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Rare deep-sea fish mysteriously washes ashore once again

Last week, a surfer spotted a strange black blob on rocks near the shorelines of San Diego. What he later discovered was fascinating, if not frightening.

You’ll probably recognise this creature from one of Pixar’s most aesthetically captivating animated films, Finding Nemo. Or maybe you’ve reeled one out of the digital ocean yourself while playing a few hours of Animal Crossing.

But it’s likely you’ve never spotted this fish in real life, or even heard much about it. That’s because this rare, deep ocean dwelling fish has only been spotted 31 times since it was discovered 100 years ago.

It’s a type of deep-sea anglerfish, of which there are 100 known species. More specifically, though, this is the Pacific football fish, which is known for its underbite, spiny teeth, tiny eyes, and a lightbulb like appendage on its head.

Despite having a reputation for being especially reclusive, the football fish has washed up on California’s shores three times this year.

Scientists at the local university say that this behaviour is highly unusual – and have yet to pin down a solid explanation for its sudden reappearance.

Credit: Finding Nemo

After collecting and preserving the fish, the researchers stated they are viewing these events as rare and fortunate opportunities to study the football fish species in more depth.

At present, little is known about how they live aside from the fact that they spend most of their time thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface and use the mesmerising light attached to their heads to lure in prey.

The female football fish has a body that is covered in tiny spikes and their teeth – despite being sharp and long – are not used for tearing apart fish, but to trap them inside their mouths.

Male football fish, on the other hand, are not so intimidating. They act as parasites, attaching themselves onto the much larger female to gain nutrition. They then impregnate the female before eventually dying – charming.

Understandably, local environmentalists are concerned. They’ve quickly asked the question on everyone else’s minds: why is this fish, usually only found at ocean depths of 3,300 feet suddenly coming up for air?

Could it be the upwards of 14m tonnes of plastic that has ended up at the bottom of the ocean? Or perhaps increasing ocean acidification levels which are causing their normal environments to become unliveable – even at its deepest regions?

Scientists have noted that they don’t believe the species is under any real threat. They point out that if this was the case, it would likely result in hundreds more of the fish appearing onshore.

Further scientific investigation will be needed to draw up official conclusions. So far, the latest specimen was in perfect condition when it washed up.

All other football fishes that have washed up have had empty stomachs, but the latest appearance had one full of sand.

I’m certainly keen on trusting the science (or accepting this could be a freak accident), but if anyone needed a reminder to get our act together when it comes to ocean pollution and acidification, it’s worth viewing this as a clear – and frightening – message no one can ignore.