Bizarre ‘Whalefish’ Just Made a Rare Appearance to Explorers

10th September, 2021.      //   Uncategorized  // 

A fiery orange whalefish swimming through the dark-blue depths of the ocean.

As ocean explorers continue to scour the seas for more discoveries—and gobs and gobs of precious minerals—Earth’s salty waters continue to spew forth endless bizarro creatures. Like so many water-type Pokémon, we’ve seen everything from dangly anglerfish to ballooning eels to, of course, tons of weird octopi. Now, however, an ultra-rare wild whalefish has appeared! And it has no scales, tiny eyes, and is generally haunting.

Researchers picked up on the new glimpse of the whalefish. Which, let us tell you people, is a bizarre creature even for life residing in the “midnight zone” of the ocean. The midnight zone is also known as the “bathyal zone, which covers the entire ocean and spans from a depth of 3,300 feet to 10,000 feet. This particular specimen swam past a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) as the submersible explored waters at a depth of 6,600 feet, offshore from Monterey Bay, California.

For the unfamiliar, whalefish, or cetomimiformes, are fish that look like whales. That’s where the similarities end, though. As the whalefish’s odd breeding methods and growth cycles mean that things get real whacky. Male whalefish, for example, feed off of their huge livers and use their large nasal organs to sniff for females. The males also look utterly different from the females due to the order of fish displaying extreme sexual dimorphism.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) shows us their glimpse of a female whalefish. Note that females are much larger than the males—18 inches versus 1.5 inches!—and have a fiery orange color. The color is intrinsic and not due to the ROV’s lights; that incredible hue happens to help the fish blend in.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the female whalefish, however, is how it sees. Or rather, doesn’t see. As a female whalefish evolves from a larva (or a “tapetail”) into an adult, it loses its eyes’ lenses and the ability to form images. Consequently, a system of pressure-sensing pores that runs along its head and down the length of its body develops. Which, in turn, allows it to detect its surroundings via vibrations in the water. And while that’s clever and Daredevil-esque, we’re beginning to get an idea of why whalefish are so rare.