- The ghostly-looking fish belongs to the family Aphyonidae.
- This is the first time a fish from this family has been seen alive, NOAA scientists say.
- The eel-like fish is just 10 centimeters long, has a transparent, gelatinous skin, lacks scales and has highly reduced eyes.
In the mysterious depths of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument off of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean, scientists have filmed a ghostly-looking fish belonging to the Aphyonidae family.
This is the first time a fish from this family has been seen alive, NOAA scientists say. Most other Aphyonid fish are known only from single specimens collected with deep-sea trawling or dredging, they add.
The eel-like fish is just four inches long and has a transparent, gelatinous skin. It also lacks scales and has highly reduced eyes, making it look like “Casper” the deep-sea octopod discovered by scientists last year off of Hawaii, the NOAA team says.
“Wow. This is just remarkable,” Bruce Mundy, fishery biologist with the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, said on seeing the live video of this eel-like fish. “Some of us working with fish have wish lists, you know, a sort of bucket list, of what we might want to see, and a fish in this family was probably first on those lists for a lot of us.”
The video of the fish was captured during an expedition conducted from April 20 to July 10 on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, a federally funded U.S. ship that explores and documents the unknown reaches of the world’s oceans. The three-cruise expedition aimed to explore the complex and dynamic deep water habitats in and around the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM) and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The MTMNM protects around 95,216 square miles of area, including bottomfish habitats, hydrothermal vents, mud volcanoes, seamounts, deep-sea coral reefs.
“There has been a big debate about whether these [Aphyonid fish] are pelagic, living up in the water column, or whether they’re associated with the bottom, like this one,” Mundy said. “So, not only do you have the first sighting, you’ve got some of the first evidence to not necessarily solve that debate, but to at least make a strong argument that, yes, the family is a bottom-living family.”
The expedition has filmed many other fascinating deep sea creatures, including several different species of sea cucumbers, carnivorous sponges, deep sea lizard fish, and a possible new fish species of the family Zoarcidae.
(All three videos courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas)