With an estimated one million species of animal living in the ocean, the diversity of ocean life is truly amazing! While most of us might think about sea turtles, dolphins or the biggest sea creature of all, the blue whale, as our favourite underwater wonder, not every species in the ocean is quite so… photogenic. Most of the spookiest sea creatures live deep beneath the ocean surface, where the sunlight barely reaches. This environment houses some of the most interesting and ugliest(!) animals that have only recently been discovered by scientists due to the remarkable conditions where they exist and thrive.
This spooky season, we want to share with you some of the spookiest sea creatures! Be brave and dive into our top ten list!
Coffinfish, colloquially known around Australia (where they are most commonly found) as Sea Toads, are benthic (bottom-dwelling) fish with the ability to use their fins to walk along the seafloor! They are ambush predators, whose facial expressions typically look really sad, because of the shape of their mouths. However, they are able to inflate their body with water which allows them to hold their breath for up to four minutes!! This is supposedly so that they can conserve energy when food on the ocean floor is scarce. And when they do… they look kind of like a cute balloon?!
(Photo credit: National Geographic)
9. Sarcastic Fringehead
Although completely harmless to humans unless provoked (they have been known to threaten scuba divers who get too close…), the Sarcastic Fringehead is well known for opening its huge mouth to fend off other ocean-dwelling critters when provoked or agitated. They live in burrows or tube-like structures created by other animals, such as burrowing clams or snail shells. Their specifically-designed jaws fan out to the side when they open their mouths, which makes them appear much larger and more intimidating. If one Sarcastic Fringehead challenges another, the two will “kiss” by aggressively pressing their open mouths against each other until one finally gives up and swims away!
This deep sea fish is transparent and has the ability to move its eyes 360 degrees so they can see what’s going on (and what’s for dinner) even when it’s behind them! Scientists only fully discovered this species in 2009, when they identified that their eyes can fully rotate inside of their head. Another quirky trait of the Barreleye is that it engulfs its prey fully! The Barreleye, like many species on this spooky list, lives deep in the ocean where there is hardly any light, so their specially designed eyes allow them to see even in almost complete darkness.
7. Vampire Squid
Unlike other squid (which can be surprisingly aggressive as tiny sea critters go!), Vampire Squid are surprisingly docile (no, they don’t suck the blood of their prey!). Vampire Squid actually feast mainly on “marine snow”, decaying organic material that falls down to the ocean floor. The spookiest feature of the Vampire Squid is its strange appearance, notably it’s umbrella-like tentacles!
6. Goblin Shark
You guessed it, these guys are ugly. Nonetheless, they use their impressive ugliness to their advantage; they use their elongated, flattened snout to seek out their prey with specialized sensing organs to sense electric fields in the darkness of the deep ocean, and they can extend their jaw the entire length of their snout to catch their prey (mainly squid, fish and crustaceans) with their 50 thin, sharp teeth! Thankfully they only grow to be 8-11 inches long!
(Photo credit: Diane Bray, Museum Victoria)
5. Northern Stargazer
Only found in the eastern United States, this frightening fish burrows itself in the sand to camouflage and can use its side fins as shovels to quickly burrow and hide beneath the sand. When unsuspecting prey comes near, the stargazer has a special organ on its head that can deliver an electric shock that stuns and confuses the prey and electrically shocks it into submission. Seems like not only is this guy pretty painful to look at, but might be pretty painful to encounter on the bottom of the ocean...
(Photo: Huffington Post)
4. Deep Sea Anglerfish
Yet another deep-sea carnivore, this anglerfish, also known as the humpback anglerfish, has to be one of the ugliest and spookiest creatures on the planet! Most famous for the bioluminescent growth on their heads, which lures their prey towards them, and to their death, deep in the darkness of the ocean. This lure is filled with bacteria, which the fish use to make their own light. They use a muscular flap of skin to either expose or hide the glowing lure. Pulsing the light and slowly moving it back and forth attracts all kinds of prey. Creepy, right? Not to mention their razor sharp, translucent teeth and their dead-looking eyes...
3. “Flying Spaghetti Monster” Bathyphysa conifer
Belonging to the Siphonophores, a group of animals including corals and jellyfish, is probably one of the weirdest creatures floating around in the ocean; first captured on video by oil and gas workers in 2015, at around 1220m depth. It has been nicknamed the “flying spaghetti monster” for its white, noodle-like appearance. Perhaps the quirkiest fact about these guys is that Siphonophores actually clone themselves in order to grow! Instead of a single body, one siphonophore is a whole tightly knit colony of many organisms, sometimes several thousands!
(Photo: National Oceanography Centre)
2. Skeletal Jellyfish
Also known as the crystal jellyfish, this ghostly, translucent critter can give off a green-blue glow when provoked or disturbed, due to the 100 or more tiny, light-producing organs that surround its outer bell. Glow in the dark and a skeleton costume? This guy is permanently embracing spooky season down there on the ocean floor!
(Photo: Hiroya Minakuchi)
1. Ghost Fish
Perhaps not as terrifying as some of the others, but by far my favourite spooky sea creature is this little guy; the ghost fish! Spotted alive and swimming for the very first time by a team of NOAA research scientists in 2016, we are still learning all about the ghost fish, which was seen swimming in the Mariana Trench at around 2500 m depth!! With translucent, scale-less skin and small colourless eyes, the ghost fish is undeniably bizarre and gives me perfect spooky season vibes!
(Photo: Weather Channel)