Faceless Fish Caught in Australia for the First Time in 140 Years

Published June 1, 2017
Updated March 26, 2018

"It looks like two rear-ends on a fish, really," one expedition member said.

Faceless Fish

John Pogonoski, CSIRO Australian National Fish CollectionThis new faceless fish is chubbier and healthier than the one found more than a century ago, experts say.

Deep down in the waters off the coast of Australia, the water is a chilly 34 degrees and no light cuts through the highly pressurized surroundings.

It’s a world that we know relatively little about — a world where, apparently, faces aren’t really necessary.

A crew of scientists caught a fairly ugly blob of a creature this month, and they were thrilled.

They had never heard of anything like it — no visible eyes, mouth, or gills — and thought they may have discovered a new species.

“Everyone was amazed,” Dianne Bray wrote on the expedition’s National Environmental Science Program blog. “We fishos thought we’d hit the jackpot, especially as we had no idea what is was – some sort of cusk eel, kind of…We even conjured up possible new scientific names!”

They took to calling it the “Faceless Cusk.”

Faceless Fish Profile


“It looks like two rear-ends on a fish, really,” Tim O’Hara, the leader of the expedition, told The Guardian.

After a bit of in-depth research, the team from Museum Victoria and Australia’s Scientific and Industrial Research Organization learned that they actually weren’t the first humans to come face to face with … or should I say, to meet this animal.

It makes sense that they wouldn’t know that at first, though, since the Typhlonus nasus (Faceless’s scientific name) hasn’t been seen around Australia for more than a century.

“One of the really neat things about this strange fish is that it evokes the spirit of the Voyage of HMS Challenger, the world’s first round the world oceanographic expedition,” Bray wrote. “Typhlonus nasus was first collected on 25 August 1874, from a depth of 2440 fathoms (14,640 feet) in the Coral Sea just outside what is now Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone.”

The fish does actually have eyes — they’re just embedded deep beneath the skin and probably pretty useless.

It also has a mouth, which is situated on its underside.

Though it is one of the expedition’s most bizarre finds, no-face-fish isn’t the only rare discovery of the voyage.

Using a trawl, or a kind of dragging device that scrapes the seafloor while being pulled by a five-mile cable, they’ve seen dinner plate-sized sea spiders, glowing sea stars, a very rare chimaera, and a fish with photosensitive plates that sit on its head.


MUSEUMS VICTORIA/CSIRO/ROB ZUGAROA dragonfish found by the expedition.

“The experts tell me that about a third of all specimens coming on board are new — totally new — to science,” O’Hara said. “They aren’t all as spectacular as the faceless fish, but there’s a lot of sea fleas and worms and crabs and other things that are totally new and no one has seen them ever before.”

Coffin Fish

MUSEUMS VICTORIA/CSIRO/ASHER FLATTA coffin fish uncovered by the expedition

There’s also, he added sadly, a lot of garbage. Pipes, cans of paint and ship debris have gotten caught in their net.

“It’s quite amazing,” he said. “We’re in the middle of nowhere and still the sea floor has 200 years of rubbish on it.”

The team hopes to make more exciting discoveries before the expedition ends on June 16.

Next, check out this tiny fish that injects predators with opioids. Or, learn about the huge mystery creature that recently washed ashore in Indonesia and turned the water red.

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Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.