Ben Estes was walking southern California’s Newport Beach when he noticed a small, dark, and very unusual fish that had washed ashore, according to a Facebook post on the Davey’s Locker Sportfishing page.
He alerted lifeguards and park rangers at nearby Crystal Cove State Park about the bizarre 18-inch black-colored fish on the sand. Then someone called the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The mysterious sea creature has been identified as a Pacific footballfish, a type of anglerfish that inhabits the ocean’s extreme depths, living some 3,000 feet below the surface. More than 300 varieties of anglerfish are known worldwide. While they’re not uncommon, it is extremely rare to find such an unusual deep-water species in such good condition on a beach.
The strange-looking footballfish has an unusually-long dorsal fin—known as an illicium—that can extendin front of the fish’s mouth. A phosphorescent bulb-like tip on the forward end of the dorsal fin attracts smaller prey to the footballfish. At the extreme depths where anglerfish reside, even the faintest light can be easily seen, making it easier for anglerfish to reel in prey.
Interestingly, male football fish are 10 times smaller than females, and sometimes attach to the larger fish to make themselves more readily available for mating.