Ghostly Fish Seen Alive in Deep Ocean for First Time

ghostly-fish
This fish, in the little-known family Aphyonidae, was found by a team aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer at a depth of 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) in the Marianas Trench. NOAA Okeanos Explorer

Scientists are exploring an unknown world in the deepest waters of U.S. territory. A vessel owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is plumbing the depths of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, north of Guam in the western Pacific, looking to learn more about the biology, geology, topography and potential minerals there, until July 10.

In late June, the team happened upon a ghostly fish that had never been observed alive before. Its existence was only confirmed in decades past by dead samples plucked from the ocean floor using extremely long trawls.

Scientists say they were thrilled, but shocked, to view the mysterious creature, which is in the little-known family Aphyonidae.

“Some of us working with fish have had wish lists, bucket lists, for what we might want to see,” says Bruce Mundy, a NOAA fisheries biologist with the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, in a video. “A fish in this family is probably first on those lists for a lot of us.”

The creature has no scales, and posseses white gelatinous skin and pigmentless, undeveloped eyes. Scientists said in a NOAA release that the animal is in the same taxonomic order as cusk eels, serpent-like fish that inhabit very deep waters.

The researchers, aboard the Okeanos Explorer, found the fish at a depth of 8,200 feet (2,500 meters). Their ship will also be mapping and inspecting seafloor that is part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Nearly one-half of the United States territory is underwater and most hasn’t been explored, says Bob Ballard, an oceanographer and the discoverer of the wreckage of the Titanic.

But the Okeanos Explorer team is trying to change that. You can watch the exploration live online.