Story last updated at 10/30/2013 - 6:54 pm
By Julie Speegle
NOAA Fisheries Juneau
Here’s a fish you wouldn’t want to meet in the dark — the Pacific viperfish. The viperfish has long, fanglike teeth that other fish can’t see in the dark depths of the ocean. Consequently, the viperfish mouth becomes an unseen trap. Because this deep-sea, predatory fish has a hinged lower jaw, it has the ability to swallow large prey. Viperfish are iridescent dark silver-blue with pale fins or grayish with blue fins.
Size: Up to 47 inches; 33 pounds.
Depth: In daytime, from 656–16,500 feet.; at night it swims up into shallower depths where food is more plentiful.
Diet: Mainly crustaceans and small fish.
Range: Pacific coast from California to the Chukchi Sea.
With four pairs of strong canines on each jaw, the Bering wolffish is another toothy sea creature that might startle anglers who find one on the end their line. The wolffish has an elongate and laterally compressed body, a steep snout, and long, canine teeth that protrude out past the tips of the jaws. It is dark brown with some slight blotching.
Size: Up to 46 inches; 33 pounds.
Depth: Shallow, inshore locations.
Diet: Crabs and mollusks.
Range: Inconsistent distribution from Alaska, the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean, to the Sea of Okhotsk and Hokkaido, Japan.
Giant Blob Sculpin
The ghoulish Blob Sculpin is a species of deep-sea fish that looks like it needs some cheering up, but you wouldn’t want to get too close because they have spikes on their scales to protect them from intruders. The down-turned countenance is due to extremely low muscle tone, which is typical in many deep sea species. Blob sculpins are largely sedentary, content to spend much of their time waiting for food to come to them.
Size: Up to 27 inches; 21 pounds.
Depth: Very deep waters, 2,700–9,000 feet.
Diet: Mainly crustaceans, mollusks, and sea urchins
Range: Found off the Pacific coast of the U.S. from Southern California north to the Bering Sea, and off the coast of Japan.
How would you react to a glowing hatchet coming toward you? The hatchetfish is aptly named because their extremely thin bodies really do resemble the blade of a hatchet. These fish are bioluminescent — meaning they have the ability to create their own light much like a firefly. Hatchetfish have large, tubular eyes that point upward and can focus close up or far away. This enables them to search for food falling from the above. They should not be confused with the freshwater hatchetfish commonly seen in home aquariums.
Size: Up to 6 inches in length.
Depth: 600-4,500 feet.
Diet: Plankton, crustaceans and tiny fish.
Range: Found in oceans and seas around the world with largest populations in the waters of South and Central America.
Sometimes called a ghostfish, the giant wrymouth is an eel-like fish with a broad head that is flat on top and a low, spiny dorsal fin that runs along the entire back. This species has small eyes that lie near the top of its big head. The mouth slants sharply above a ponderous lower jaw and the upper jaw extends past the eye. The body is pale reddish brown with rows of dark blotches that are tinged with yellow and violet. The dorsal and anal fins also show spots.
Size: Up to 5 feet in length.
Depth: Shallow waters, 20-630 feet.
Diet: amphipods, polychaete worms and the occasional small fish.
Range: From the Bering Sea to Humboldt Bay, Calif.
Wolf eels are not actually true eels, but classified in the same family as wolffishes. You might find them lurking in caves and rock shelters in shallower waters. Although they can appear curious and friendly, they have powerful, crushing jaws that could inflict great pain. They use those jaws and big canine teeth that for crushing shelled invertebrates, their main diet. They are gray in color, with dark individualized patterns of spots on their bodies.
Size: Up to 6 feet in length.
Diet: Invertebrates such as crabs, sand dollars, and snails.
Depth: Zero to 700 feet.
Range: Aleutian Islands, Alaska to Imperial Beach in southern San Diego County.
The smooth lumpsucker gets the “smooth” part of its name because it has no scales on its body; the"sucker" moniker comes from the sucking disc on its bellyside, which it can use to stick to surfaces like rocks. Lumpsuckers are poor swimmers.
Size: 2-41 centimeters.
Diet: Invertebrates such as polychaete worms, crustaceans and mollusks.
Depth: Zero to 5,500 feet.
Range: Cold water oceans, including the Arctic, North Pacific, and North Atlantic.
If you have a fear of snakes, you probably wouldn’t like lampreys either — especially if you get a close-up look at a lamprey mouth, which is jawless, has small teeth, and sucking capabilities. Some species of lampreys use their mouths to dig into the flesh of other fish and suck their blood, but most species of lampreys are not parasitic. Although they are sometimes called lamprey eels, they are considered a fish. Lampreys are considered to be among the most primitive of living vertebrates. They are anadromous — they spawn in freshwater just as salmon do. Lampreys are edible, and you can find recipes for lamprey pie on the Internet.
Size: 5 to 47 inches.
Diet: Adult lamprey in the ocean to attach to the side of fish and to hold on while rasping a hole in the side of its prey and feeding on its body fluids and tissues.
Depth: Varies depending on life stage.
Range: Worldwide distribution in coastal waters in temperate regions.
The Salmon shark is an apex predator closely related to great white sharks. A strong swimmer, it has a wide tail that has a double keel that is unusual among sharks. It can swim at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. With its large teeth, salmon sharks are thought to be capable of injuring humans, but there have been few, if any, occurrences. Found from continental offshore waters to inshore, just off beaches.
Size: Up to 10 feet.; 660 pounds.
Diet: Salmon, squid, sablefish, herring, walleye pollock, and a variety of other fish, as well as sea otters and shorebirds.
Depth: Zero to 500 feet.
Range: Across the North Pacific from the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk to the Sea of Japan in the western Pacific, and from the Gulf of Alaska to southern Baja California.