Deep sea fish

Deep-sea fish are fish that live in the darkness below the sunlit surface waters, that is below the epipelagic or photic zone of the sea. The lanternfish is, by far, the most common deep-sea fish. Other deep sea fishes include the flashlight fish, cookiecutter shark, bristlemouths, anglerfish, viperfish, and some species of eelpout.

Only about 2% of known marine species inhabit the pelagic environment. This means that they live in the water column as opposed to the benthic organisms that live in or on the sea floor.[1] Deep-sea organisms generally inhabit bathypelagic (1000–4000m deep) and abyssopelagic (4000–6000m deep) zones. However, characteristics of deep-sea organisms, such as bioluminescence can be seen in the mesopelagic (200–1000m deep) zone as well. The mesopelagic zone is the disphotic zone, meaning light there is minimal but still measurable. The oxygen minimum layer exists somewhere between a depth of 700m and 1000m deep depending on the place in the ocean. This area is also where nutrients are most abundant. The bathypelagic and abyssopelagic zones are aphotic, meaning that no light penetrates this area of the ocean. These zones make up about 75% of the inhabitable ocean space.[2]

The epipelagic zone (0–200m) is the area where light penetrates the water and photosynthesis occurs. This is also known as the photic zone. Because this typically extends only a few hundred meters below the water, the deep sea, about 90% of the ocean volume, is in darkness. The deep sea is also an extremely hostile environment, with temperatures that rarely exceed 3 °C (37.4 °F) and fall as low as −1.8 °C (28.76 °F) (with the exception of hydrothermal vent ecosystems that can exceed 350 °C, or 662 °F), low oxygen levels, and pressures between 20 and 1,000 atmospheres (between 2 and 100 megapascals).[3]


Wfm pelagic
Scale diagram of the layers of the pelagic zone

In the deep ocean, the waters extend far below the epipelagic zone, and support very different types of pelagic fishes adapted to living in these deeper zones.[4]

In deep water, marine snow is a continuous shower of mostly organic detritus falling from the upper layers of the water column. Its origin lies in activities within the productive photic zone. Marine snow includes dead or dying plankton, protists (diatoms), fecal matter, sand, soot and other inorganic dust. The "snowflakes" grow over time and may reach several centimetres in diameter, travelling for weeks before reaching the ocean floor. However, most organic components of marine snow are consumed by microbes, zooplankton and other filter-feeding animals within the first 1,000 metres of their journey, that is, within the epipelagic zone. In this way marine snow may be considered the foundation of deep-sea mesopelagic and benthic ecosystems: As sunlight cannot reach them, deep-sea organisms rely heavily on marine snow as an energy source.

Some deep-sea pelagic groups, such as the lanternfish, ridgehead, marine hatchetfish, and lightfish families are sometimes termed pseudoceanic because, rather than having an even distribution in open water, they occur in significantly higher abundances around structural oases, notably seamounts and over continental slopes. The phenomenon is explained by the likewise abundance of prey species which are also attracted to the structures.

Hydrostatic pressure increases by 1 atmosphere for every 10m in depth.[5] Deep-sea organisms have the same pressure within their bodies as is exerted on them from the outside, so they are not crushed by the extreme pressure. Their high internal pressure, however, results in the reduced fluidity of their membranes because molecules are squeezed together. Fluidity in cell membranes increases efficiency of biological functions, most importantly the production of proteins, so organisms have adapted to this circumstance by increasing the proportion of unsaturated fatty acids in the lipids of the cell membranes.[6] In addition to differences in internal pressure, these organisms have developed a different balance between their metabolic reactions from those organisms that live in the epipelagic zone. David Wharton, author of Life at the Limits: Organisms in Extreme Environments, notes "Biochemical reactions are accompanied by changes in volume. If a reaction results in an increase in volume, it will be inhibited by pressure, whereas, if it is associated with a decrease in volume, it will be enhanced".[7] This means that their metabolic processes must ultimately decrease the volume of the organism to some degree.

Frill shark
Humans seldom encounter frilled sharks alive, so they pose little danger (though scientists have accidentally cut themselves examining their teeth).[8]

Most fish that have evolved in this harsh environment are not capable of surviving in laboratory conditions, and attempts to keep them in captivity have led to their deaths. Deep-sea organisms contain gas-filled spaces (vacuoles).[9] Gas is compressed under high pressure and expands under low pressure. Because of this, these organisms have been known to blow up if they come to the surface.[7]


Grenadier basic external features
An annotated diagram of the basic external features of an abyssal grenadier and standard length measurements.
Rhinochimera atlantica
Gigantactis is a deep-sea fish with a dorsal fin whose first filament has become very long and is tipped with a bioluminescent photophore lure.
Thobe u0
Bigeye tuna cruise the epipelagic zone at night and the mesopelagic zone during the day.

