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Watch: Deep-sea anglerfish caught mating in first ever video

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The video shows a female anglerfish looking elegant and majestic with her bioluminescent filaments and fin rays flared up, while the dwarf male is seen clasped tight against her underbelly. This process of a mating pair fusing together is called ‘sexual parasitism’.YouTube screenshot/Rebikoff Foundation
  • The fish couple was observed at a depth of 2,600 ft at Azores, Portugal.
  • Wildlife filmmakers Kirsten and Joachim Jakobsen captured the fascinating sight.
  • The female anglerfish can be seen with her bioluminescent filaments and fins extended.
  • The male is seen clasped on to the female’s underbelly – a mating process biologically referred to sexual parasitism.

Deep-sea anglerfish might look like terrifying creatures with their fang-like teeth, large heads and the majestic, glowing tentacle-like filaments extending from their fins, but turns out their mating process is even more stunning and intimidating.

Until recently, scientists had never actually seen these creatures in the wild, except dead carcasses caught in fishing nets and such, but now, there’s finally a footage capturing anglerfish live and breathing, busy in the process of procreating.

Katie Langin’s report in Science Magazine states that this breathtaking clip was documented by wildlife filmmakers Kirsten and Joachim Jakobsen, a married couple-slash-team, who were out exploring an area near Azores, Portugal, on behalf of the Rebikoff-Niggeler Foundation, when they came across the fish.

The video shows a female anglerfish looking elegant and majestic with her bioluminescent filaments and fin rays flared up, while the dwarf male is seen clasped tight against her underbelly. This process of a mating pair fusing together is called ‘sexual parasitism’.

Biologists refer to the term as a process where the male receives protection and nutrition from the female’s circulatory system, and in return, the female gets a steady supply of term for whenever she’s ready to spawn.

The Jakobsen couple had been investigating the area for a steep deep-sea wall on the south side of São Jorge Island in their Lula1000 submarine when they came across the female anglerfish with her male mate attached to her in the process of mating.

The fish couple was observed at a depth of 2,600 ft when the Jakobsen couple started following them around for about half an hour – filming their movements via the submarine’s 3.5-foot-wide window.

The video was then sent to Ted Pietsch, a deep-sea fish researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, who confirmed the identity of the fish and also the nature of the scene the two were involved in.

“I’ve been studying these [animals] for most of my life and I’ve never seen anything like it,” he told Science Magazine. Before this video, scientists had always known anglerfish mated this way, deduced from recovered dead specimens with the female still having her male attached to the dead body.

But this video was the first ever recorded proof of the weirdly romantic mating ritual that anglerfish seem to have been going on for them.

anglerfish specimen
A specimen of Kroyer’s deep-sea anglerfish, also known as Ceratias holboelli, at “The Deep” exhibition in the Hong Kong Science museum.REUTERS/Victor Fraile

The only thing more fascinating than the process of their mating is probably the female’s filaments and fin rays – flared and protruding outwards – sort of like a shroud around the pair. Gizmodo describes the sight as “a cross between a cat’s whiskers and a spider’s web.”

These filaments are sensors for prospective predators and prey in the water surrounding the anglerfish. When the female detects a prey, she makes a sudden dash in the direction of the target. Which is why, how the male approaches her without getting attacked, is a complete mystery!

Probably the reason why Pietsch said: “So you can see how rare and important this discovery is,” about the video. “It was really a shocker for me.”

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