Bizarre, ‘faceless’ fish species resurfaces in Australia after 144 years

31 May 2017

A school of fish (not faceless) off the Australian coast. Image: Leonardo Gonzalez

Marine creatures can be some of the most bizarre on our planet – a rediscovered species of fish without a face is the latest example.

Every so often, an extremely rare species of creature will be discovered (seemingly only once) and never seen again by science.

Commonly referred to as a Lazarus taxon, these creatures have typically been discovered either by their remains or a brief glimpse in the wild, but tend to disappear for long stretches of time, suggesting their extinction.

One such creature is a faceless deep-sea fish that has been rediscovered off the coast of Australia, 144 years after it was last spotted.

According to ABC News, the bizarre-looking fish was found by researchers from the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) about 4km off the coast of Sydney.

To the casual observer, the fish would appear to have no mouth – or any facial features for that matter – but Dr Tim O’Hara and his team explained that the creature’s mouth is found on the bottom.

O’Hara went on to describe the animal as looking “like two rear ends on a fish”.

Not even scratching the surface

The last time this creature was spotted by researchers was back in 1873, when a British ship off the coast of Papua New Guinea dredged one up, surprising its finders.

Dianna Bray, Museum Victoria’s senior collections manager of vertebrate zoology, said the find was the highlight of the CSIRO expedition.

“On the video camera, we saw a kind of chimaera that whizzed by – that’s very, very rare in Australian waters,” she said.

“We’re collecting things we don’t know from Australian waters. We think a lot of them are going to be new … and we’re not even scratching the surface of what we know about our abyssal plain fishes.”

Exploring the sea floor

Another “amazing” find for the team was the sheer quantity of rubbish on the sea floor, some of which is more than 200 years old.

O’Hara said: “There’s a lot of debris, even from the old steamship days when coal was tossed overboard.”

“We’ve seen PVC pipes and we’ve trawled up cans of paint. It’s quite amazing. We’re in the middle of nowhere and still, the sea floor has 200 years of rubbish on it.”

The vast coral reefs around Australia are considered some of the most vulnerable areas in terms of pollution, with a report last April finding that the Great Barrier Reef has once again suffered severe coral bleaching.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic