In 2021, a handful of highly uncommon Pacific footballfish washed up in California, perplexing and thrilling experts both.
Only 31 footballfish have been discovered by humans in the last century. This is due to the fact that these secretive anglerfish travel at depths of up to 3,300 feet, their way lighted by bioluminescent bulbs swung from their heads.
Three of these uncommon fish have washed ashore in California this year alone. Scientists are ecstatic to have the opportunity to examine these uncommon creatures, but they are unsure why these fish are suddenly surfacing from the depths. What exactly are Pacific footballfish? And why are they now appearing in California?
Inside The Pacific Footballfish’s Mysterious Existence
The Pacific footballfish, or Himantolophus sagamius, may be found in the Pacific Ocean’s depths. New Zealand, Japan, Russia, California, Hawaii, Ecuador, and Chile have all discovered a few specimens.
Because footballfish often cruise at depths of 1,000 to 3,300 feet, this is the case. The footballfish emits a little light from a phosphorescent bulb (or esca) on its forehead, even when the waters are pitch black.
The fish utilizes this light to attract prey, but experts believe they aren’t choosy about what they eat. Footballfish have evolved to consume everything they can grab since food in the deep ocean can be sparse.
They skulk in the shadows, waiting for fish, squid, or crabs to pass by. Then they attack. Footballfish drag its victim into their mouths, where their remarkable, needle-sharp teeth rip the unfortunate marine creature apart.
Females, however, are the only ones who hunt. They may grow up to three feet long and are around ten times the size of males. Male footballfish, according to experts, are essentially “sexual parasites” that unite with females.
Male fish lose their eyes and internal organs with time. They attach to the female fish with just their testes, giving her with a regular supply of sperm in return for nourishment.
These deep-sea animals are strange and fascinating. Scientists seldom get the chance to examine them closely because they swim so deep.
That’s why three footballfish have washed ashore in California, delighting many ichthyologists (fish specialists). So, what have scientists discovered? What’s more, why are these mysterious fish showing up on the beach?
Why Are There So Many Footballfish in California?
A lot of footballfish washed up on the shores of California in 2021. At May, one was discovered in Crystal Cove State Park in Newport Beach; in November, another washed up on Black’s Beach, and in December, a third was discovered along the San Diego coastline.
“It’s fairly incredible that we’ve got three in the last year and in Southern California alone,” said Ben Frable, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Fish Collection Manager.
“Because before that, the last time that happened in California, at least that we were aware of, that someone witnessed and brought to scientists was 20 years ago today,” he continued, calling the discovery “serendipitous.”
A footballfish has not washed up in California since 2001 until this year.
The fish discovered in December, according to Frable, was a female measuring around 15 inches long and weighing a whopping five and a half pounds. The fish appeared to be in fine condition, albeit it appeared like a bird had taken a chunk out of it at some time, and Frable discovered sand in its stomach.
What is the significance of sand? Scientists are undecided. Others have been discovered with empty tummies.
“We don’t know a lot about this species in general,” said William Ludt, assistant curator of the Natural History Museum’s ichthyology collection, where one of the footballfish was on exhibit.
That was seconded by Frable. “We don’t know much about even the most fundamental aspects of their lives,” he said. “There are still so many questions.” That, I believe, is what makes studying these deeper water animals that occur right out in the open ocean so intriguing.
“There are a lot of fundamental things we don’t know about them — we don’t know what they consume, and we don’t know anything about their reproductive systems.”
Indeed, California fish specialists are ecstatic about the discovery, hoping that the specimens may shed information on how these uncommon critters live. They don’t know why the fish perished or why so many are washing up on the beach right now.
“It’s quite weird,” Lundt said, “and it’s the talk of the town among us California ichthyologists.”
Frable does not believe that the sudden influx of footballfish indicates that anything has gone wrong in the ocean depths; if that were the case, he believes that many more Pacific footballfish would be washing ashore. He’s not sure why so many have landed up on the beaches of Southern California this year.
“Unfortunately, we have no idea why,” he explained. “We don’t have a lot of information… I’m having a conversation with colleagues who research coastal oceanography, as well as colleagues who work on anglerfish and other fish, and we’re trying to figure out, to come up with any suggestions.”
For the time being, the Pacific footballfish remains a mystery.