Intact specimen of a deep water Angler fish (Melaocetus johnsoni) from the aquarium at the cod-end
Destroyed specimen of an Angler fish
The strange-looking Sunfish (Mola mola) relaxing at the surface in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Date:June 25, 2004
Author: Leif Nųttestad and Olav Rune Godų, Institute of Marine Research
The last journey of the Anglerfish Big Mouth Billy
We normally characterize deep-living fish species as fragile and soft animals. It is in fact a great challenge for the scientists to get alive and intact animals from the deep ocean to the surface. Most of them will unfortunately die on their way to the surface. They are more or less damaged, sometimes to the unrecognisable. The aquarium cod-end has been a success in keeping animals alive and in good condition. This is not a trivial task.
The deep-living organisms are mostly black in colouration to be invisible in the deep. Some of these peculiar fish species have big blue or green eyes, gigantic mouth compared to the rest of their body, scary teeth and a spectre of tiny light organs arranged as a Christmas decoration, in order to hide themselves for dangerous enemies or attract stupid easily fooled deep-living animals for dinner.
When we watch a trawl catch on deck after a deep, dark and long tow on G.O.Sars, it is absolutely incredible to see the fighting spirit and survival instinct of some fish, cephalopod and plankton species (see video) living down at 3000 m. Imagine yourself as the deep dwelling anglerfish Big Mouth Billy, swimming and eating at 3000 m depth in the blue ocean along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge far away from any dry land. Down here it is pitch dark, cold, neither Internet connection nor any European championship in football, and you experience an incredible pressure squeezing on your shoulders due to the large depth. Suddenly you realise a huge Egersund trawl entirely surrounds you. Unfortunately, you are stuck inside the trawl net, feel scared and cannot escape. The last dangerous journey of your life has begun. Due to the fast speed of the trawl driven by the vessel through the water compared to your swimming speed, you end up deeper and deeper into this huge trawl, where the meshes becomes smaller and smaller. After some minutes in this mystery place you find yourself at the end of the trawl normally called cod-end but you call it angler-end. On your last journey into this trawl, thousands of your nice friends and ugly enemies are entangled in thousands of meshes surrounding you inside the trawl. Suddenly, a new surprise emerges. An aquarium made of aluminium appears in front of your eyes and you are guided in there by a low current. Inside the aquarium down at 3000 m things are quite all right. You are still alive and kicking. The water is calm inside here with much less water movement and turbulence here than outside the aquarium. You join species you have not met before in your life on the way up to the surface, which have also taken their last trip without knowing that of course. One hour later you are steadily moved 3000 m up the water column. The pressure decreases enormously from nearly 300 bar to only 1 bar, the light intensity increases dramatically, so you need dark sunglasses, and the water temperature rises from 4°C to 15°C. Welcome to the sub-tropics. You see the ocean surface, waves, sun, clouds, sky, rain and birds for the first and last time. Then you see the aft part of G.O.Sars with your big eyes and wonder what kind of monster that is. The trawl comes up on deck and you feel seasick because of all the movements in the aquarium. Creatures called Homo sapiens look at you with wonder and take pictures of you with flashlight, not very different from your own light organs. Some gentle human hands take you up from the aquarium filled with water and bring you over to a bucket of warm water. For a moment you are transported from saline ocean water to fresh Atlantic air with too much oxygen. You cannot breath properly in air since you are a fish. That is not funny. Then they transport you to another aquarium with walls of glass and cold pleasant water that you are used to, although with too much light and far too little pressure. You like to live under great pressure all the time. Suddenly a huge camera with more light appears right in front of your face. What is this? It is the Norwegian Broadcasting Cooperation, called NRK, popping up and filming you so all the Homo sapiens can watch you on television. You become a famous fish star. Shortly after you die, due to all the exhausting transportation, low pressure and human cruelty. Depending on how famous you become you will eventually end up in one of these categories:
· With permanent hangover in 96% ethanol (alcohol) on a dry ship
· With eternal life in 4% formalin solution
· At the Natural History Museum in Bergen, Norway
The incredible is that a few animals brought from these great depths inside the aquarium are really alive, swimming apparently like nothing has happened to them. Who call these fish species fragile and soft cowards? A few species are tough as Tarzan and survive the most incredible human treatment. Remember yesterdays coffee cups after a journey to 3000m. Imagine yourself on the same trip ---.
As lightening from a clear blue sky we received an enthusiastic message from the bridge this afternoon that they were observing a strange looking fish at the surface. We rushing on deck and to our big surprise we saw a 1 m long sunfish (Mola mola) swimming very close to the ship. He or she was probably sunbathing before a new feeding trip for delicious jellyfish, their favourite food. This was naturally the highlight of the day.