Marine biologists aboard an expedition in Monterey Bay in California recently discovered a remarkable and rare deep-sea fish that bears the name of a mythical creature: the high-finned dragonfish (Pathophilus Flemingi). This species is the rarest of all dragon fish, and scientists have previously discovered surviving individuals only a few times.
Over the course of three decades, researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have cleaned the depths of the bay using remote-operated vehicles (ROVs), and found many fantastic beasts, including many species of dragonfish. However, the high-finned dragonfish has proven to be the most elusive. This fish is found at a depth of 980 feet (300 meters), according to TK.
“They’re just amazing animals, and part of the cuteness is this color pattern,” said Bruce Robson, MBARI senior scientist, and research leader for the team that made the discovery. The scales of the dragonfish shimmer in a metallic bronze color unlike any other deep-sea fish, Robison told Live Science. The pigments that impart color to the fish’s copper and bronze skin may actually be a form of camouflage, as these shades absorb the remnants of blue light that reaches depths, making the fish nearly invisible in their environment. “But when we shine the white spotlight on it, it’s pretty cool,” said Robison.
This type of camouflage is suitable for fish that are ambushing predators. It floats in the dark and waits for small fish and crustaceans to swim next to it. However, these meals are not eaten at random. Instead, the dragonfish, which has bioluminescent strands extending from its chin, draws them closer. “They use this lure to lure prey that sees the spot of glowing light and is attracted to it because they think it’s something small enough that they can eat,” Robison said. When the prey gets close enough, the dragonfish’s broad, toothed jaws smile.
Dragon fish use bioluminescence not only to catch their meal but also to avoid being eaten. “Many predators hunt by looking up to try to spot the silhouette or shadows of their prey against the light of the water above,” Robison said. To blend in with a bright background, the dragon fish has a series of light organs lining its sides. These light organs match the color and intensity of the light above, blurring the fish’s silhouette.
When Robison and a team of researchers discovered this fish, they were aboard a week-long expedition on the Western Flyer research vehicle (RV), performing several experiments and observations during a relatively short time at sea. Despite a busy schedule, the search teams aboard these ships must be vigilant, opportunistic, and ready to respond to the unexpected – because they never know what they might discover.
“We are explorers,” said Robison. If you want to see something cool, you often have to turn to look at it, “And spotting this high-fin dragonfish is just one of many examples of Robison’s oceanic curiosity paying off.” The real joy of those trips often comes from the things you least expect.”
Originally published on Live Science.
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