The fish of the deep-sea are among the strangest and most elusive creatures on Earth. In this deep, dark unknown lie many unusual creatures that have yet to be studied. Since many of these fish live in regions where there is no natural illumination, they cannot rely solely on their eyesight for locating prey and mates and avoiding predators; deep-sea fish have evolved appropriately to the extreme sub-photic region in which they live. Many of these organisms are blind and rely on their other senses, such as sensitivities to changes in local pressure and smell, to catch their food and avoid being caught. Those that aren't blind have large and sensitive eyes that can use bioluminescent light. These eyes can be as much as 100 times more sensitive to light than human eyes. Also, to avoid predation, many species are dark to blend in with their environment.[10]

Many deep-sea fish are bioluminescent, with extremely large eyes adapted to the dark. Bioluminescent organisms are capable of producing light biologically through the agitation of molecules of luciferin, which then produce light. This process must be done in the presence of oxygen. These organisms are common in the mesopelagic region and below (200m and below). More than 50% of deep-sea fish as well as some species of shrimp and squid are capable of bioluminescence. About 80% of these organisms have photophores – light producing glandular cells that contain luminous bacteria bordered by dark colorings. Some of these photophores contain lenses, much like those in the eyes of humans, which can intensify or lessen the emanation of light. The ability to produce light only requires 1% of the organism's energy and has many purposes: It is used to search for food and attract prey, like the anglerfish; claim territory through patrol; communicate and find a mate; and distract or temporarily blind predators to escape. Also, in the mesopelagic where some light still penetrates, some organisms camouflage themselves from predators below them by illuminating their bellies to match the color and intensity of light from above so that no shadow is cast. This tactic is known as counter illumination.[11]

The lifecycle of deep-sea fish can be exclusively deep water although some species are born in shallower water and sink upon maturation. Regardless of the depth where eggs and larvae reside, they are typically pelagic. This planktonic — drifting — lifestyle requires neutral buoyancy. In order to maintain this, the eggs and larvae often contain oil droplets in their plasma.[12] When these organisms are in their fully matured state they need other adaptations to maintain their positions in the water column. In general, water's density causes upthrust — the aspect of buoyancy that makes organisms float. To counteract this, the density of an organism must be greater than that of the surrounding water. Most animal tissues are denser than water, so they must find an equilibrium to make them float.[13] Many organisms develop swim bladders (gas cavities) to stay afloat, but because of the high pressure of their environment, deep-sea fishes usually do not have this organ. Instead they exhibit structures similar to hydrofoils in order to provide hydrodynamic lift. It has also been found that the deeper a fish lives, the more jelly-like its flesh and the more minimal its bone structure. They reduce their tissue density through high fat content, reduction of skeletal weight — accomplished through reductions of size, thickness and mineral content — and water accumulation [14] makes them slower and less agile than surface fish.

Due to the poor level of photosynthetic light reaching deep-sea environments, most fish need to rely on organic matter sinking from higher levels, or, in rare cases, hydrothermal vents for nutrients. This makes the deep-sea much poorer in productivity than shallower regions. Also, animals in the pelagic environment are sparse and food doesn't come along frequently. Because of this, organisms need adaptations that allow them to survive. Some have long feelers to help them locate prey or attract mates in the pitch black of the deep ocean. The deep-sea angler fish in particular has a long fishing-rod-like adaptation protruding from its face, on the end of which is a bioluminescent piece of skin that wriggles like a worm to lure its prey. Some must consume other fish that are the same size or larger than them and they need adaptations to help digest them efficiently. Great sharp teeth, hinged jaws, disproportionately large mouths, and expandable bodies are a few of the characteristics that deep-sea fishes have for this purpose.[10] The gulper eel is one example of an organism that displays these characteristics.

Fish in the different pelagic and deep water benthic zones are physically structured, and behave in ways, that differ markedly from each other. Groups of coexisting species within each zone all seem to operate in similar ways, such as the small mesopelagic vertically migrating plankton-feeders, the bathypelagic anglerfishes, and the deep water benthic rattails. "[15]

Ray finned species, with spiny fins, are rare among deep sea fishes, which suggests that deep sea fish are ancient and so well adapted to their environment that invasions by more modern fishes have been unsuccessful.[16] The few ray fins that do exist are mainly in the Beryciformes and Lampriformes, which are also ancient forms. Most deep sea pelagic fishes belong to their own orders, suggesting a long evolution in deep sea environments. In contrast, deep water benthic species, are in orders that include many related shallow water fishes.[17]

Species by pelagic zone
Many species move daily between zones in vertical migrations.
In this table they are listed in the middle or deeper zone where they are regularly found.
Zone Species and species groups include...
Mesopelagic Lanternfish, opah, longnose lancetfish, barreleye, ridgehead, sabretooth, stoplight loosejaw, marine hatchetfish[19]
Bathypelagic Principally bristlemouth and anglerfish. Also fangtooth, viperfish, black swallower, telescopefish, hammerjaw, daggertooth, barracudina, black scabbardfish, bobtail snipe eel, unicorn crestfish, pelican eel, flabby whalefish.
Benthopelagic[18] Rattail and brotula are particularly abundant.
Benthic Flatfish, hagfish, eelpout, greeneye eel, stingray, lumpfish, and batfish[18]
Comparative structure of pelagic fishes
Epipelagic Mesopelagic Bathypelagic deep sea benthic
muscles muscular bodies, ossified bones, scales, well developed gills and central nervous systems, and large hearts and kidneys. poorly developed, flabby
skeleton strong, ossified bones weak, minimal ossification
scales yes none
nervous systems well developed lateral line and olfactory only
eyes large and sensitive small and may not function variable (well developed to absent)
photophores absent common common usually absent
gills well developed
kidneys large small
heart large small
swimbladder vertically migratory fish have swimbladders reduced or absent variable (well developed to absent)
size usually under 25 cm variable, species greater than one metre are not uncommon

Mesopelagic fish

California headlightfish
Most mesopelagic fishes are small filter feeders which ascend at night to feed in the nutrient rich waters of the epipelagic zone. During the day, they return to the dark, cold, oxygen deficient waters of the mesopelagic where they are relatively safe from predators. Lanternfish account for as much as 65 percent of all deep sea fish biomass and are largely responsible for the deep scattering layer of the world's oceans.
Coccorella atrata
Most of the rest of the mesopelagic fishes are ambush predators, like this sabertooth fish. The sabertooth which uses its telescopic, upward-pointing eyes to pick out prey silhouetted against the gloom above. Their recurved teeth prevent a captured fish from backing out.
Dmawsoni Head shot
The Antarctic toothfish have large, upward looking eyes, adapted to detecting the silhouettes of prey fish.[20]
Opisthoproctus soleatus
The barreleye has barrel-shaped, tubular eyes which are generally directed upwards but can be swivelled forward.[21]
Gigantura chuni
The telescopefish has large, forward-pointing telescoping eyes with large lenses.[22]

Below the epipelagic zone, conditions change rapidly. Between 200 metres and about 1000 metres, light continues to fade until there is almost none. Temperatures fall through a thermocline to temperatures between 3.9 °C (39 °F) and 7.8 °C (46 °F). This is the twilight or mesopelagic zone. Pressure continues to increase, at the rate of one atmosphere every 10 metres, while nutrient concentrations fall, along with dissolved oxygen and the rate at which the water circulates."[4]

Sonar operators, using the newly developed sonar technology during World War II, were puzzled by what appeared to be a false sea floor 300–500 metres deep at day, and less deep at night. This turned out to be due to millions of marine organisms, most particularly small mesopelagic fish, with swimbladders that reflected the sonar. These organisms migrate up into shallower water at dusk to feed on plankton. The layer is deeper when the moon is out, and can become shallower when clouds pass over the moon. This phenomenon has come to be known as the deep scattering layer.[23]

Most mesopelagic fish make daily vertical migrations, moving at night into the epipelagic zone, often following similar migrations of zooplankton, and returning to the depths for safety during the day.[4][24] These vertical migrations often occur over large vertical distances, and are undertaken with the assistance of a swimbladder. The swimbladder is inflated when the fish wants to move up, and, given the high pressures in the messoplegic zone, this requires significant energy. As the fish ascends, the pressure in the swimbladder must adjust to prevent it from bursting. When the fish wants to return to the depths, the swimbladder is deflated.[25] Some mesopelagic fishes make daily migrations through the thermocline, where the temperature changes between 50 °F (10 °C) and 69 °F (20 °C), thus displaying considerable tolerances for temperature change.[26]

These fish have muscular bodies, ossified bones, scales, well developed gills and central nervous systems, and large hearts and kidneys. Mesopelagic plankton feeders have small mouths with fine gill rakers, while the piscivores have larger mouths and coarser gill rakers.[4] The vertically migratory fish have swimbladders.[16]

Mesopelagic fish are adapted for an active life under low light conditions. Most of them are visual predators with large eyes. Some of the deeper water fish have tubular eyes with big lenses and only rod cells that look upwards. These give binocular vision and great sensitivity to small light signals.[4] This adaptation gives improved terminal vision at the expense of lateral vision, and allows the predator to pick out squid, cuttlefish, and smaller fish that are silhouetted against the gloom above them.

Mesopelagic fish usually lack defensive spines, and use colour to camouflage themselves from other fish. Ambush predators are dark, black or red. Since the longer, red, wavelengths of light do not reach the deep sea, red effectively functions the same as black. Migratory forms use countershaded silvery colours. On their bellies, they often display photophores producing low grade light. For a predator from below, looking upwards, this bioluminescence camouflages the silhouette of the fish. However, some of these predators have yellow lenses that filter the (red deficient) ambient light, leaving the bioluminescence visible.[27]

The brownsnout spookfish, a species of barreleye, is the only vertebrate known to employ a mirror, as opposed to a lens, to focus an image in its eyes.[28][29]

Sampling via deep trawling indicates that lanternfish account for as much as 65% of all deep sea fish biomass.[30] Indeed, lanternfish are among the most widely distributed, populous, and diverse of all vertebrates, playing an important ecological role as prey for larger organisms. The estimated global biomass of lanternfish is 550 - 660 million metric tonnes, several times the entire world fisheries catch. Lanternfish also account for much of the biomass responsible for the deep scattering layer of the world's oceans. Sonar reflects off the millions of lanternfish swim bladders, giving the appearance of a false bottom.[31]

Bigeye tuna are an epipelagic/mesopelagic species that eats other fish. Satellite tagging has shown that bigeye tuna often spend prolonged periods cruising deep below the surface during the daytime, sometimes making dives as deep as 500 metres. These movements are thought to be in response to the vertical migrations of prey organisms in the deep scattering layer.

Malacosteus niger

The stoplight loosejaw has a lower jaw one-quarter as long as its body. The jaw has no floor and is attached only by a hinge and a modified tongue bone. Large fang-like teeth in the front are followed by many small barbed teeth.[32][33]


The stoplight loosejaw is also one of the few fishes that produce red bioluminescence. As most of their prey cannot perceive red light, this allows it to hunt with an essentially invisible beam of light.[32]


Long-snouted lancetfish. Lancetfish are ambush predators which spend all their time in the mesopelagic zone. They are among the largest mesopelagic fishes (up to 2 metres).[34]


The daggertooth paralyses other mesopelagic fish when it bites them with its dagger-like teeth.[35]

Bathypelagic fish

The humpback anglerfish is a bathypelagic ambush predator, which attracts prey with a bioluminescent lure. It can ingest prey larger than itself, which it swallows with an inrush of water when it opens its mouth.[36]
Gonostoma bathyphilum
Many bristlemouth species, such as the "spark anglemouth" above,[37] are also bathypelagic ambush predators which can swallow prey larger than themselves. They are among the most abundant of all vertebrate families.[38]
Flabby whalefish
Young, red flabby whalefish make nightly vertical migrations into the lower mesopelagic zone to feed on copepods. When males make the transition to adults, they develop a massive liver, and then their jaws fuse shut. They no longer eat, but continue to metabolise the energy stored in their liver.[39][40]
Messina Straits Chauliodus sloani
The Sloane's viperfish can make nightly migrations from bathypelagic depths to near surface waters.[41]
Anoplogaster cornuta 2
The widespread fangtooth has the largest teeth of any fish, proportionate to body size.[42] Despite their ferocious appearance, bathypelagic fish are usually weakly muscled and too small to represent any threat to humans.

Below the mesopelagic zone it is pitch dark. This is the midnight (or bathypelagic zone), extending from 1000 metres to the bottom deep water benthic zone. If the water is exceptionally deep, the pelagic zone below 4000 metres is sometimes called the lower midnight (or abyssopelagic zone).

Conditions are somewhat uniform throughout these zones; the darkness is complete, the pressure is crushing, and temperatures, nutrients and dissolved oxygen levels are all low.[4]

Bathypelagic fish have special adaptations to cope with these conditions – they have slow metabolisms and unspecialized diets, being willing to eat anything that comes along. They prefer to sit and wait for food rather than waste energy searching for it. The behaviour of bathypelagic fish can be contrasted with the behaviour of mesopelagic fish. Mesopelagic fish are often highly mobile, whereas bathypelagic fish are almost all lie-in-wait predators, normally expending little energy in movement.[43]

The dominant bathypelagic fishes are small bristlemouth and anglerfish; fangtooth, viperfish, daggertooth and barracudina are also common. These fishes are small, many about 10 centimetres long, and not many longer than 25 cm. They spend most of their time waiting patiently in the water column for prey to appear or to be lured by their phosphors. What little energy is available in the bathypelagic zone filters from above in the form of detritus, faecal material, and the occasional invertebrate or mesopelagic fish.[43] About 20 percent of the food that has its origins in the epipelagic zone falls down to the mesopelagic zone,[23] but only about 5 percent filters down to the bathypelagic zone.[36]

Bathypelagic fish are sedentary, adapted to outputting minimum energy in a habitat with very little food or available energy, not even sunlight, only bioluminescence. Their bodies are elongated with weak, watery muscles and skeletal structures. Since so much of the fish is water, they are not compressed by the great pressures at these depths. They often have extensible, hinged jaws with recurved teeth. They are slimy, without scales. The central nervous system is confined to the lateral line and olfactory systems, the eyes are small and may not function, and gills, kidneys and hearts, and swimbladders are small or missing.[36][44]

These are the same features found in fish larvae, which suggests that during their evolution, bathypelagic fish have acquired these features through neoteny. As with larvae, these features allow the fish to remain suspended in the water with little expenditure of energy.[45]

Despite their ferocious appearance, these beasts of the deep are mostly miniature fish with weak muscles, and are too small to represent any threat to humans.

The swimbladders of deep sea fish are either absent or scarcely operational, and bathypelagic fish do not normally undertake vertical migrations. Filling bladders at such great pressures incurs huge energy costs. Some deep sea fishes have swimbladders which function while they are young and inhabit the upper epipelagic zone, but they wither or fill with fat when the fish move down to their adult habitat.[46]

The most important sensory systems are usually the inner ear, which responds to sound, and the lateral line, which responds to changes in water pressure. The olfactory system can also be important for males who find females by smell.[47] Bathypelagic fish are black, or sometimes red, with few photophores. When photophores are used, it is usually to entice prey or attract a mate. Because food is so scarce, bathypelagic predators are not selective in their feeding habits, but grab whatever comes close enough. They accomplish this by having a large mouth with sharp teeth for grabbing large prey and overlapping gill rakers which prevent small prey that have been swallowed from escaping.[44]

It is not easy finding a mate in this zone. Some species depend on bioluminescence. Others are hermaphrodites, which doubles their chances of producing both eggs and sperm when an encounter occurs.[36] The female anglerfish releases pheromones to attract tiny males. When a male finds her, he bites on to her and never lets go. When a male of the anglerfish species Haplophryne mollis bites into the skin of a female, he releases an enzyme that digests the skin of his mouth and her body, fusing the pair to the point where the two circulatory systems join up. The male then atrophies into nothing more than a pair of gonads. This extreme sexual dimorphism ensures that, when the female is ready to spawn, she has a mate immediately available.[48]

Many forms other than fish live in the bathypelagic zone, such as squid, large whales, octopuses, sponges, brachiopods, sea stars, and echinoids, but this zone is difficult for fish to live in.

Eurypharynx pelecanoides

The pelican eel uses its mouth like a net by opening its large mouth and swimming at its prey. It has a luminescent organ at the tip of its tail to attract prey.

Chiasmodon niger

The black swallower, with its distensible stomach, is notable for its ability to swallow, whole, bony fishes ten times its mass.[49][50]

Haplophryne mollis (female, with atrophied male attached)

Female Haplophryne mollis anglerfish trailing attached males which have atrophied into a pair of gonads, for use when the female is ready to spawn.


California headlightfish

Sampling via deep trawling indicates that lanternfish account for as much as 65% of all deep-sea fish biomass.[30] Indeed, lanternfish are among the most widely distributed, populous, and diverse of all vertebrates, playing an important ecological role as prey for larger organisms. With an estimated global biomass of 550 - 660 million metric tons, several times the entire world fisheries catch, lanternfish also account for much of the biomass responsible for the deep scattering layer of the world's oceans. In the Southern Ocean, Myctophids provide an alternative food resource to krill for predators such as squid and the king penguin. Although these fish are plentiful and prolific, currently only a few commercial lanternfish fisheries exist: These include limited operations off South Africa, in the sub-Antarctic, and in the Gulf of Oman.

Endangered species

A 2006 study by Canadian scientists has found five species of deep-sea fish – blue hake, spiny eel – to be on the verge of extinction due to the shift of commercial fishing from continental shelves to the slopes of the continental shelves, down to depths of 1600 meters. The slow reproduction of these fish – they reach sexual maturity at about the same age as human beings – is one of the main reasons that they cannot recover from the excessive fishing.[51]

See also

External video
Creatures and Fish of the Deep OceanNational Geographic documentary


