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Natural World

Weird shapeshifting fish spotted off California

August 15, 2021 | Comment icon 10 comments

A female whalefish. Image Credit: Twitter / MBARI
Scientists have captured very rare footage of a particularly unusual type of fish off the coast of California.
Known as a whalefish, this incredibly rare and elusive species - which was first discovered in 1895 - was spotted recently around 6,000ft beneath the waters of Monterey Bay by marine biologists from The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

It is so rare, that in the last 34 years, researchers at the institute have only seen one 18 times.

"Whalefish have rarely been seen alive in the deep, so many mysteries remain regarding these remarkable fish," the institue wrote in a Tweet.
"With each deep-sea dive, we uncover more mysteries and solve others."

The whalefish (of the order Cetomimiformes) is particularly unusual because throughout its life, it can appear as three distinct forms, thus making it seem like three separate species of fish.

All whalefish start out life as a tapetail - a scaleless larval form with a long, streamer-like tail.

If it is male, it then turns into a bignose - an unrecognisable form with a much smaller mouth. If it is female, the fish instead grows exponentially in size and exhibits bright orange coloration.

These changes are so dramatic that, for years, nobody even knew that they were the same species.

Source: Live Science | Comments (10)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by ouija ouija 2 months ago
'Shapeshifting'?! They're just describing the natural development of young fish into either male or female! What a con! 
Comment icon #2 Posted by Saru 2 months ago
"Shapeshifting" means to change form, which is exactly what this particular species of fish does.
Comment icon #3 Posted by jethrofloyd 2 months ago
"Shapeshifting" / Metamorphosis are not so uncommon in the animal kingdom. e.g:      
Comment icon #4 Posted by ouija ouija 2 months ago
Sorry, Saru, but I have to disagree . The word shapeshifting applies to mythical human beings that have the ability to change their shape at will, in an instant. What is being described in the link is a creature which develops one way if it is male and all the males take on the same shape and certainly can't alter it at will to any shape they choose! Same applies to the females.
Comment icon #5 Posted by jolko 2 months ago
Ok I know i'm an idiot but, Isn't this not just like amphibians, different when young compared to their adult self with sexual dimorphism, why is it being called a weird shapeshifter?
Comment icon #6 Posted by Saru 2 months ago
You'd need to take it up with the source - numerous major news outlets have also used the term "shapeshifting" in their coverage of this story.
Comment icon #7 Posted by acute 2 months ago
  That was helpful! 
Comment icon #8 Posted by quiXilver 2 months ago
The use of shapeshifting in this context seems misleading.  The fish develops but is not a shapeshifter, once an adult it's settled in one form.   Now... Octopi can be said to be true shapeshifting creatures as their adult form will completely alter shape as conditions dictate.   Using shapeshifter in the title for this creature seems like an attempt to make the article more 'clickable' or intriguing.
Comment icon #9 Posted by jethrofloyd 2 months ago
Comment icon #10 Posted by The Silver Shroud 2 months ago
I'm with you ouija ouija. Lots of species have different looking males and females (birds for example) and almost all creatures change shape and appearance with age (even humans do).

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