Happy Halloween Deep Sea Diary readers! Whether you look forward to Halloween for the jump-scares or for the opportunity to dress up as somebody (or something) else, there’s no doubt that this holiday is full of spooky fun.
While you might choose to seek out monsters at a haunted house or by watching a classic horror movie, we at the aquarium know that you don’t need to look any further than the ocean to find them. The ocean is home to a whole graveyard’s worth of creatures who look as scary as they sound, or who practice behaviours that make them ready for Halloween year ‘round.
Let’s dive deeper and take a look!
Brace yourself for this one. The goblin shark is one ugly fish.
The goblin shark is an ancient species of shark identifiable by a flattened snout that juts from the top of its head. Its jaws protrude outward and contain as many as 50 rows of upper teeth and 60 rows of lower teeth.
The goblin shark has a thin body with blood vessels close to the skin, which give it a pink colouration. This is the stuff of nightmares.
Goblin sharks are found globally, at depths between 1,300 and 1,370 metres. They are also known to venture into shallower waters to find prey. Their dietary staples include fish, crustaceans and cephalopods. This slow-moving fish is an ambush predator, meaning it waits patiently for animals to get close before it strikes (easier to do in the murky depths, where it uses electroreception to sense its prey, rather than its small eyes).
Despite its rather sinister name, the coffinfish is…almost cute. This sea toad (part of the Chaunacidae family, which also contains the anglerfish) looks like a pink balloon covered in tiny spines. Coffinfish live between 274 and 305 metres and are found in the southwestern Pacific Ocean.
The coffinfish uses its pectoral fins to “walk” on the ocean floor (be sure check out its relative, the frogfish, in our Curious Creatures exhibit, who do the same thing) and can fill its body with water to enlarge itself when threatened (similar to some species of pufferfish). Like the anglerfish, it uses a small lure on its head to attract prey.
As far as I can tell, coffinfish get their name from the fact that the inside of their mouths are completely black. Scientists don’t know why, but to the unfortunate fish fooled by their lure, it certainly serves as their final resting place.
Safety is paramount on Halloween. If you plan on trick-or-treating in the dark, it’s best for you to carry a flashlight or reflectors with you to help you watch your step and alert cars to your presence.
There’s one species of fish at the aquarium that doesn’t have to worry about that, of course. Flashlight fish, also called lantern-eye fish, are three species of fish in the family Anomalopidae characterized by bioluminescent organs below their eyes.
The flashlight fish’s light is created by bioluminescent bacteria. They can create an on-and-off blinking of this light by covering and uncovering it. Scientists believe that this blinking is a form of communication between fish, and used in the detection of prey.
Be sure to swim by and check out the flashlight fish at the aquarium in our Curious Creatures exhibition!
Ah, the vampire squid, or Vampyroteuthis infernalis, whose Latin name translates to “infernal vampire from Hell.” Kind of intense. Originally mistaken for a new species of octopus in 1903, the vampire squid is an ancient species of cephalopod that strangely shares characteristics with both squids and octopodes.
The vampire squid has large fins at the top of its body that resemble ear flaps, but which serve as its primary means of propulsion through the water. Although they grow to only one foot, the vampire squid has the largest eyes relative to its body size of any animal. Depending on the light, these eyes can appear blue…or glowing red!
The vampire squid’s eight arms are connected by a web of skin, which looks like a long cape trailing behind it. When the squid is threatened it can draw its arms over its head to form a spiny defensive web that covers its body.
Using light-producing cells called photophores, the vampire squid can illuminate to create patterns that attract prey or frighten predators. This is similar to other cephalopods, who use chromatophores to change colour, but which would be useless in the dark, deep waters where vampire squid live. The vampire squid also lacks the ink sack used as a defense mechanism by other cephalopods, and can instead eject a cloud of bioluminescent (glowing) mucus from the tips of its arms when threatened.
What are you dressing up as this year? Regardless, you’d be hard-pressed to win a costume contest against a decorator crab.
Decorator crabs are a group of crabs belonging to the family Majoidea that collect and use materials from their environment to hide and protect themselves from predators. They stick sedentary animals (animals that don’t move) and plants to the hooks covering their bodies to help them camouflage, and even use venomous decorations such as anemones to ward off predators.
Talk about DIY – everything from algae to seaweed to shells to gravel is fair game when it comes to decorating their shells!
Decorator crabs live in intertidal zones (an area that is underwater at high tide and dry at low tide) and can be found here at the aquarium in our Canadian Waters gallery.
Thanks for joining us in this exploration of Halloween-y sea creatures. Here’s a spooky joke for you:
Q: Why wasn’t there any food left after the deep sea party?
A: Because everyone was a goblin (shark)!
Goblin Shark (http://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/3254)
Vampire Squid (https://www.mbari.org/dream-team-of-scientists-and-aquarists-gives-public-first-view-of-a-live-vampire-squid-and-other-deep-sea-cephalopods/)
- Australian Museum. (2010, January 05). Retrieved October 12, 2018, from https://australianmuseum.net.au/decorator-crab
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2018, January 04). Flashlight fish. Retrieved October 12, 2018, from https://www.britannica.com/animal/flashlight-fish
- Jordan, V. (2018, April 05). Mitsukurina owstoni. Retrieved October 12, 2018, from https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/mitsukurina-owstoni/
- Knight, J. (n.d.). Vampire Squid. Retrieved October 12, 2018, from http://www.seasky.org/deep-sea/vampire-squid.html
- Sain, T., Sr. (2018, August 21). Coffinfish l Amazing Living Balloon. Retrieved October 12, 2018, from https://www.ourbreathingplanet.com/coffinfish/