Jan 032010
photo provided courtesy of Claf on Flickr Creative CommonsHometropical and temperate seas
Habitatdeep water
Nicheambush predator
Favorite Foodsmall fish
Lengthup to 3.5 feet
Weightaround 2 pounds

The deep places of the world are the last true frontiers of earth. In the black depths where light from the ocean’s surface dies out, strange creatures inhabit the gloom. One of the most grotesque and altogether fascinating fishes that lives in the dark, deep ocean is the gulper eel. Also called the pelican eel, this jet black eel without the scales or pelvic fins of its cousins in shallower waters is definitely unique.

Gulper eels are found in the deep waters of tropical and temperate seas worldwide, though they are seldom seen by virtue of their habits and habitat. Growing not much longer than three feet in length, this strange eel’s most striking feature is its enormous, V-shaped mouth. Suspending its body upright in the blackness, it twists and flicks a bioluminescent lure on its tail to attract the attention of nearby fish. Once the fish is close enough, the gulper eel lives up to its name, expanding its leathery mouth like a giant net to gulp down the fish whole. The gulper’s eyes are positioned right at the front of its upper jaws instead of set back on the head like other fish, so that it has a better chance of seeing movement in the darkness in front of its mouth and reacting to it.

Gulper eels are poor swimmers due to their delicate body design. They lack many of the bones of sturdier bony fish and they have no ribs. They also have no swim bladder, an adaptation of fish to help control their buoyancy in water. As a result, they are more likely to float in the deep currents and rely on ambush tactics rather than actively pursue fish.

Due to their deep water habitat, scientists know very little about the reproductive habits and detailed behaviors of gulper eels and other denizens of the deep. As a result, it is hard to know with any certainty how they are impacted by the activities of man. One hopes that there’s enough time and will to study these wonderfully weird creatures before we inadvertently destroy them.

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