Last Friday morning, May 7, an incredible deep-sea fish washed up on shore in Southern California’s Crystal Cove State Park’s Marine Protected Area (MPA). It was first discovered by a park visitor who reported this rare and seldomly seen angler fish to the park’s staff. Staff removed the fully intact fish from the beach into a secure location. There are more than 200 species of angler fish worldwide, and this particular fish is most likely the Pacific Football Fish.
Only females possess a long stalk on the head with bioluminescent tips used as a lure to entice prey in the darkness of waters as deep as 3,000 feet. Their teeth, like pointed shards of glass, are transparent and their large mouth is capable of sucking up and swallowing prey the size of their own body.
While females can reach lengths of 24 inches, males only grow to be about an inch long and their sole purpose is to find a female and help her reproduce. Males latch onto the female with their teeth and become “sexual parasites,” eventually coalescing with the female until nothing is left of their form but their testes for reproduction. The male becomes a permanent appendage that draws nutrition from its female host and serves as an easily accessible source of sperm.
The found Pacific Football Fish will be given to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The desire is for the fish to go into the museum’s ichthyology collection, which is one of the largest in the state, where it can be properly preserved and remain available as a type specimen.
To see an actual angler fish intact is very rare, and it is unknown how or why the fish ended up on the shore. Seeing this strange and fascinating fish is a testament to the diversity of marine life lurking below the water’s surface in California’s MPAs, and as scientists continue to learn more about these deep-sea creatures it’s important to reflect on how much is still to be learned from our wonderful ocean.
STORY AND PHOTOS COURTESY OF CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS