Off the coast of Northern California, more than 1,000 feet below the ocean’s surface, researchers have spotted the elusive Highfin Dragonfish. Let’s take a look at why this rare fish has eluded scientists for more than three decades…
Image: MBARI 2022
Highfin Dragonfish Makes A Rare Appearance In California
In the dark, murky depths off the coast of Northern California, a group of dedicated researchers came across one of the rarest marine species in the world: Bathophilus flemingi, also known as the Highfin Dragonfish. The small, deep-sea fish was spotted by a team of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) researchers, aboard the Western Flyer research vessel.
“In more than three decades of deep-sea research and more than 27,600 hours of video, we’ve only seen this particular species four times! We spotted this individual just outside of Monterey Bay at a depth of about 300 metres (980 ft),” the researchers said, which shows the tiny fish swimming against a current. The fish strongly resemble a torpedo — or a little bronze submarine!
Image: Darrin Schultz / MBARI 2021
How Did The Researchers Find The Highfin Dragonfish?
For three decades (yes, thirty years!), researchers from MBARI have scoured California’s Monterey Bay in hopes of finding this elusive, deep-sea fish. In this time, the researchers have found many other interesting marine species — including other species of Dragonfish — but the Highfin Dragonfish has proven to be the most elusive.
As the researchers mentioned, more than 27,600 hours of video footage were taken by remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) in order to capture the mythical creature. "They are just amazing animals, and part of what is appealing is that colour pattern," said senior scientist at MBARI, Bruce Robinson to LiveScience. He also said that the Highfin Dragonfish’s brassy, bronze skin is unlike that of any other fish living in the deep sea.
Image: MBARI 2007
Dragonfish’s Skin Absorbs Light To Camouflage Itself
Aside from being increible small and narrow, the Highfin Dragonfish’s colouring may be part of the reason why this fish is so elusive. According to Robison — the lead researcher — the pigments that lend colour to the fish’s metallic bronze skin may actually be a form of camouflage!
Deep below the water’s surface, the Highfin Dragonfish’s skin has the ability to absorb the remnants of blue light that manage to pierce the deep, murky depths. Doing so makes the fish almost invisible to the naked eye. MBARI says that the pigment on the fish’s skin is close to some of the “blackest blacks” found in nature. "But when we shine our white lights on it, it’s just gorgeous," Robison said — referring to the metallic bronze appearance of the fish under the lights.
Image: Katyla Veck Photography / Canva
Highfin Dragonfish Are Cunning Predators!
The Highfin Dragonfish isn’t just special due to its rarity. This tiny ocean predator has a unique way of capturing its prey. Instead of chasing or trapping its prey, the Highfin Dragonfish hangs motionless in the water; waiting patiently for crustaceans and fishes to pass by. When a tasty snack comes close enough to the Dragonfish, it opens its jaws and snaps them shut — catching the prey without warning.
This is why they're called sit-and-wait predators. To seek out nearby prey, scientists suspect that the Highfin Dragonfish’s wing-like filaments can sense vibrations in the water. The fluttering action of the ‘wings’ also helps the fish to remain motionless in the water.
It’s no wonder scientists have only spotted the elusive creature four times in three decades!
How amazing is this discovery! There are so many bizarre creatures that live way below the ocean’s surface, but we think this little torpedo-shaped fish is one of the most unique species we’ve ever seen!
For more interesting wildlife discoveries, please check out our Eco News category and the blogs below — we think you’ll love them.