Researchers are mystified by a rare deep-sea fish that looks like something out of Tim Burton's 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'



  • The smallspine spookfish is a rare deep-sea creature that has mystified researchers for years. 

  • The deep-sea fish lives 8,500 feet below the surface. 

  • Their snouts can be conical or paddle-shaped and are covered in a series of sensory nerve endings to help them track down prey.


The holidays can be a lonely time for many of us. But if you're in need of some Christmas cheer, don't worry, nature is here for you.

In the dark depths of the ocean 2,600 meters (8,500 feet) below the surface, there lives an ethereally beautiful creature known as a smallspine spookfish (Harriotta haeckeli).

And it just so happens it bears a striking resemblance to the ghostly dog Zero in Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas"— which for some reason is a fact we find oddly comforting.

nightmare before christmas
nightmare before christmas


Historically the species was known from just a few specimens found off the coast of Greenland, the Canary Islands, and New Zealand.

But more recently, a number of sightings have led researchers to suggest that its range is more widespread in super-deep waters — such as this stunning footage captured in December 2013 off the northeast coast of the US.

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This particularly haunting specimen was filmed by the NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program swimming 10 meters above the seafloor in Hydrographer Canyon, which is located 140 kilometers off the coast of Nantucket Island in the US.

This spookfish belongs to the family Rhinochimaeridae, commonly known as long-nosed chimaeras.

Their characteristic elongated snouts can be conical or paddle-shaped, and they're covered in a series of sensory nerve endings to help them track down prey (no Tim Burton-style glowing red nose that we know of though, sorry).



They also have a venomous spine running through their first doral fins, which they use as a defense mechanism.

The smallspine spookfish is one of the smallest known species of long-nosed chimaera, growing to no more than 72 centimeters, whereas the narrownose chimaera (Harriotta raleighana) grows to a very impressive 1.5 meters long.

Practically nothing is known of the smallspine spookfish's biology, ecology, or reproductive behaviors, but current evidence suggests that it's a pretty rare species.

There are no confirmed threats to its population, but the continual growth of deepwater fishing operations around the world could be having a detrimental effect on their numbers.

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