Strange fish surprises UW professor who discovered it

When it comes to weird fish, Ted Pietsch, a UW professor of aquatic and fishery sciences and curator of fishes at the Burke Museum, has seen it all. But the creature discovered early last year off Ambon Island, in the Indonesian archipelago, surprised even him.

The fish in question has a flat face and eyes on the front of its head, apparently giving it binocular vision like humans—an extreme rarity among fish. Instead of swimming, it uses its leg-like fins to push off the bottom and moon-bounce along the sea floor. When it does so, an off-kilter tail sends it careening in unpredictable directions, like a blob of drunk flubber. And the fish’s wavy stripes of aqua, white and brilliant peach are frankly trippy. Pietsch acknowledged as much when he gave the fish its scientific name, Histiophryne psychedelica.

Despite its flashy—even lurid—appearance, the fish is secretive, wedging its gelatinous body into tight crevices in the coral. UW graduate student Rachel Arnold, who collected a specimen (and also carried out the DNA analysis confirming that it is a distinct species), told The Seattle Times that the fish was “shy.”

So shy, in fact, that no one has seen the new species since sometime last year. It may have moved to deeper water, but scientists aren’t sure why. Pietsch, meanwhile, has moved on to investigating “a new ‘something’ from off Sydney, Australia.” Perhaps he still hasn’t seen it all.