frank, National Geographic writer, Richard Conniff (center) and Simon Boyce (producer and cameraman).


I will continue to  promote the right to keep piranha bringing that message to the public through the World Wide Web. Many specimens of piranha in formalin were donated to Oregon State University to help build their university collection. The students there will benefit from these donations. OPEFE's other large collection of various species of piranhas and other types of exotic fishes in formalin are sufficiently maintained for local area schools. I continue to maintain contact with; Dr. William L. Fink, foremost authority on piranhas, Dr. Michel Jégu a French Ichthyologist and piranha specialist, Dr. Labbish Chao head of Projeto Piaba, Dr. Earl Weidner a parasitologist, and other authorities pertaining to DNA research.



  1. Educate the public about the dangers of releasing unwanted pet fish into non-native waters. To accurately educate the public and children about piranha biology and the fishes habitat.

  2. To provide a humanitarian sanctuary where unwanted pet fish can live out their lives in a safe, enclosed environment and not released into the wild. OPEFE also humanely euthanize fish upon request.

  3. To promote eco-tourism in order to encourage the public-at-large to visit other countries and learn about the ichthyofauna and why these animals need to be protected. In this regard, OPEFE encourages aquaculture and sustaining native populations by human intervention. By this same logic, keeping tropical fish available, protecting people's livelihood and protecting the rainforest from over fishing and exploitation. With this principal we accept Projeto Piabas banner "Buy a Fish, Save a Tree" who's goal is to keep people employed yet not over fish the rivers while protecting the rainforest.

  4. To provide schools and educational facilities with examples of preserved fishes whenever possible in order to assist educational resources.



Few outside the inner circle of friends who know me are aware that I and Senator Bill Fisher championed another Senate Bill that protects young rape victims.  Known as: Senate Bill 151, Eliminates age defense to specified sexual offenses, relating to crime; repealing ORS 163.345.

Also, my wife and I are founder's of Douglas County Kinship an organization that helps grandparents cope with raising grandchildren.



List is Incomplete






The OPEFE web site and its contents; is disclaimed for purposes of Zoological Nomenclature in accordance with the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, Fourth Edition, Article 8.3 and 8.4. No new names or nomenclature changes are available from statements at this web site. Copyright© 1994-2012 Oregon Piranha Exotic Fish Exhibit (The OPEFE fish exhibit is permanently CLOSED as of 2000) Sutherlin, Oregon. Information posted on this web site is archival data on fish scientific classifications and other information.


DISCLAIMER: The copyrighted material may not be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship or research. Cited information requires credit and this link www.opefe.com. All rights reserved. All images shown  (unless otherwise noted) is property of OPEFE. 

Created: April 10, 1994

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