Scientists Find Creepy 'Lizardfish' Lurking Off Coast of Carolinas


Early 20th-century author H.P. Lovecraft earned a place in literary history with his weird combination of science and scares. The New England-based writer had a knack for describing, say, astronomy in one breath and some utterly terrible monster in the next.

Do you know what frightened Lovecraft the most, though? It wasn’t the endlessness of space or worries about mankind’s ultimate purpose, although those things bothered him.

Rather, Lovecraft trembled at the thought of open water stretching from horizon to horizon. “Ocean is more ancient than the mountains, and freighted with the memories and the dreams of Time,” he wrote.

After seeing what a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Exploration and Research team has found off the coast of the Carolinas, I can understand that fear. Scaly horrors swim beneath us — and we hardly know anything about them.

On June 13, the NOAA vessel Okeanos Explorer left Charleston, South Carolina. Its goal was to capture detailed mapping data of the deepwater areas off of the United States coast.

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And it did collect data, no doubt about it. Yet the expedition also ran into some rarely seen critters that you might think imaginary if you hadn’t seen a picture of them.

The expedition encountered one of the ocean’s simultaneously most bizarre and terrifying creatures on July 1. At a depth of 5,810 feet, the camera’s light casting an eerie, blue fluorescence.

The picture shows a small fish with delicately feathered fins, scales that resemble those of an iguana and a nightmare-inducing visage. Flat, button-like eyes punctuate a spiny maw that looks as though it could strip skin away with the barest twitch of its jaws.

What’s more, the animal gets even odder the more you learn about it. For instance, every member of the species possesses a set of genitals for both sexes, meaning its always able to reproduce with another lizardfish.

That wasn’t the only bizarre creature the Exploration and Research team found. They ran across a potential colonial hydroid, a relative of a jellyfish that often looks more like a plant.

Despite their appearance, hydroids are carnivorous. This particular pink-and-purple hydroid boasted a set of whip-like lashes clustered around a cluster of bright magenta polyps.

A dive on June 29 revealed “an unidentified fish … seen in a burrow,” its protruding jaw set in a seeming grimace. Think back to some of the aliens that appeared in Jabba the Hutt’s palace in the 1983 movie “Return of the Jedi,” and you have a pretty good idea of what this one looks like.

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Instead of donning scuba gear to secure sightings of these amazing creatures, the research team used a remotely operated vehicle.

The expedition involved more than just the individuals on the Okeanos Explorer. More than 130 people participated through remote conferencing.

They also found a mysterious shipwreck near the North Carolina coast, its wreckage some 7,000 down. No known record exists as to its identity.

According to NOAA, it’s no wonder. “Though the East Coast is home to millions of Americans, … the deep water areas offshore Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina are some of the least explored areas along the U.S. East Coast.”

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A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine.
A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine. Most days find him crafting copy for corporate and small-business clients, but he also occasionally indulges in creative writing. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. Loren currently lives in south Florida with his wife and three children.
Wheaton College
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