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Regional Interests

A Pacific Football Fish Just Arrived in California, and Now is the Time to Leave California

I don’t want to be dramatic. Actually, scratch that—yes, I do. Because this isn’t KQED Science, it’s KQED Arts and Culture. And some of us over here (mostly me) are not equipped for the moment when aqua monsters climb 3,000 feet out of their natural, deep sea habitats and lie dead on the shoreline in front of God and everyone.

That’s what happened earlier this month on the shores of Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County, when this thing showed up.

Is that a creepy arm growing out of your head, or are you just happy to see me? (Facebook/ @crystalcovestateparkofficial)

If it were up to me, we’d be calling it a Toothy Terror Dome. Or an Armed Piranha, on account of that appendage sticking out of its head. Someone on Facebook suggested “Nope Fish,” which I’d settle for too. But no. According to Crystal Cove State Park’s very calm Facebook page, this razor-faced death pod is “most likely” called a Pacific Football Fish. And it’s apparently part of the Anglerfish family, which contains 200 species. (Not a Thanksgiving table I’d want to visit, thanks.)

The Crystal Cove boffins say that the demon disc is a tricky little so-and-so, and uses that arm dangler to lure other creatures to their murky deaths. The “stalk on the head [has] bioluminescent tips,” Crystal Cove says, “used to entice prey in the darkness of waters.” As for the foolish creatures that end up falling for that whole source-of-light ruse? Why, they get gobbled up by “teeth, like pointed shards of glass, [that] are transparent.”

Cool.

In a statement that is in no way comforting, Crystal Cove State Park explains that these malevolent meal seekers have mouths that are “capable of sucking up and swallowing prey the size of their own body.” And that body, dear reader, can measure as much as 24 inches long. So, this fish could potentially eat a chihuahua. Or a small raccoon. Or a small otter. Or a small possum. Just, all of the cute things, basically.

It’s not quite as bad from this angle—but it’s still not great, huh? (Facebook/ @crystalcovestateparkofficial)

The staff at Crystal Cove State Park very quickly surmised that the demon disc is a female. They know this because apparently the males only grow to about an inch long. Which sounds almost cute, until you find out that they “latch onto the female with their teeth and become sexual parasites, eventually coalescing with the female until nothing is left of their form but their testes for reproduction.”

Cool.

Taking an unfeasibly optimistic approach, Crystal Cove State Park tried to end Facebook post on a high note without giving us all nightmares. “Seeing this strange and fascinating fish is a testament to the diversity of marine life lurking below the water’s surface in California’s MPAs [marine protected areas],” it said. “And as scientists continue to learn more about these deep sea creatures, it’s important to reflect on how much is still to be learned from our wonderful ocean.”

K. But, you know, it’s also important to reflect on never ever going into that ocean ever again.

Sweet dreams, everybody!

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