Mouth agape, revealing rows of small but deadly fangs. A limb-like protrusion extending out of a black, prickly body. This is how beachgoer Ben Estes found a “weird looking” fish on the shores of Newport Beach at Crystal Cove State Park in California last week.
Estes alerted state park rangers and lifeguards to his find, who in turn alerted the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “I knew it was an unusual find,” Estes told the Guardian. “I have never seen a fish that looked like that before.”
The bizarre sea creature turned out to be a 18-inch female Pacific Footballfish, a species of anglerfish similar to the notorious one-time villain from Finding Nemo. As shown in the movie, each anglerfish has a fleshy, long dorsal fin called an illicium that extends in the front of the mouth. The bioluminescent bulb on the end of the illicium emits light to attract unsuspecting prey.
Pacific Footballfish ordinarily dwell in the pitch-black depths of the deep sea, as far as 3,000 feet below the surface, according to a Facebook post from Crystal Cove State Park. Authorities haven’t yet determined how the monstrous fish died. But they were surprised its body managed to stay so intact while coming all the way up to the surface. It’s not unheard of for deep-sea dwellers to occasionally make their way to our beaches. But it’s still very rare.
John Ugoretz of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife told the LA Times that, as of Monday morning, the fish was frozen at Crystal Cove State Park. State officials were still determining where the specimen would ultimately end up. He told the Guardian that it will likely be transferred to the Natural History Museum of LA County. The museum has just three others in its collection, but none are as well preserved.
“Seeing this strange and fascinating fish is a testament to the diversity of marine life lurking below the water’s surface in California’s [marine protected areas],” reads the post from Crystal Cove State Park. “As scientists continue to learn more about these deep sea creatures it’s important to reflect on how much is still to be learned from our wonderful ocean.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Pacific Footballfish was not a rare species, when in fact it is indeed rare. We regret the error.