10 Bizarre Deep Sea Creatures

Everyone loves a dumbo octopus!

NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The dark, cold, high-pressure environment of the deep ocean has created a diversity of marine life with little resemblance to the shallower animals we are much more familiar with. While deep-sea creatures have adapted many different ways to live in the deep ocean — such as light organs, missing eyes, and wild horns — these 10 deep-sea animals all have one thing in common: They are absolutely bizarre.

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Giant Isopod

Giant sea isopod
Joao Paulo Burini / Getty Images

Deep-sea pressure has churned out this massive "giant isopod" — perhaps somewhat literally. The isopod's disturbing size is just one example of what scientists call "deep-sea gigantism" — when animals found deep in the ocean are many times the size of their shallow-water relatives. In the deep ocean, the weight of the thousands of feet of water overhead makes for a high-pressure abyssal environment. Scientists suspect this deep-sea pressure, the scarcity of food in the deep ocean, or the cold temperatures gives larger creatures like the giant isopod an advantage on the ocean floor.

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Dumbo Octopus

Dumbo octopus displays a body posture that has never before been observed in cirrate octopods.
Dumbo octopus displays a body posture that has never before been observed in cirrate octopods.

NOAA Photo Library / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The odd, adorable, deep-sea "dumbo" octopus is not the name of a single species, but instead refers to an entire genus of umbrella octopuses. As a group, dumbo octopuses are known to live over 22,000 feet deep, living deeper than any other octopuses. The animal uses its characteristic ear-like flaps to help it swim.

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Faceless Cusk

Before resurfacing during a scientific expedition in 2017, this "faceless fish" had not been documented since the 19th century when it was pulled up by the HMS Challenger. The fish only recently gained its creepy name from its lack of distinguishable eyes, eye-like nostrils, and underslung mouth which together mask any appearance of a normal fish face. Although the faceless cusk's snake-like shape resembles that of an eel, the strange, deep-sea animal is a true fish. The animal is closely related to the similarly serpentine pearlfish.

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Cookiecutter Shark

The namesake of the cookiecutter shark from the crater-like holes the shark takes out of its much larger prey. The bite marks left by this small, rarely-encountered shark are typically the best way scientists have to study the species. However, the cookiecutter shark's main food source is squid, which it consumes whole. Cookiecutter sharks have been caught over 12,000 feet deep but are typically captured at night by shallow trawls, suggesting this shark species may rise up to the surface at night.

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Pacific Blackdragon

Illustrated side view of Black Dragonfish (Idiacanthus antrostomus), a deep water marine fish with a snake like body, large teeth and a barbel protruding from the lower jaw.
Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

The female pacific blackdragons' sleek black body allows the fish to hide in the darkness of the deep sea and makes the animal well-suited for its characteristic ambush-style of attack. Using a light organ that dangles from its chin, the eel-like fish lures in prey before mounting an attack. Male pacific blackdragons are not equipped with these special features, are much smaller than females, and even lack the ability to feed themselves. Instead, the males live just long enough to reproduce.

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Ram's Horn Squid

Ram's Horn Shells in a circle
Ram's Horn Shells washed up on New Zealand beach.

jumaydesigns / Getty Images

The ram's horn squid is aptly named for the delicate spiral horn-like shells the squid creates. The rarely-seen squid was first captured on camera in its natural habitat in 2020. However, the recent footage surprised scientists, who expected the squid's buoyant horn-like shells to be oriented towards the ocean's surface. Instead, the video shows the squid operating in the opposite direction, buoyant horns down.

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Vampire Squid

This crimson red creeper's scientific name literally means "vampire squid from hell". The animal is not technically a squid or an octopus, but it is closely related to the two. And while the vampire squid does not actually drink blood, its dark red color and cape-like flaps do suggest the animal took a page out of Bram Stoker's Dracula.

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Japanese Spider Crab

Japanese spider crab

Takashi Hososhima / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Japanese spider crab boasts the largest leg span of all arthropods, spanning up to 12.5 feet from claw to claw. The long-legged crab lives up to 1,500 feet deep, but uses shallow waters for spawning. The deep-sea animal thrives in the cold temperatures found at the ocean's depths.

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Armored Sea Robin

Armored sea robin with brittle star climbing on top of.

NOAA Photo Library / Flickr / CC By 2.0

The armored sea Robin, or armored gurnards, are the deep-sea version of a fish common in shallower water. Both the deep-sea and shallow types of sea robins use their pectoral fins to crawl along the seafloor, but this action is decidedly creepier in the bonier deep-sea armored sea robin. The deep-sea version of the fish is also flatter than other sea robins giving the fish an unusual, alien-like appearance.

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Goblin Shark

Goblin Shark
3D-rendered deep sea goblin shark. 3dsam79 / Getty Images

This rare deep-sea shark is so strange, it hardly even looks like a shark. The goblin shark has a long snout that is used to sense electric fields in the darkness of the deep ocean. When prey is near, the goblin shark can extend its jaws past the length of its snout for an ambush-style attack.

View Article Sources
  1. Jamieson, Alan and Vecchione, Michael. "First In Situ Observation of Cephalopoda at Hadal Depths (Octopoda: Opisthoteuthidae: Grimpoteuthis sp.)." Marine Biology, vol. 162, 2020, pp. 82, doi:10.1007/s00227-020-03701-1

  2. O'Hara, T. D., et al. "The Lower Bathyal and Abyssal Seafloor Fauna of Eastern Australia." Marine Biodiversity Records, vol. 13, 2020, pp. 11, doi:10.1186/s41200-020-00194-1