'Stuff of nightmares' washes ashore on San Diego beach

·3 min read

A fish that rarely sees the light of day emerged from the ocean one fall day and gave beachgoers a scary sight for the ages.

Jay Beiler was out strolling on Torrey Pines State Beach in San Diego on Nov. 13, 2021, according to NBC 7 in San Diego, when he noticed a monstrous-looking fish that had washed ashore and was stuck on the wet sand.

"At first I thought it was a -- like a jellyfish or something, and then I went and looked at it a little more carefully, and some other people were gathered around it too, and then I saw that it was this very unusual fish...It's the stuff of nightmares -- mouth almost looked bloody!" Beiler told NBC 7.

Beiler had come across a rarely-seen sea creature known as a Pacific footballfish, a species of anglerfish. The Pacific footballfish is one of the larger species of anglerfish. A female footballfish can grow up to 24 inches long.

The Pacific footballfish, which washed ashore on a San Diego Beach in November.
Jay Beiler via Storyful

Adding to the Pacific footballfish's frightening look, with a mouthful of big teeth, is the bioluminescent lure on the top of its head, which is used to attract prey in the dark depths of the ocean.

These fish come from a very contrasting environment compared to the often warm and sunny San Diego beaches.


The Pacific footballfish can be found dwelling at depths of 2,000 to 3,000 feet below the surface, which is so far down that sunlight is unable to reach there, according to the California Academy of Sciences.

A Pacific footballfish in its natural habitat.

At these depths, solar energy is not absorbed at nearly the same amounts as it is by water closer to the surface. This results in a much colder environment for the Pacific footballfish because there is less warming of the water due to less sunlight, or no sunlight at all. Below a depth of 600 feet, ocean water temperatures are typically about 39 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NOAA, and colder water tends to sink to lower depths. This impacts deep-sea life distribution because the temperature differences at various depths create a vertical structure, according to NOAA.

"You know, I go to the beach fairly often, so I'm familiar with the territory, but I've never seen an organism that looked quite as fearsome as this," Beiler told NBC San Diego.

Sightings of an anglerfish on land are particularly rare. They've been found only a few times around California. Most recent to the San Diego sighting, a Pacific footballfish was spotted in Orange County in May, according to KABC in Los Angeles. This is the first sighting in San Diego since 2001, Ben Frable, a collection manager at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told NBC San Diego.

Frable said they wish people would let them know of sightings to learn more about the species.

"We don't know much about the biology of these fishes," Frable told NBC 7.

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