‘Strange and fascinating’ Pacific football fish washes up on Southern California beach

‘Strange and fascinating’ Pacific football fish washes up on Southern California beach

Amaris Encinas

Beachgoers in California got a jarring sight this week when an angler fish that typically lives 2,000 feet beneath the surface of the ocean turned up on a Southern California beach.

A Pacific football fish, a species of angler fish, was spotted by a beachgoer visiting Crystal Cove State Park in Newport Beach, California Tuesday. Spotting one of the fish is rare – the last time a Pacific football fish was seen in the area was May of 2021. 

The Pacific football fish is one of over 200 species of angler fish across the world, according to Crystal Cove State Park officials.

Park officials were able to determine that the Pacific football fish that washed ashore was a female because of the long stalk on its head, a trait only a female would have. The stalk has bioluminescent tips that are used to lure prey in deep dark waters.

“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. Wild!,” park officials said on Facebook.

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‘Very rare’ fish collected for research

The Pacific football fish has evolved to feed on whatever it can fit in its mouth, since they live at a depth sunlight does not penetrate. The depth ranges anywhere between 2,000 and 3,300 feet, according to the California Academy of Sciences. 

To capture any of their usual targets like squid, fish, or crustaceans, the Pacific football fish will remain motionless until they can quickly suck the prey into its mouth. 

Find a Pacific football fish completely intact is “very rare,” and park officials are unsure how or why the fish have ended up onshore. 

“Seeing this strange and fascinating fish is a testament to the curious diversity of marine life lurking below the water’s surface in California’s Marine Protected Areas 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 and mysterious ocean!” park officials wrote. 

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife took possession of the fish so they could study it. The fish found in 2021 is on display at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, if you are interested in getting a closer at the rare specimen.

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