It looks like an alien with its pale skin and big yellow eyes but this creature lives not in deep space but in deep ocean … specifically, the Mariana Trench where the water pressure is 16,000 PSI at the bottom, over 6.8 miles deep. Marine biologists knew it was there because dead specimens had been brought to the surface by dredges and fishing trawlers but no one had seen this remarkable fish alive and kicking until now.
“It” is an eel called an Aphyonid. The 4 inch (10 cm) fish is a member of the cusk eel (Ophidiiformes) order but the distinct Aphyonidae family. The eel has no scales, no pigment and no solid structure to its soft form, which is probably needed to withstand that tremendous water pressure.
The live Aphyonid was discovered and recorded by the crew of the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer while guiding a camera-equipped remote-controlled submarine vehicle along a ridge at a depth of 1.5 miles (2.5 km) in the Mariana Trench.
The Aphyonid discovery was verified by researchers, including Dr. Bruce Mundy, a fishery biologist with the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. It was celebrated by many people (both researchers and civilians) watching the live feed from the expedition as well as the millions who have seen the video.
Are there any more undiscovered creatures in the Mariana Trench? Unquestionably. The Okeanos Explorer is part of the Campaign to Address the Pacific monument Science, Technology, and Ocean NEeds (CAPSTONE) mission which is sending expeditions to explore the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and other monuments in and around the trench, an area some say is the last (somewhat) pristine marine ecosystems on Earth.
The Aphyonid isn’t much to look at but looking at it live for the first time at a depth of 1.5 miles definitely something. Let’s hope it doesn’t taste good wrapped in sticky rice.