Strange deep-sea fish keep washing up in California and scientists don’t know why

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Several bizarre-looking deep-sea fish have mysteriously washed up on California beaches this year, leaving marine biologists bewildered.

The last Pacific football fish to run aground in the state was spotted near Encinitas last Friday, according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

A surfer found the strange dead fish on Swami’s beach and alerted the rescuers, who then informed the scientists. Scripps scientist Ben Frable then collected the unusual animal for research and preservation.

The macabre fish are black, almost spherical in shape, and have razor sharp teeth. Its skin is covered with tiny thorns, and it also has a strange appendix protruding from its head with multiple branches – a bioluminescent decoy used to lure prey into the inky blackness of the deep ocean.

The specimen found on Swami’s Beach is a mature female measuring almost 13 inches long and weighing around 5.5 pounds.

Pacific footballfish are very rarely seen, as they are typically found at depths between 650 and 2,600 feet, according to Frable. Only 31 known specimens have been collected worldwide and it has never been seen in the wild, so scientists know very little about the species.

Despite the fact that the fish are rarely seen, three of them have washed up on beaches in California this year, including one that was spotted last month in Black’s Beach, north of San Diego. Unfortunately, scientists were not notified in time to retrieve it and the fish may have been taken away.

The three sightings this year double the total number of sightings recorded in California, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“This is very strange, and this is the city’s talking point among us California ichthyologists” – zoologists who study fish – Bill Ludt, assistant curator of ichthyology at the county museum of natural history of Los Angeles, which has four specimens in its collection, told the Time.

Regarding the recent round of sightings, Ludt said: “It’s hard to draw any conclusions as to why this is happening… That’s the million dollar question right now.”

Ludt’s comments echo those of the Scripps Institution, which said in a series of tweets that experts currently have no evidence to explain why several of these deep-sea fish have stranded recently.

Scientists are “interested in knowing more about the specimens that have been collected, as well as any new ones that may be stranded,” the tweet said.

The specimens that were collected recently appeared to be in surprisingly good condition and do not appear to have any indication that they suffered any trauma, such as stroke or poisoning.

After collecting the last specimen, Frable took x-rays and collected tissue samples for genetic analysis.

Pacific footballfish are among the largest of the approximately 170 species of anglerfish known to science, measuring up to about 15 inches in length. Males are generally much smaller than females.

Following the recent discovery, Scripps asked anyone who encountered a fish or other unusual marine animal to leave them alone and contact the institution or notify a rescuer.

“Rare specimens like this #footballfish are incredibly valuable to the marine science community,” Scripps said in a tweet.

News week contacted the Scripps Institution of Oceanography for comment.

The Pacific footballfish specimen found on Swami Beach in California last Friday.
Ben Frable / Scripps Oceanographic Institution
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