LA JOLLA, Calif. (KGTV) - A rare, deep-sea fish that washed ashore in La Jolla is helping researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography learn more about the food web in the deepest parts of the ocean.
The fish washed up on December 1st, and researchers collected it before the tide pulled the fish back out to sea. This is the 17th time they've gotten a lancetfish that washed ashore, dating back to 1947. They have around 80 more in the collection caught and donated by deep-sea fishermen.
"This is exciting, says Ben Frable, the manager of the Vertebrate Collection at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "(This fish) represents an organism that was at a specific place at a specific time. By preserving that, you can ask all sorts of different questions."
The lancetfish will become part of a study led by Dr. Anela Choy for a decade to look at the stomach contents of lancetfish.
Frable says lancetfish eat anything, and the study will help us understand the food web in the deep sea.
"In the open ocean, lancetfish are a mid-level predator," says Frable. "It's really helpful in that lancetfish have been able to fill in these gaps in our understanding of the open ocean food-web because they're eating things that may be too hard or too fast for us to catch, or things that we just don't encounter that often because they're in the deep sea, way off-shore."
Frable also says this can show how much plastic and micro-plastic is in the deepest parts of the ocean. And studying the fish's tissue, parasites, and metal content can show how the ocean has changed over time by comparing it to the older fish in the collection.
"Each one of these new data points can be very valuable for scientists," he says. "Then, in the future, we may have ways to extrapolate further and ask questions about our changing ocean and what it was like in 2021."
The lancetfish was one of two rare deep-sea fish that washed ashore over the past month. The other, an angler fish, washed back out to sea before being collected.
Frable says seeing two deep-sea fish wash ashore so close to each other is rare. But, he warns, it's too early to know if this was a coincidence or a sign of a bigger problem in the deep ocean.
"It may have something to do with the time of year, or their reproductive cycle, or what they're eating," he says. "Maybe they're feeding closer to shore, and it's easier for them to get washed up on a beach...
"If we see a few more things wash up, maybe we can start to wonder if something is going on here."
In the meantime, officials at Scripps remind people that removing fish and wildlife from the La Jolla area is forbidden since most of the beach is a protected marine habitat.
They say anyone who encounters an unusual animal or fish should alert the lifeguards or notify the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at email@example.com or (858) 534-3624.