For many lovers of dark and ancient lore (and those that just love crafting and candy), October marks a time for frightening fun and spooky scares. October also marks National Seafood Month, a time meant to bring awareness to and celebrate the United States as a global leader in sustainable seafood.
What do Halloween and sustainable seafood have in common? In our ocean, there are certain species of fish, usually lurking in the mysterious depths, that seem to be Halloween-ready all year long.
While hunkering down for socially-distant Halloween celebrations, here are some sea-riously spooky fish to get you in the spirit:
You might have heard us gush about this fish before … The red-lipped batfish is quite an unusual fish found in the cool waters of the Galapagos Islands. Although it looks more like a frog than a bat with its leg-like fins, the batfish’s signature blood-red pout could be interpreted as vampiric in nature—bloody residue of their latest victim (yikes!). Indeed, the batfish likes to feast upon other small fish and small crustaceans like shrimps and mollusks, drawing its prey in with a lure on its head. Rather than swimming, the red-lipped batfish skulks around the seafloor in the dark—just like a vampire.
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Unless you’re taking a joyride in Captain Nemo’s submarine, chances are you’ll never spot a coffinfish. Coffinfish, also called “sea toads,” are bottom-dwellers found in the deep Pacific and Atlantic. Similar to the batfish, they also have “legs” that allow them to walk along the seafloor, but don’t expect them to walk too far—they are notoriously lazy. So lazy, in fact, that researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that coffinfish can hold their breath for long stretches, up to four minutes, to conserve energy as opposed to actively using their gills to pump water.
If I was a little squid, the fangtooth fish would be my Freddy Krueger—swimming around and haunting my dreams. Although the fangtooth fish is relatively small, growing to about six inches in length, their teeth/fangs are the largest in the ocean compared to their body size. So large that fangtooth fish even have special pouches on the roof of their mouths to ensure that when they close their jaws, their fangs won’t pierce their brain.
Chimaera, spookfish, ghost shark—these are all names for the same, odd-looking fish. Like the Greek’s mythological chimera, the ghost shark has a mix of strange characteristics: rabbit-like front teeth, plate-like back teeth, a long and slim tail, a snout (of varying sizes), wing-like fins and in some species, a venomous spine that upon contact can cause burning and swelling. They’re found all around the world, with the exception of the Arctic and Antarctic, lurking in the deep sea and munching on mollusks and crabs.
Although the blobfish may seem like an alien amoeboid from outer space (where are my The Blob (1958) fans?), it actually looks like your average, bony fish when its under water. Much like the other spooky species on our list, the blobfish is a deep-sea dweller and most commonly found around Australian waters. In order to adapt to the significant pressure of being 2,000 to 4,000 feet below sea level, they don’t require much bone or muscle and allow the pressure to provide their structural support. It’s only when blobfish are brought to the surface that they decompress, giving them the iconic blob look that’s made them a worldwide, meme sensation.
Ready for some real, sci-fi-looking worm-like creatures for Kevin Bacon to battle next? Get ready to meet hagfish in Tremors 7: Underwater Carnage (I think as ocean-lovers, we can all agree this is a worthy cause to get behind). Hagfish are slimy, primitive fish that haven’t changed much in the past 300 million years or so. Unlike the Graboids, or “Dirt Dragons,” from Tremors (1990), hagfish don’t have jaws, true eyes or even a stomach, and instead rely upon their mouth tentacles and tooth-like structures (made of keratin) to find and bury themselves face-first into animal carcasses that fall to their home on the seafloor. How can hagfish eat without real teeth and a stomach? By absorbing the nutrients from their food through their skin. If feasting on dead flesh didn’t sound gross enough, hagfish can also secrete an extreme amount of slime to defend against predators and ward off food competitors. And though I wouldn’t want to run into a hagfish anytime soon, as scavengers they play a highly important role in seafloor ecosystems by recycling carbon and other nutrients.
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Besides these six, spooky fish species, there are so many more underwater critters to discover and while some of these fish may seem scary, or just plain creepy, they each play an important role in our ocean’s health and food chain.
Feeling inspired by all this incredible fish science? Learn how you can support sustainable fisheries from home and make a difference for fish around the world with these simple actions.