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

Deep-Sea Mission Nets a Fish With No Face

Original image
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.”

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A black-and-white image of a newly discovered faceless fish.
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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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A black-and-white image of a newly discovered faceless fish.
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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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