The gulper eel is one of those classic deep sea fish we’ve seen illustrated in photographs and even kid’s books so many times, many of us could sketch out its appearance from memory. But as it turns out, the Gulper Eel’s gigantic maw exists as more than just an inescapable trap for prey.
On the end of a recent dive in the Papahanaumokuakea Mairne National Monument near Hawaii, the EV Nautilus deep sea submersible encountered a rather strange sight. Looking more or less like a giant tadpole, this dark black fish was not much more than a black balloon with a long tapering tail. Upon approaching this bizarre fish the ‘black tadpole’ proceeded to gulp even more water to make itself appear even larger, after which point it deflated completely into the familiar sight of a gulper eel.
This encounter and the observation of the dramatic transformation of the gulper eel from its inflated state to normal swimming shape highlights the need to study creatures alive. Sure we can classify animals based off dead specimens in jars but the real fascination comes from seeing these animals alive, witnessing their natural behavior either in nature or in aquariums.