The Faceless Fish: What We Know About This Bizarre Creature


Leave it to Australia to find strange, slightly unnerving species. Recent expeditions by the Australian government combed unexplored areas of ocean. Using deep-sea cameras, sonar, and nets, the teams hope to identify new species. Deep sea researchers for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization have rediscovered the so-called “faceless fish” off the country’s eastern seaboard. The fish has only appeared a handful of times. Its last appearance came almost 70 years ago when scientists found it near Papua New Guinea.

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Previous Encounters

The first recorded encounter with the “faceless fish” came in August 1874. The HMS Challenger, the world’s first round the world oceanographic expedition, discovered the species in the Coral Sea at a depth of 2,440 fathoms (4,462 meters). A crew member aboard the ship made illustrations to record their encounter with the new species. Considering the depths at which the fish lives, it is astounding that those on the Challenger were able to study abyssal marine life at all.

Later expeditions in the Indian Ocean yielded specimens, as well. In 1951, a trawl in deep water collected five more of the elusive fish off East Kalimantan, Borneo. It remained unseen until earlier this summer.

Since early May, scientists for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization have scanned the depths of the ocean to study Australia’s marine biology and ecological processes. The goal of the mission is to help conservation efforts and manage climate change. Yet, in the process, researchers continue to come across new species. The faceless cusk is the most notable for its sheer uniqueness. Though, they have also found fish with photosensitive plates, “tripod” fish, and dinner plate-sized sea spiders during their extensive searching.

What IS It?

While it’s appearance is certainly alien, the fish belongs to a much wider group of marine life. Experts refer to members of this group as cusk-eels. There is an important distinction to make because these snake-like sea dwellers aren’t eels at all. They are eels only in name. The distinction comes from a difference in the ventral, or pelvic, fins of each family.

The cusk-eel family comprises hundreds of species. They live at great depths in tropical and temperate oceans throughout the world. Some may live in more shallow waters, but most cusk eels thrive in the sea’s hadal zone (the deepest parts of the ocean measuring near 10,000 meters below the surface). Typhlonus nasus, the faceless cusk, inhabits trenches and troughs in the west Indian and central Pacific oceans. Explorers and experts have found specimens in the Arabian Sea, Japan, Hawaii, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, as well.

Faceless cusks are unique in that they only have a mouth and nostrils. While they do have eyes, thick layers of skin hide them. Eyesight at depths over 4,000 meters below the surface is useless. is useless. Small cusk specimens have more easily identifiable eyes. This latest catch is larger and its eyes are harder to find, inspiring the “faceless” moniker.

What are your thoughts on this recent discovery? Do you think that there are other, stranger species to find? Do you think that exploring and understanding the entire ocean is possible?

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