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A nightmarish fish with it’s own shiny fishing pole6 min read

May 18, 2021 5 min read

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A nightmarish fish with it’s own shiny fishing pole6 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Pacific Footballfish| Rarely seen deep-sea Pacific Football fish washes up  on California beach - See Pictures | Trending & Viral News
Image: Timesnow

Do you see that creature with sharp, shiny teeth? Does just looking at it terrify you? Well, now imagine walking right past it. That’s exactly what happened to Ben Estes last week! The fisherman was taking a leisurely stroll at the beach when he was stumped by this nightmarish creature.

The creature was, in fact, a deep-sea predator whose entire intact body had made a rare appearance on land. This toothy black creature known as a pacific football fish lives thousands of feet (kilometres) beneath the ocean surface. It belongs to a terrifying class of fish known as anglerfish.

Anglerfish

Anglerfish are predator fish that live deep beneath the ocean where no visible light can reach. These terrifying fish have bent bodies, sharp teeth in unusual places and a shiny stalk over the head. The lit-up stalk has only one aim: to hunt.
Learn more about Anglerfish in the video below:

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In truth, very little is known about anglerfish as it is found at depths of the ocean that are hard for humans to reach. If a human were to venture out for a swim into the deep seas, they would probably get crushed with the water above them before they would even reach the midnight zone. That’s why finding and studying these fish requires expensive equipment and extremely complex technology. So far, we know that there are 12 families and over 200 species of Anglerfish.

However, we’ve barely seen any, let alone encountered their intact bodies just washed up on the shore for us to study! So you can imagine the excitement of the officials at Crystal Cove State Park in California, when they mysteriously met with this rare albeit horrific find. No one knows how or why the body of this mysterious fish showed up, but the scientists are excited.

Pacific Football Fish

The Pacific football fish has a stalk on the tip of its head. The tip of the stalk shines to attract prey. Image: CNN
The tips of the tentacles on its head have naturally lit-up bacteria living in them. Image:CNN

When they saw the fish’s body, scientists knew it had to belong to the family of football fish. (No points for guessing why the fish has this strange name. Yup, it’s because this odd ghastly creature is shaped like a football). Soon, they gathered that it was a female pacific anglerfish.

happy angler fish GIF by Microsoft Education
  1. Pacific Footballfish hang out deep in the dark midnight zone of the ocean. They can be found about 900 metres below the surface of the sea.
  2. These scary sea creatures have shard-like glassy, sharp teeth.
  3. Female footballfish grow to the size of up to two feet or 0.6 metres. That’s the size of a four-month-old baby or two subway subs stacked on each other.
  4. On the other hand, male footballfish only grow to become about 1 inch long. That’s about the width of an adult thumb.
  5. Size isn’t the only difference between male and female footballfish. Unlike the tiny male footballfish, female footballfish have a protruding stalk on their heads. The end of the stalk shines like a natural lightbulb! 
  6. This natural lightbulb is actually a trap! It attracts prey in the pitch darkness, and the footballfish sucks it up and chomps down on it.
  7. The female fish can eat prey almost double its size!!!

So can you guess how the scientists must have figured out that the fish was female? Give it your best shot, and come back on our puzzle day (this Saturday) to see if you were right.

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Clingy much?

Sexual Parasitism: Deep-Sea Anglerfish Evolved a New Type of Immune System  to Physically Fuse With Their Mates
A male anglerfish latches onto a female anglerfish. Image: SciTech Daily

Dating as an anglerfish can be pretty cumbersome. The tiny male fish latches onto the female fish by biting into it with its sharp teeth. It lives on her body like a parasite, taking nutrition from the food she hunts with her stalk and cunning ways. The male Anglerfish clings to the female its ENTIRE life! It sticks around while providing the female fish with sperm for reproduction. 

What’s even grosser is that when it bites into the female fish’s stomach, it unleashes an enzyme that dissolves the female’s skin. Soon enough, the male fish is fused to the female’s body. Cute?? or barf-worthy??

Unholy matrimony: the nightmarish sex lives of anglerfish – Marine Madness
Image: Marine Madness

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The future of this Unusual Specimen

Football Beach Sticker by Mike Bennett Art

The unusual sample of this deathly fish is currently being held by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. Eventually, it will be transferred to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles to join its collection. There, scientists will study it further to unlock the stranger-than-science-fiction mysteries of the deep seas.

“[I]t’s important to reflect on how much is still to be learned from our wonderful ocean.”

Crystal Cove State Park
deep sea swimming GIF by Eloy Lannoó

So, if you ever happen to encounter a female pacific football fish, you know what to do. Swim away as fast as you possibly can.

With excerpts From: National Geographic, Science Alert, CNN, Global News, Livescience and National Post.

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