A remarkable new sighting: Dragonfish lurk in the dark depths

A remarkable new sighting: Dragonfish lurk in the dark depths

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During a recent expedition aboard our research vessel Western Flyer, MBARI’s science team encountered a beautifully bronze deep-sea dragon. Meet the highfin dragonfish, Bathophilus flemingi. They captured the sighting in stunning ultra high-definititon 4K video!

Dragonfishes are cunning predators in the ocean’s depths. Although they are strong swimmers, they are sit-and-wait predators. They hang motionless in the midwater, lying in wait for small crustaceans and fishes. When a tasty morsel comes close, those big jaws open wide and sharp teeth snap shut.

MBARI researchers have observed a few different dragonfishes in the depths of Monterey Bay, but this one is the rarest we’ve encountered. In more than three decades of deep-sea research and more than 27,600 hours of video, we’ve only seen this particular species four times! We spotted this individual just outside of Monterey Bay at a depth of about 300 meters (980 feet).

Bathophilus flemingi can be up to 16.5 centimeters (6.5 inches) long. Its fins have long, thin rays. Scientists suspect those wing-like filaments may sense vibrations in the water, alerting the fish when predators or prey is approaching. They likely provide stability too and keep the fish from sinking while it lies in wait for food. These dragons don’t have scales—they have smooth, dark skin. Research by MBARI and our collaborators has revealed the pigments in the skin of some deep-sea dragonfishes are some of the blackest blacks found in nature, all the better to camouflage in the ocean’s midnight zone.

Learn more about deep-sea dragonfishes in our Creature feature: https://mbari.co/Dragonfish

Related research:
Davis, A.L., K.N. Thomas, F.E. Goetz, B.H. Robison, S. Johnsen, and K.J. Osborn (2020). Ultra-black camouflage in deep-sea fishes. Current Biology, 30(17): 3470-3476.e3. doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.06.044

Video editor: Kyra Schlining
Production team: Raúl Nava, Nancy Jacobsen Stout, Susan von Thun
Music: Incredible Life on Earth (Motion Array)

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