Cannibal lancet washes up on California beach, first preserved since 1996

By Lauren M. Johnson and Noah Sheidlower | CNN

Swimmers discovered A 4-foot lancetfish washed ashore near the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego on Tuesday. While not particularly rare, researchers noted that it was the first lancetfish kept by the institution since 1996, and only the 17th kept on a San Diego beach since 1947.

The discovery comes just a week after a Pacific footballerfish – a much rarer deep-sea anglerfish than the lancetfish – washed ashore about three miles away on Black’s Beach.

The fish, whose catalog name is SIO 21-37, is the newest addition to SIO’s vertebrate collection. Director Ben Frable told CNN the fish was found alive in La Jolla Shores but did not survive once on land. She had been “bombarded by seagulls,” according to Frable. SIO 21-37, however, will be preserved for perhaps hundreds of years.

Frable suspects the fish could have landed on the beach for a number of reasons, including running away from a predator or getting caught in a current and not being strong enough to swim.

Lancets are known for their huge eyes, fanged jaws and slippery bodies, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Lancets, which are hermaphrodites, animals with both reproductive organs, are notorious cannibals that also feed on other fish and invertebrates. The fish can grow to over 7 feet in length and barely digest its food.

But Frable confirms that cannibalism isn’t as taboo in the world of fish as it seems.

“So they have quite a varied diet, but other lancets seem to be quite popular. But what’s really interesting is that the other lancetfish don’t really show up in their diet until the fish are about 3 feet long,” he said.

Frable said little is known about lancets and this particular behavior because they are not easily observed at lower depths, even though they are found in every ocean in the world. The lab took tissue samples that could be used to determine genetics and other data.

“From a research perspective, lancets help open a window into the open ocean food web,” Frable said. “It is therefore extremely important to be able to learn more about how nitrogen and carbon move in the deep sea and what this could mean for interactions on a global scale.”

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