The Story Behind the Elusive Pacific Footballfish

It looks like something out of a science fiction movie. A black blob with nightmarish spiny teeth, small black eyes, and prickly skin. A monster that never sees the light of day, using a bio-luminescent bulb swinging from its head to not only light its path, but also attract prey as well.

The Pacific Footballfish is a bizarre and fascinating deep-sea creature. Because they swim so deep, in the bathypelagic zone, roughly 1,000 to 3,000 feet below the ocean surface, scientists rarely have the chance to examine them closely.

Only 31 specimens have been recovered worldwide.

Oddly enough, in 2021, three Pacific Footballfish were found washed up on beaches in San Diego and Orange counties. Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography were lucky enough to collect, preserve and archive one of these unusual animals.

Though scientists are thrilled at the chance to study these rare specimens, they aren’t entirely sure why these fish are suddenly appearing from the deep.

This specimen, a true oddity, is now on display for a limited time at Birch Aquarium. To see the footballfish and learn more about it, join Scripps Collections Manager, Ben Frable, for a deep dive into the fascinating story of this mysterious fish, where and how it lives, the biology of anglerfishes, and how Scripps scientists are preserving this animal for future research.

Watch The Mysterious Pacific Footballfish.