Deep-Sea Mission Nets a Fish With No Face

A black-and-white image of a newly discovered faceless fish.
A black-and-white image of a newly discovered faceless fish.
Günther (1887) // Public Domain

Deep-sea scientists see some pretty weird things, but nothing comes close to the spooky, blank-headed fish recently hauled up from the abyss. Researchers say the faceless cusk-eel—a kind of bony fish—lives so far into the black depths that luxuries like eyes are superfluous.

The Australian research vessel Investigator has been plumbing the abyss for a month, scooping up all manner of strange beasts, many of which have never been seen before. The mission is pulling out all the stops in its sampling, using sleds, grabbers, cameras, and the largest fishing net ever deployed in the deep sea.

“Abyssal animals have been around for at least 40 million years but until recently only a handful of samples has been collected from Australia’s abyss,” chief scientist Tim O’Hara said in a blog post for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). It’s “a world of jelly and fangs, with miniature monsters gliding up and down waiting for prey.”

The 40-member research team aboard Investigator had, therefore, peered into more than their share of weird faces. But a fish with no face was new to them.

“Everyone was amazed,” one scientist wrote on the Blogging the Abyss website. “We fishos thought we’d hit the jackpot.”

The team flew into research mode, rifling through old research in search of more information. Eel expert John Pogonoski of CSIRO was the first to discover the disappointing, but still fascinating truth: The faceless fish isn’t new at all, but an important part of history.

The first specimens of the faceless cusk-eel (now identified as Typhlonus nasus) were hauled up in 1874 by naturalists aboard the HMS Challenger, the first-ever global deep-sea mission. The Challenger mission was extraordinary in its success, especially given the primitive nature of its instruments, which included miles and miles of piano wire.

“So, it’s not a new species,” admitted the blogging scientist, “but it’s still an incredibly exciting find. It does have eyes—which are apparently visible well beneath the skin in smaller specimens. I doubt they’d be of much use though.”

The Time German and Russian WWI Soldiers Banded Together to Fight Wolves

iStock.com/567185
iStock.com/567185

During the winter of 1917, Russian and German soldiers fighting in the dreary trenches of the Great War’s Eastern Front had a lot to fear: enemy bullets, trench foot, frostbite, countless diseases, shrapnel, bayonets, tanks, sniper fire. Oh, and wolves.

In February of that year, a dispatch from Berlin noted that large packs of wolves were creeping from the forests of Lithuania and Volhynia into the interior of the German Empire, not far from the front lines. Like so many living creatures, the animals had been driven from their homes by the war and were now simply looking for something to eat. “As the beasts are very hungry, they penetrate into the villages and kill calves, sheep, goats, and other livestock,” the report, which appeared in the El Paso Herald, says. “In two cases children have been attacked by them.”

According to another dispatch out of St. Petersburg, the wolves were such a nuisance on the battlefield that they were one of the few things that could bring soldiers from both sides together. “Parties of Russian and German scouts met recently and were hotly engaged in a skirmish when a large pack of wolves dashed on the scene and attacked the wounded,” the report says, according to the Oklahoma City Times. “Hostilities were at once suspended and Germans and Russians instinctively attacked the pack, killing about 50 wolves.” It was an unspoken agreement among snipers that, if the Russians and Germans decided to engage in a collective wolf-hunt, all firing would cease.

Take this July 1917 New York Times report describing how soldiers in the Kovno-Wilna Minsk district (near modern Vilnius, Lithuania) decided to cease hostilities to fight this furry common enemy:

"Poison, rifle fire, hand grenades, and even machine guns were successively tried in attempts to eradicate the nuisance. But all to no avail. The wolves—nowhere to be found quite so large and powerful as in Russia—were desperate in their hunger and regardless of danger. Fresh packs would appear in place of those that were killed by the Russian and German troops.

"As a last resort, the two adversaries, with the consent of their commanders, entered into negotiations for an armistice and joined forces to overcome the wolf plague. For a short time there was peace. And in no haphazard fashion was the task of vanquishing the mutual foe undertaken. The wolves were gradually rounded up, and eventually several hundred of them were killed. The others fled in all directions, making their escape from carnage the like of which they had never encountered."

Afterward, the soldiers presumably returned to their posts and resumed pointing their rifles at a more violent and dangerous enemy—each other.

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