Lifestyle & Human Interest

Scientists Release Video of Nightmarish 'Gulper Eel' Living Up to Its Name


What creatures inhabit your nightmares? For me, I don’t find malicious clowns or knife-wielding crazies or bitey vampires all that frightening.

But I share a fear with the early 20th century American author H.P. Lovecraft: I don’t like to think about the cold, scaly things that slide through the ocean’s waters.

For what it’s worth, I came by my trepidation honestly. I’ve had more than one nasty encounter with jellyfish, and once a prickled sea urchin left my foot full of spines.

If I’d seen a picture of the gulper eel (Eurypharynx pelecanoides) when I was younger, though, I might’ve chucked my swimsuit in the trash and moved to Nebraska. According to The Student Newspaper, it was first discovered by French zoologist Leon Valliant.

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Valliant truly had an appropriate name, because the gulper eel is a nightmare in the stretchy flesh. Slimy and ink-colored, it has a thin, whip-like tail.

Spines speckle its flexible spine. But the really freakish part is the creature’s oversized jaw.

Roughly 25 percent of the animal’s length, the jaw can expand to almost obscene dimensions. By gulping in water, it bloats into something that looks like a wobbly balloon.

Though not actually particularly large, the gulper eel has the ability to make itself look really big. And despite its name, it’s not really an eel.

It doesn’t have scales, for one thing, and scientists think that it mostly consumes small animals such as shrimp. It also typically shows up in really deep water and has rarely been seen by humans.

What’s more, it also seems to ape the anglerfish’s preferred mode of predation, attracting its meals with the glowing tip of its tail. However, even though we’ve known about the gulper eel for almost 150 years, we don’t, well, know that much about it.

That may change, though, if people have more encounters like those the deep-sea vessel E/V Nautilus had this year. Gizmodo reported that the scientific team has surveyed deep-sea areas since 2008.

This year, the craft has moved through Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Located in the waters around Hawaii, it’s considered the United States’ largest continual fully protected conservation area.

At 582,578 square miles, it’s no wonder that it contains mysteries. And on Sept. 21, the E/V Nautilus discovered a gulper eel.

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You might expect people who’ve studied exotic aquatic life to not be surprised by something like this eel. But the opposite proved true.

“Look at his little face!” one exclaimed. Another added, “It’s kind of like googly eyes!”

Peering at its bulbous balloon shape, yet another said, “I think he ate too much.” A final voice chimed in with, “Looks like a Muppet.”

The E/V Nautilus’ crew may find the gulper eel cute and somewhat silly. For my part, though, I’ll go book a flight to Nebraska.

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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.
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