When you think of Arctic animals, there are probably a few that come to mind. You likely picture distinctive critters like polar bears, puffins or narwhals—which is great! These animals deserve to be celebrated.
But what about the less charismatic species? The Arctic is packed with weird and wonderful animals, many of whom are found below the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean. Today, we’re taking a moment to recognize some of the lesser-known fish that call the ocean home. Read on to meet some of the Arctic’s most unusual fishy residents.
Salmon sharks are large, slow-growing sharks that are found from Baja California to the Bering Sea. They have a short, stocky body that looks similar to that of a great white shark, and can grow to up to ten feet in length. They eat a wide variety of fish, but particularly like to eat—you guessed it—salmon. You can find large numbers of salmon sharks during the annual Pacific salmon runs. They have a special adaptation that allows them to stay warm in cold Arctic waters: Salmon sharks are endothermic, which means they can control their internal body temperature. Most fish are ectotherms, meaning their body temperature matches the environment around them. Salmon sharks can raise their body temperature up to 20 degrees F above the surrounding water temperature!
Salmon Shark (Lamna ditropis)
Gelatinous Seasnail (Liparis fabricii)
The gelatinous seasnail is a small, tadpole-shaped fish that lives in the deep, freezing waters of the Arctic. They can be found in depths up to 6,000 feet—which is some seriously cold water. Like other snailfish, it has a disc-shaped mouth that can suck up small invertebrates off the sea floor. We don’t know too much about this small fish, but we do know that this critter is an important prey item for commercially important fish like Atlantic cod.
Fish Doctor (Gymnelus viridis)
This fish may not have gone to medical school, but don’t hold that against it. Fish doctors are small, brown fish that blend in with their preferred seaweed habitats. They sometimes also have dark bands or strips that become more prominent as they get older. Fish doctors live year-round in the Arctic Ocean in temperatures that drop below freezing in the winter. They prey on small organisms like copepods and amphipods, and are eaten by larger Arctic animals like seals, seabirds and cod. Unfortunately, no one knows how it got its name, but perhaps it was for a heroic medical rescue of another fish. Paging Dr. Fish, anyone?
If you’re not familiar with lampreys, fair warning that these guys are … unique. Arctic lampreys are eel-like fish have no scales and can grow up to about a foot long. Like other lampreys, they have a large suction-like mouth filled with sharp teeth and an even sharper tongue. Lampreys use their teeth to clamp onto their prey, and use their tongue to slowly scrape away scales and skin. There are two types of lamprey in the Arctic: a non-parasitic one that lives in freshwater, and a parasitic one that travels between salt and fresh water. Parasitic Arctic lampreys feed by latching their suckers onto large fish like trout and salmon and leave large red sores on the fish when they’re finished. Although you can technically eat Arctic lampreys, some consider its oily meat an “acquired taste.”
Arctic Lamprey (Lethenteron camtschaticum)
Oh, and there was this one time when Arctic lampreys rained from the sky in Fairbanks (spoiler alert: it was thanks to birds!)
Looking for more Arctic species? Check out these five sharks found in the Arctic.