Lancetfish are predatory fish with cannibalistic tendencies boasting impressive fangs in their long jaw. Coupled with their scaleless skin, large eyes, sail-like fin, and serpentine body that can exceed 7 feet in length, they make for some of the best reasons not to get anywhere near the ocean. Occasionally they are found washing up on shore for no reason scientists can definitely discern. This has occurred again over the past several weeks in Oregon.
Lancetfish are present in oceans around the world but their usual habitat is the aptly named “twilight zone”, some kilometer-and-a-half under the surface.
They mainly live in tropical and subtropical waters but can migrate as far north as subarctic areas like Alaska’s Bering Sea.
Their usual diet consists of small fish, crustaceans, and octopi, with fellow lancetfish also being a staple.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes the lancetfish as “notorious cannibals”.
Another interesting fact about the fish is the fact that they are hermaphrodites. This boosts their chance of finding a suitable mate, which might otherwise be hard, due to the whole cannibal thing.
Another thing that makes them interesting is the way they digest their food, which includes the representatives of their own species. Has it already been mentioned they are cannibals?
Food recovered from their stomachs is often fully intact. Scientists suspect lancetfish stuff themselves full when they can get something to it and digest it when they need it.
In the great circle of life, lancetfish in turn serve as food for fur seals, sharks, and tuna. And of course other lancetfish.
Unlike some deep-sea horrors, such as doom-portending oarfish, the lancetfish make for poor food for humans due to their gelatinous flesh.
Deep-sea fishermen will find lancetfish as by-catch. It is rare to find them washed up on the coast, although it does happen periodically.
As a matter of fact, the deep-sea fish has been washing ashore “for at least 300 years and likely longer,” but “no one knows why”, as Elan Portner, a scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, told The New York Times.
Oregon’s Parks and Recreation Department said Monday several lancetfish had washed ashore over the past few weeks. At least one was found alive and rescued. After being put back in the ocean it was merrily on its way.
The ordeal must have been stressful to the specimen, so it likely went to get some comfort food. Probably another lancetfish.
“No one is sure why they are washing ashore,” Oregon’s Parks and Recreation said. Speculating that the fish might have been distressed or ill, they requested anyone who would come across them on the beach to take a photo and tag them as well as the NOAA
Because taking a picture of a monstrous deep-sea cannibal serpent instead of running away screaming in terror may not be the logical thing to do, but it shows you care about the environment.