A nightmarish fish that typically dwells thousands of feet below the ocean's surface recently washed ashore on a California beach, according to news reports.
The deep-sea fish, known as an anglerfish, is rather elusive and rarely seen outside of the deep ocean, according to The Guardian. But earlier this month, the intact body of an anglerfish was spotted at Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County, California, by beachgoer and fisherman Ben Estes, The Guardian reported.
Exactly how the fish got there is a mystery. "To see an actual anglerfish intact is very rare, and it is unknown how or why the fish ended up on the shore," staff at the Crystal Cove State Park wrote in a post on their Facebook page.
Related: In photos: Spooky deep-sea creatures
The bizarre creature is normally found at ocean depths of around 3,000 feet (914 meters), the post said. More than 200 species of anglerfish are found worldwide, and park officials determined that the specimen in this case is most likely a species of anglerfish called the Pacific football fish.
The fish's mouth sports a number of sharp, pointy teeth; and the top of its head features a long, protruding stalk with a bioluminescent bulb at the end, which is used "as a lure to entice prey in the darkness" of the deep ocean, the Crystal Cove State Park post said. (A depiction of the creepy fish makes a memorable appearance in the 2003 movie “Finding Nemo.”)
Female football fish can grow up to 2 feet (0.6 meters) long, while male football fish are only about an inch long, park officials said. And the fish's method of reproduction is unusual to say the least. "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," staff said on Facebook.
The unusual specimen in this case may be transferred to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles to become part of the museum's collection, according to The Guardian. It is currently being held by officials with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, according to CNN.
"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 [marine protected areas]," the Crystal Cove State Park post said. "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."
Originally published on Live Science.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.