Deep-Sea Cannibalistic Fish With Fangs Washing up on the West Coast

  • Lancetfish live in the deep sea, have fanged jaws and long scaleless bodies, and eat their own.
  • The cannibalistic fish has been washing up on the West Coast, but scientists can’t explain why.
  • Video taken in California in 2021 shows a lancetfish flapping its jaw and writhing on the sand.

An unusual deep-sea fish with fangs and cannibalistic tendencies occasionally washes up on the West Coast, a phenomenon that has left scientists stumped.

The lancetfish is one of the stranger creatures of the deep, with a prehistoric appearance that includes large eyes, a fanged jaw, a sail-like fin, and a long, slimy, scaleless body. Their genus name, Alepisaurus, translate sto “scaleless lizard.” They can grow to be more than 7 feet long, making them one of the largest deep-sea creatures, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Lancetfish are found in oceans around the world and can swim more than a mile below the ocean’s surface, typically hunting in a depth commonly referred to as the “twilight zone.”  They eat small fish, crustaceans, and octopus, as well as each other. NOAA describes lancetfish as “notorious cannibals.”

Very little is known about lancetfish reproduction, but they are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female sex organs. They also have adapted an unusual digestive process where the food scientists recover from their stomachs is often fully in-tact. Scientists think they might eat as much food as they can when they find it, and save it for later to digest when they need it.


Although sharks and tuna prey on lancetfish, their gelatinous flesh makes them unappealing to humans. Deep-sea fishermen, particularly in Hawaii, often catch lancetfish unintentionally, however on rare but consistent occasions they’ll wash up on the coast.

Oregon’s Parks and Recreation Department said Monday several lancetfish had washed ashore in the state over the past few weeks, and at least one was found alive. They added the lancetfish swam away after being helped back into the ocean.

“No one is sure why they are washing ashore,” the department said, adding that if the public comes across a lancetfish they should share a photo and tag them and NOAA.

Davey’s Locker Sportfishing in Orange County, California, shared a video in 2021 of a live lancet that had washed ashore in Laguna Beach. The video shows the lancet flapping its fanged jaw and writhing wildly on the sand.


Elan Portner, a scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, told The New York Times the deep-sea fish has been washing shore “for at least 300 years and likely longer,” but that “no one knows why.”

Another scientist and fish expert at Scripps, Benjamin Frable, told the Times one theory is that the fish are accidentally getting too close to the shoreline while chasing their prey.

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