The abyssal waters of the deep sea are rife with terrors and spooky fish. It’s extremely on brand that an elusive sea monster would call this dark ravine home, swirling around in an eternal quest to prove it’s NOT A PHASE, MOM.
This deep-sea dweller is colloquially known as the cusk eel, which is used to describe a family of over 200 fish called Ophidiidae. Despite their nickname, cusks aren’t eels at all, though they do resemble a snake or watery demon.
In a dive into the waters around Johnston Atoll near Hawaii this month, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Okeanos Explorer encountered a couple of cusk eels frolicking in the deep. According to Bruce Mundy, a Fishery Biologist at the NOAA Fisheries Service Honolulu Laboratory, these kinds of cusks come from the genus Lamprogrammus, and mainly reside in circumtropical waters.
“We know that these are Lamprogrammus because of the large and rounded head, the thick body, the very dark color, and the large, obvious sensory pores in large scales along the upper side of the body,” Mundy told Gizmodo. “Almost nothing is known about the biology of these fishes. Like other deep-living cusk-eels, they are carnivores (there are no plants at the depths where they live) that probably eat epibenthic polychaetes, isopods. amphipods, and shrimp.”
Like other deep sea creatures, most species of cusk eels are tragically understudied. We do know that some of them can live at impressive depths—the record for deepest-living fish ever collected is still held by a cusk eel found in the Puerto Rico trench at 8,370 meters (27,460 feet).
Obviously, it gets really dark down there, so cusk eels have to sense the vibration of their prey for hunting. Having eyesight isn’t terribly helpful in the deep sea, which is why some cusks have their eyes hidden beneath a layer of skin.
The cusk eel might not be the most conventionally beautiful fish, but it wouldn’t want to be, anyway. Cusks are fiercely weird, and if that doesn’t fit into your conformist fish narrative then so be it.