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“Faceless” Fish Found off the Coast of Australia

The rare creature was dredged up from some 13,000 feet below the surface

Typhlonus nasus, the Faceless Cusk (John Pogonoski / Australlian National Fish Collection, CSIRO)
smithsonian.com

For the last two weeks, a crew of scientists aboard a trawler have surveyed Australia’s marine reserves, cataloging the region's unusual deep sea creatures. So far, they’ve brought up a lot of interesting critters, but the most surprising is a faceless fish, reports Emilie Gramenz at the Australia Broadcasting Corporation.

According to a blog post at Australia’s Marine Biodiversity Hub, the researchers collected the creature, Typhlonus nasus, from a depth of about 13,000 feet. At these depths, the pressure is enormous and temperatures average a chilly 34 degrees Fahrenheit. At first, the researchers thought they had a new species on their hands. But with a search through scientific journals, they realized their faceless monster had been seen before. 

The HMS Challenger—the first global oceanographic expedition—collected the first T. nasus, in the Coral Sea just outside Australian waters on August 25, 1874. Since then, the species has been occasionally found in deep water around the globe, including in the Arabian Sea and off the coasts of Borneo, Japan and Hawaii. 

“This little fish looks amazing because the mouth is actually situated at the bottom of the animal so, when you look side-on, you can’t see any eyes, you can’t see any nose or gills or mouth,” Tim O’Hara, expedition leader and senior curator of marine invertebrates at Museums Victoria, tells Elle Hunt at The Guardian. “It looks like two rear-ends on a fish, really.” Because of this distinctive—and disturbing—feature, researchers are calling the fish the “Faceless Cusk.”

As Hunt reports, the month-long expedition (sponsored by Museums Victoria and the Australian government’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) is exploring the marine reserves by dragging a device that looks like a metal sled on a five-mile long cable, collecting sediment from the seafloor. The team is also using a camera to observe the creatures of the deep, hauling samples to the surface in small nets.

Aside from the eyeless fish, the team has also spotted a strange tripod fish, a chimaera, bioluminescent sea stars and rock crabs. “The experts tell me that about a third of all specimens coming on board are totally new to science,” O’Hara tells Hunt. “They aren’t all as spectacular as the faceless fish but there’s a lot of sea fleas and worms and crabs and other things that are totally new and no one has seen them ever before.”

But it's not all crazy creatures: the team is also dredging up lots of trash, including cans of paint and PVC pipe. 

This expedition is the first time the “eastern abyssal plain” off the coast of Australia has been systematically surveyed, Gramenz reports, and the results will serve as a baseline that researchers can use to monitor future potential impacts of climate change.

The expedition is expected to last until June 16—so stay tuned for more crazy critter finds.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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