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  46. ^ Horn MH (1970). "The swimbladder as a juvenile organ in stromateoid fishes". Breviora. 359: 1–9.
  47. ^ Jumper GY, Bair RC (1991). "Location by olfaction: a model and application to the mating problem in the deep-sea Hatchetfish Argyropelecus hemigymnus". The American Naturalist. 138 (6): 1431–1458. doi:10.1086/285295. JSTOR 2462555.
  48. ^ Theodore W. Pietsch (1975). "Precocious sexual parasitism in the deep sea ceratioid anglerfish, Cryptopsaras couesi Gill". Nature. 256 (5512): 38–40. doi:10.1038/256038a0. Retrieved 31 July 2008.
  49. ^ Jordan, D.S. (1905). A Guide to the Study of Fishes. H. Holt and Company.
  50. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2009). "Chiasmodon niger" in FishBase. August 2009 version.
  51. ^ Devine Jennifer A., Baker Krista D., Haedrich Richard L. (2006). "Fisheries: Deep-sea fishes qualify as endangered". Nature. 439 (7072): 29. doi:10.1038/439029a.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)


  • Moyle, PB and Cech, JJ (2004) Fishes, An Introduction to Ichthyology. 5th Ed, Benjamin Cummings. ISBN 978-0-13-100847-2

Further reading

  • Gordon J. D. M. (2001) "Deep-sea fishes" In: John H. Steele, Steve A. Thorpe, Karl K. Turekian (Eds) Elements of Physical Oceanography, pages 227–233, Academic Press. ISBN 9780123757241.
  • Hoar WS, Randall DJ and Farrell AP (Eds) (1997) Deep-Sea Fishes, Academic Press. ISBN 9780080585406.
  • Shotton, Ross (1995) "Deepwater fisheries" In: Review of the state of world marine fishery resources, FAO Fisheries technical paper 457, FAO, Rome. ISBN 92-5-105267-0.
  • Tandstad M, Shotton R, Sanders J and Carocci F (2011) "Deep-sea Fisheries" In: Review of the state of world marine fishery resources, pages 265–278, FAO Fisheries technical paper 569, FAO, Rome. ISBN 978-92-5-107023-9.

External links

Media related to Deep sea fish at Wikimedia Commons


The blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus) is a deep sea fish of the family Psychrolutidae. It inhabits the deep waters off the coasts of mainland Australia and Tasmania, as well as the waters of New Zealand.Blobfish are typically shorter than 30 cm (12 in). They live at depths between 600 and 1,200 m (2,000 and 3,900 ft) where the pressure is 60 to 120 times as great as at sea level, which would likely make gas bladders inefficient for maintaining buoyancy. Instead, the flesh of the blobfish is primarily a gelatinous mass with a density slightly less than water; this allows the fish to float above the sea floor without expending energy on swimming. Its relative lack of muscle is not a disadvantage as it primarily swallows edible matter that floats in front of it such as deep-ocean crustaceans.Blobfish are often caught as bycatch in bottom trawling nets.

The popular impression of the blobfish as bulbous and gelatinous is partially an artifact of the decompression damage done to specimens when they are brought to the surface from the extreme depths in which they live. In their natural environment, blobfish appear more typical of their superclass Osteichthyes (bony fish).

Bobtail snipe eel

The bobtail snipe eels are two species of deep-sea fishes in the family Cyematidae, one only in each of two genera. They are small elongate fishes, growing up to 16 cm (6 in) long.

They are bathypelagic (deep-water ocean-dwellers) and have been found down to 5,000 m (16,400 ft). They are found in all oceans.

Bony-eared assfish

The bony-eared assfish (Acanthonus armatus) is a bathypelagic species of cusk-eel found in tropical and sub-tropical oceans at depths of from 1,171 to 4,415 metres (3,842 to 14,485 ft). It has been found as far north as Queen Charlotte Sound off British Columbia's coast. This species grows to a length of 37.5 centimetres (14.8 in) SL. It is the only known member of its genus Acanthonus.The bony-eared assfish holds the record for the smallest brain-to-body weight ratio of all vertebrates.Like many other creatures that dwell in the depths of the sea, the bodies of assfish are soft and flabby, and their skeletons are light and reduced. This is likely to have resulted from a lack of food and the high pressures which accompany living at such a depth, making it difficult to generate muscle and bone.


Sea devils are the family of deep-sea anglerfish known as the Ceratiidae, from the Greek keras, "horn", referring to the bioluminescent lure that projects from the fishes' forehead.

They are among the most widespread of the anglerfishes, found in all oceans from the tropics to the Antarctic. They are large and elongated: females of the largest species, Krøyer's deep sea angler fish, Ceratias holboelli, reach 1.2 m (3.9 ft) in length. Males, by contrast, are much smaller, reaching 14 cm (5.5 in), and, like other anglerfishes, spend much of their lives attached to a female after a free-living adolescent stage in which they are very small - at most 1.3 cm (0.51 in) - and have sharp, beak-like, toothless jaws. One or more males attach themselves permanently to a female, eventually merging circulatory systems. As this genetic chimera matures, the male grows large testicles, while the rest of its body atrophies. Ceratiidea are the only creatures known to become chimeras as a normal part of their lifecycle.

