A few extremely rare Pacific footballfish showed ashore in California in 2021, confusing and exciting specialists alike.
Humans have only identified 31 different species of footballfish in the past century. This is because these stealthy anglerfish cruise at depths of up to 3,300 feet, using bioluminescent bulbs hanging from their heads to illuminate the path.
This year alone, three of these unusual fish have washed up in California. Scientists are thrilled to have the chance to study these unusual critters, but they are baffled as to why these fish are suddenly coming to the surface. What are Pacific footballfish exactly? Why are they suddenly showing up in California, and why?
This is true since footballfish frequently travel at depths of 1,000 to 3,300 feet. Even in completely dark seas, the footballfish generates a little amount of light from a phosphorescent bulb (also known as an esca) on its forehead.
Although specialists think the fish are not picky eaters, they use this light to lure prey. Since there is often little food in the deep ocean, footballfish have evolved to eat whatever they can get their hands on.
They lurk in the shadows and wait for passing fish, squid, or crabs. They then launch an assault. Footballfish draw its prey into their mouths, where they shred the hapless aquatic animal to pieces with their amazing, needle-sharp teeth.
However, only females engage in hunting. They are almost ten times larger than males and may reach lengths of three feet. Experts claim that male footballfish are actually “sexual parasites” that mate with females.
Over time, male fish lose their eyes and internal organs. They only use their testes to adhere to the female fish, providing her with a steady stream of sperm in exchange for food.
These unusual and interesting deep-sea creatures. They swim so deep that scientists seldom get the opportunity to examine them thoroughly.
Due to this, three footballfish have washed up on Californian shores, much to the joy of ichthyologists (fish specialists). What then have scientists learned? And why are these enigmatic fish appearing on the shore, too?
Why Does California Have So Many Footballfish?
In 2021, a large number of footballfish washed ashore on Californian beaches. Three were found: one washed up on Black’s Beach in November, one was found in Crystal Cove State Park in Newport Beach in May, one was found on San Diego’s shoreline in December.
Ben Frable, the manager of the fish collection at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, stated, “It’s very amazing that we’ve had three in the last year and in Southern California alone.”
He went on, calling the discovery “serendipitous,” “because before that, the last time it happened in California, at least that we were aware of, that someone observed and presented to scientists was 20 years ago today.”
Since 2001, no footballfish has washed up in California.
According to Frable, the fish found in December was a female that was around 15 inches long and weighed a staggering five and a half pounds. Frable found sand in the fish’s guts, but the fish seemed to be in good shape overall. It did, however, look as though a bird had eaten a piece out of it at some point.
What use does sand serve? Scientific experts are split. Others have been found to be starving.
William Ludt, assistant curator of the Natural History Museum’s ichthyology collection, where one of the footballfish was on display, stated that “we don’t know a lot about this species in general.”
Frable seconded that motion. Even the most basic details of their life are unknown to us, he claimed. There are so many unanswered questions. That, in my opinion, is what makes researching these species that live in deeper waters way out in the open ocean so fascinating.
“There are a lot of fundamental aspects about them that we don’t know, including what they eat and how they reproduce,” the author says.
Fish experts in California are really excited by the find and are hopeful that the specimens may reveal something about how these unusual creatures live. They have no idea why the fish died or why so many are currently washing up on the beach.
It’s extremely strange, and among us California ichthyologists it’s the talk of the town, Lundt remarked.
Frable doesn’t think the sudden increase of footballfish is a sign that something is amiss in the ocean’s depths; if it were, he thinks that a lot more Pacific footballfish would be washing up on the coast. He doesn’t know why so many people this year have washed up on Southern California’s beaches.
Unfortunately, we don’t know why, he said. There isn’t much information available… We’re attempting to figure it out and come up with ideas as I speak with colleagues who study coastal oceanography, as well as colleagues who focus on anglerfish and other fish.
The Pacific footballfish is still a mystery at this moment.