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Deep-Sea Bestiary
by Peter Tyson

The ocean depths are home to a phantasmagoria of bizarre creatures, ranging from the footballfish to the "vampire squid from hell." Living in the dark at crushing depths, the animals below are rarely seen by human beings. The photographs, which are of deceased creatures brought up from the deep, were shot by famed underwater photographer Norbert Wu. The drawings, by celebrated marine artist Richard Ellis, appear in his book Deep Atlantic: Life, Death, and Exploration in the Abyss (Knopf, 1996). Click on any of the pictures below to see the full view.



This comely female anglerfish, Cryptopsaras couesi, has attracted not one but two tiny parasitic males (see drawing). The males have permanently attached themselves to her side to facilitate breeding (as is typical of most anglerfish). Perhaps she has particularly appealing caruncles, the three luminescent sacs just forward of her dorsal fin, which lend her her common name, "triplewart sea devil." Along with the lightable lure above her eye, the caruncles may also help entice prey to within striking distance of this 18-inch-long fish.

Talk about all mouth. Eurypharynx pelecanoides, known colloquially as the "umbrellamouth gulper," throws wide its loosely hinged jaws and balloons out its mouth to engulf hapless fishes, which are deposited in the pouchlike lower jaw (hence its common name, pelican eel). Though a fearsome-looking creature, the pelican eel is only two feet long, including the whiplike tail. It lives in all the world's oceans at depths exceeding 6,500 feet.

umbrellamouth gulper

umbrellamouth gulper


In this image, the anglerfish Melanocetus johnsoni not only looks like a basketball, it looks like it could swallow one. Perhaps impressed by its rounded aspect, the scientist describing this ball of a fish even gave it a generic name that means "black whale." Yet appearances can be deceiving. For all its ferocious aspect, the "common black-devil," as this species is known, reaches a maximum length of five inches.

The viperfish, Chauliodus sloani, has such lengthy lower fangs that they don't even fit in its mouth, but rather project back dangerously close to the eyes. No Chauliodus has ever been photographed in its natural habitat, but a scientist who saw one from the window of his bathyscaph off Portugal reported that it hovered "head upwards, the long axis of its body making an angle of about 45° to the horizontal plane. The whiplike dorsal ray was inclined forwards so that the tip dangled in front of the mouth. Here, surely, is good circumstantial evidence for deep-sea angling."

Fangtooth or ogrefish

It's not hard to see why the common name of Anoplogaster cornuta is "fangtooth." (It has also been dubbed "ogrefish.") In this species, juveniles differ so strikingly from adults that it took 50 years for fish biologists to realize that Anoplogaster and a genus they were calling Caulolepsis were one and the same animal, just of different ages. Fangtooths (or should we say "fangteeth"?) are found in tropical and temperate waters down to 16,000 feet.


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