Monterey Bay

A Fish With a Transparent Head Was Seen Near Monterey

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute has encountered the "deep-dwelling" barreleye fish just nine times, most recently in early December.

© 2021 MBARI

What to Know

  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute team experienced the sighting while submerged at 650 meters in Monterey Canyon
  • The fish, which is described as "deep-dwelling," was not collected by the team, which was looking for deep sea jellies for a future exhibit
  • The barreleye, which grows to around six inches in length, "can see through its own forehead," per the aquarium

YOUR MANY TALENTS? They're surely plentiful. You might be able to sing splendidly, or draw with ease, or perhaps you have a way with baking. But one skill you likely cannot list, much like every human ever, is the ability to see through your own forehead. And yet there is an earthling that is known for that exact skill, due to the fact that this amazing being boasts, and we'll pause here for dramatic build-up, a transparent head. It's the barreleye fish, a "deep-dwelling" critter that makes its presence known to humans very, very infrequently. How infrequently? Aquarists with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have spied a barreleye just nine times, mostly around the bay, including the most recent sighting in early December 2021.

BEAUTIFUL BARRELEYE: The wee wonder is described by the Cannery Row institution as "incredibly elusive," a fish that " lives in the ocean's twilight zone, at depths of 2,000 to 2,600 feet." The aquarists recently had an unforgettable encounter with the barreleye while on the search for deep sea jellies in Monterey Submarine Canyon, animals that will be included in "Into the Deep," an exhibit scheduled to open in 2022 at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The barreleye was not collected, do note, so you won't see it at the aquarium, but video taken during the surprise meeting should give fans of deep-dwelling fishes plenty of thrills.

MONTEREY SUBMARINE CANYON... is located within Monterey Bay, an area known for an abundant amount of aquatic animal and plant life. Thomas Knowles, senior aquarist for the institute, described the moment when the barreleye first appeared: "We were cruising with the ROV at 650m in the Monterey Submarine Canyon searching deep sea jellies and other midwater animals to collect for our upcoming deep sea exhibit. The barreleye first appeared very small out in the blue distance, but I immediately knew what I was looking at. It couldn't be mistaken for anything else. As we slowly approached it, excitement grew in the control room as everyone began to realize what we had found."

THE EXCITEMENT BUILDS: "We all knew that this was likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The excitement was high, but we knew that we had to focus and make the most of our opportunity to observe this rarely seen animal in its natural habitat. The ROV Pilot, Knute Brekke, did a great job keeping the ROV perfectly positioned on the animal. Being seated in the main science chair, it was my job to keep the camera in focus with the proper brightness and zoom." The aquarist continues: "The spirit behind 'Into The Deep' is the fascination we feel when we encounter unusual and beautiful animals that are living in a nearly alien world. Our encounter with the barreleye is this in a nutshell. Even the most seasoned professionals were giddy with excitement. Most of the deep sea truly is unexplored territory, and it is still revealing it wonders to us. 'Into The Deep' is about discovering the wonders of our oceans and sharing those wonders with the world."

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