Professional fisherman Jason Moyce, who goes by the moniker Trapman Bermagui on social media, reeled in the mystery monster off the coast of his Bermagui hometown, about 240 miles south of Sydney. He shared a photo of the beast on social media asking for help identifying it, as both he and the captain of the charter boat had no idea what the fish could be.
It appears a mottled pink-gray, like something out of Stranger Things‘ Upside Down. Its eyes bulge out the sides of its head, and its huge mouth, which takes up most of its face, contains rows of sharp teeth. The fish can be seen to still have the bait fish inside its mouth.
“It was 4kg [8.8lbs] and caught in 540m [1770ft] deep [waters]”, Moyce told Newsweek.
Moyce suggested it could be a blobfish in the caption of his post, with some commenters agreeing. Others put forward other ideas, including monkfish or toadfish.
Blobfish are usually found in deep water, and they deform significantly when they’re exposed to the much lower pressure conditions of sea level. However, they are recognized, and are infamous for, by their flabby “nose” drooping over their mouth, which can’t be seen in the picture, and importantly, they don’t have teeth.
Monkfish in the family Lophius appear to fit the bill slightly better. They have the same large curved mouth as the mystery fish, and have sharp teeth that look similar to the ones in the picture. One major issue to this suggestion is that mostly no species of monkfish have recorded ranges near the east coast of Australia, where the mystery beast was reeled in, although some are natively found in the north Pacific, off China and Japan.
According to James Maclaine, senior fish curator at London’s Natural History Museum, it’s “definitely not a blobfish.”
“That looks to me very much like a monkfish—also known as an anglerfish—from the family Lophiidae“, he told Newsweek. “In fact I’d bet money on it because I’m pretty sure I can see the lure it uses to catch its prey, just between the eyes!”
“[The] specimen looks most like Lophiodes mutilus (the smooth goosefish) to me,” Maclaine said.
Anglerfish usually live up to a mile below the surface, and include 200 species, including goosefish. Their characteristic huge heads, large crescent mouths and sharp teeth match the profile of the mystery fish. Smooth goosefish are bottom dwellers that “walk” over the bottom on their leg-like pectoral fins, ambushing their prey. They are also often found off the Australian coast, and have the same pinkish coloration that the mystery fish does.
While the smooth goosefish is a promising suggestion, what the “ugliest” sea creature truly is, for now, remains a mystery.