Deep-sea smelt

The deep-sea smelts are any members of the family Bathylagidae, a distinct group of marine smelts.

Deep-sea smelts are marine fishes found in deep waters throughout the oceans, down to 1,500 m (4,900 ft) in depth. They are small fishes, growing up to 25 cm (9.8 in) long. They feed on plankton, especially krill.


The footballfish form a family, Himantolophidae, of globose, deep-sea anglerfishes found in tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Ocean. The family contains c. 22 species all in a single genus, Himantolophus (from the Greek imantos, "thong, strap", and lophos, "crest").


Lanternfishes (or myctophids, from the Greek μυκτήρ myktḗr, "nose" and ophis, "serpent") are small mesopelagic fish of the large family Myctophidae. One of two families in the order Myctophiformes, the Myctophidae are represented by 246 species in 33 genera, and are found in oceans worldwide. They are aptly named after their conspicuous use of bioluminescence. Their sister family, the Neoscopelidae, are much fewer in number but superficially very similar; at least one neoscopelid shares the common name 'lanternfish': the large-scaled lantern fish, Neoscopelus macrolepidotus.

Sampling via deep trawling indicates lanternfish account for as much as 65% of all deep-sea fish biomass. Indeed, lanternfish are among the most widely distributed, populous, and diverse of all vertebrates, playing an important ecological role as prey for larger organisms. With an estimated global biomass of 550–660 million metric tonnes, several times the entire world fisheries catch, lanternfish also account for much of the biomass responsible for the deep scattering layer of the world's oceans. In the Southern Ocean, myctophids provide an alternative food resource to krill for predators such as squid and the king penguin. Although plentiful and prolific, currently only a few commercial lanternfish fisheries exist: limited operations off South Africa, in the sub-Antarctic, and in the Gulf of Oman.

Largetooth cookiecutter shark

The largetooth cookiecutter shark (Isistius plutodus) is a rare species of squaliform shark in the family Dalatiidae, reported from depths of 60–200 m (200–660 ft) at scattered locations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. As its common name suggests, it is similar in appearance to the cookiecutter shark (I. brasiliensis) but has much larger lower teeth. Most individuals also lack the dark "collar" of I. brasiliensis. This species reaches a maximum known length of 42 cm (17 in). The largetooth cookiecutter shark feeds by gouging out chunks of flesh from larger animals, including bony fishes, sharks, and marine mammals, and is able to take larger bites than I. brasiliensis. Little is known of its life history; it is thought to be a weaker swimmer than I. brasiliensis, and is presumably aplacental viviparous like the rest of its family. This shark is an infrequent bycatch of commercial trawl and longline fisheries, but is not thought to be much threatened by these activities.

Marine hatchetfish

Marine hatchetfishes or deep-sea hatchetfishes are small deep-sea mesopelagic ray-finned fish of the stomiiform subfamily Sternoptychinae. They should not be confused with the freshwater hatchetfishes, which are not particularly closely related Teleostei in the characiform family Gasteropelecidae.The scientific name means "Sternoptyx-subfamily", from Sternoptyx (the type genus) + the standard animal family suffix "-inae". It ultimately derives from Ancient Greek stérnon (στέρνον, "breast") + ptýx (πτύξ, "a fold/crease") + Latin forma ("external form"), the Greek part in reference to the thorax shape of marine hatchetfishes.


The Microstomatidae (pencil smelts) are a family of marine smelts native to the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans.


The Myctophiformes are an order of ray-finned fishes consisting of two families of deep-sea marine fish, most notably the highly abundant lanternfishes (Myctophidae). The blackchins (Neoscopelidae) contain six species in three genera, while the bulk of the family belongs to the Myctophidae, with over 30 genera and some 252 species.The scientific name ultimately derives from Ancient Greek myktér (μυκτήρ, "nose") + óphis (ὄφῖς, "serpent") + Latin forma ("external form"), the Greek part in reference to the long, slender, and heavy-headed shape of these fishes.


The Notacanthiformes are an order of deep-sea ray-finned fishes, consisting of the families Halosauridae and Notacanthidae (spiny eels).The order is of relatively recent vintage; Fishes of the World (2006) lists it as the suborder Notacanthoidei of Albuliformes. The notacanthiforms are much more eel-like than the albuliforms; for instance, the caudal fin has disappeared.

