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Seriously Freaky, Rare Fish from 3,000-ft Below Found on Oregon Coast near Cannon Beach

Published 5/18/24 at 6:07 p.m.
By Andre' Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – An evil character from Finding Nemo has come to life. Jokes aside, in truth it is a find that's almost as rare as a cartoon creature – and one was found in Cannon Beach today (May 18). Called a Pacific football fish (Himantoliphus sagamius), there are apparently only 34 that have been found on beaches around the entire world. (Photo Seaside Aquarium). It's likely the first time ever seen here on Oregon shores.

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Seaside Aquarium got wind of the discovery early Saturday from some beachcombers. Seaside Aquarium's Tiffany Boothe snagged photos and the beachcombers took the creature with them, opting to keep their find.

It was, of course, dead.

Aquarium manager Keith Chandler said it was about the size of a football.

The Pacific football fish lives way down in the deep at around 2,000 to 3,3000 feet below the surface, Boothe told Oregon Coast Beach Connection.

“These fish are rarely seen,” Boothe said. “While a handful of football fish have been recorded in New Zealand, Japan, Russia, Hawaii, Ecuador, Chile, and California this is the first one reported on the Oregon Coast to our knowledge.”

There was a run of three of them found in California in 2021, bringing the number of total sightings to about 34 in the last century since they were discovered.

“Little is known about their life history but what is known is unusually fascinating,” Boothe said. “Like other angler fish, they use light that shines from a [glowing] bulb on their forehead to attract prey. Food at the depths that these guys peruse can be very sparse, so football fish are not picky eaters. They eat anything that can fit into their mouths.”

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If all that isn't freaky enough, the bulb is called an esca and it glows for a surprising reason. The esca has numerous pores, and into those come photobacteria from the deep sea environment. Those are bioluminescent – according to US Fish and Wildlife Service - meaning they emit light (and not phosphorescence, which is a chemical reaction achieved by receiving sunlight). Those bacteria cause the bulb to glow.

As the US Fish and Wildlife Service put it: “Some might describe it as horrific or terrifying. Because basically, it's a giant mouth. If you think about it, it's a big globulous thing, it's basically - it's very round, looks kind of like a large tar ball because it's pitch black. And it has a very big mouth with pretty sharp teeth. I don't think it's horrifying or terrifying. I think it's a beautiful fish.”

Photo Seaside Aquarium

Many creatures down that deep are dominated by a large mouth in their overall structure. This is an evolutionary result of being in a place where food is hard to find and you have no light.

What the beachcombers found was a female: males are much smaller than the female.

“Only females actively hunt as the males are actually more like parasites,” Boothe said. “Males being 10 times smaller than females, find a female to fuse themselves to. They lose their eyes and internal organs, getting all their nutrients from their female partners. In return, they provide females with a steady source of sperm. How the males find the females in the pitch dark is still unknown. “

Still-living Pacific footballs have very prickly skin and a kind of array of tiny tentacles (which are also bioluminescent). None of that appeared to be still true with the specimen found on the north Oregon coast. MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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Photo Seaside Aquarium

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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