Fish of the order are found in oceans worldwide, at depths from 120 to 4,900 metres (390 to 16,080 ft). They are elongated fish, although not as much so as the true eels. They typically feed on slow-moving or sessile animals, such as molluscs, echinoderms, and sea anemones. Like the true eels, they have a leptocephalus larva that floats in the surface waters before transforming into an adult. Unusually, the larva can often be larger than the adult.


Ogcocephalidae is a family of anglerfish specifically adapted for a benthic lifestyle of crawling about on the seafloor. Ogcocephalid anglerfish are sometimes referred to as batfishes, deep-sea batfishes, handfishes, and seabats. They are found in tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide. They are mostly found at depths between 200 and 3,000 m (660 and 9,840 ft), but have been recorded as deep as 4,000 m (13,000 ft). A few species live in much shallower coastal waters and exceptionally may enter river estuaries.They are dorsoventrally compressed fishes similar in appearance to rays, with a large circular, triangular, or box-shaped (in Coelophrys) head and a small tail. The largest members of the family are about 50 cm (20 in) in standard length. The illicium (a modified dorsal fin ray on the front of the head supporting the esca, a bulbous lure) can be retracted into an illicial cavity above the mouth. The esca is not luminous as in most other groups of anglerfishes, but secretes a fluid thought to act as a chemical lure, attracting prey. Analysis of their stomach contents indicates that batfishes feed on fish, crustaceans, and polychaete worms.


The dreamers are a family, Oneirodidae, of deep-sea anglerfishes in the order Lophiiformes. They are the largest and most diverse group of deep-sea anglerfish, and also the least well known with several genera represented by only one, two, or three female specimens. They are found in deep, temperate waters around the world. They are small fishes, the largest species growing to about 20 cm (7.9 in) in total length.

Pelican eel

The gulper eel (Eurypharynx pelecanoides) is a deep-sea fish rarely seen by humans, though it is occasionally caught in fishing nets. It is an eel-like fish and the only known member of the genus Eurypharynx and the family Eurypharyngidae. It belongs to the order Saccopharyngiformes, which is closely related to the true eels in Anguilliformes. It is also referred to as the pelican eel, pelican gulper, and umbrella-mouth gulper. The specific epithet pelecanoides refers to the pelican, as the fish's large mouth is reminiscent of that of the bird.


A photophore is a glandular organ that appears as luminous spots on various marine animals, including fish and cephalopods. The organ can be simple, or as complex as the human eye; equipped with lenses, shutters, color filters and reflectors. The bioluminescence can variously be produced from compounds during the digestion of prey, from specialized mitochondrial cells in the organism, called photocytes ("light producing" cells), or, similarly, associated with symbiotic bacteria in the organism that is cultured.

The character of photophores is important in the identification of deep sea fishes. Photophores on fish are used for attracting food or for camouflage from predators by counter-illumination.

Photophores are found on some cephalopods, including firefly squid, the sparkling enope or firefly squid, which can create impressive light displays.


The saccopharyngiforms are a derived lineage of unusual eels within the order Anguilliformes, and includes families Cyematidae, Monognathidae, Eurypharyngidae, Saccopharyngidae, and the proposed family Neocyematidae. Most of the fish in this group are deep-dwelling and rarely seen, typically known from only a handful of specimens. Species include recognizable fish such as pelican eels, bobtail eels, and gulper eels. Some can live deep in the ocean, well into the aphotic zone. Extensive research has not been conducted on them due to being indirectly observed, with some species known only from their larvae. All families except for the exceptionally rare individuals of proposed family Neoceymatidae (known only from the Atlantic Ocean) are found in all major oceans.

Sea toad

The sea toads and coffinfishes are a family of deep-sea anglerfishes known as the Chaunacidae.These are bottom-dwelling fishes found on the continental slopes of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, at depths to at least 2,460 m (8,070 ft). Of the two genera in the family, Chaunacops typically occurs at deeper depths than Chaunax, but with considerable overlap.

They have large, globose bodies and short, compressed tails, and are covered with small, spiny scales. The largest are about 30 cm (12 in) in length. The first dorsal fin ray is modified into a short bioluminescent lure which dangles forward over the mouth, which is turned upwards so as to be nearly vertical. The sensory canals of the lateral lines are especially conspicuous. Chaunax have modified fins which resemble legs.


Thaumatichthyidae, the wolftrap anglers, is a small family of deep-sea anglerfishes, containing two genera and eight species found in all oceans. They are commonly known as wonderfish (a literal translation of Thaumatichthys), or wolftrap anglers or wolftrap seadevils because of their distinctive upper jaws with movable premaxillaries that can be lowered to form a cage-like trap around the much shorter lower jaw. They are related to (and were formerly placed within) the family Oneirodidae.

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