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Gulf of Maine Yields Brilliant and Iridescent Finds

December 02, 2021

Always something to catch the eye, continuing the journey.

Small dark fish with large eye, held on its side in one hand

It’s the second half of the fall bottom trawl survey aboard the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow. I sheltered in place before boarding the ship. After the first week of wearing masks while sailing, we were allowed to take them off. I have to say, I had forgotten how much slime gets flung onto my face while sampling fish. I definitely missed that mask a little as I wiped my face after working up some catches.

The Case of The Unknown Driftfish

In one of the deeper stations in the Gulf of Maine, we caught this beautiful, big-eyed iridescent fish. As it happens sometimes, we weren’t sure what kind of fish this was, so we headed for the identification key. After careful inspection, which involved counting dorsal fin rays, watch chief Katelyn Depot determined this fish belonged to the family Nomeidae and genus Psenes. It’ll be assigned a species after further examination back at the lab.

Two color images in one photograph. At left a small dark fish with a large eye, held on its side in a sampler’s palm above a measuring board. At right, a dark haired woman reading a fish identification manual that is open on a table.
At right, Katelyn Depot working to identify this beautiful iridescent fish (left) belonging to the family Nomeidae, caught during the 2021 bottom trawl survey. Sometimes scientists have to hit the books to crack a problem. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

A Prickly Customer Comes Aboard

Another neat fish we caught was a sea raven, Hemitripterus americanus. In this instance, it was this commonly found fish’s bright red color that caught my eye! This fish’s prickly skin, fleshy dorsal fins, and body color help it hide among rocks. There it waits for, and strikes at, prey as they swim by. I’ve seen plenty of brown and yellow sea ravens, but this is my first time seeing one so strikingly red. It’s simply beautiful—by far my favorite sea raven!

A color image taken at a fish sampling station on the NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow. The board is light-colored. The fish is on its belly, wing-like side fins fanned outward and its trademark spines sticking up along its backbone.
A brilliantly red sea raven, Hemitripterus americanus. Sea ravens come in many shapes and colors, but this one is among the most striking. Credit NOAA Fisheries

Giving the Gift of Trash

A color image taken in the wetlab of a research ship. She wears a rain slicker and holds a plastic swimming tube in her outstretched arms so that her face is visible through the hole in its middle.
Scientist Maggie Mahoney holding a plastic swimming tube. While we don’t like seeing trash come up in the net, we gave this tube another purpose by cleaning it and turning it into a gift. Credit NOAA Fisheries

An unusual item we found on the sorting belt was a whole, crumpled, plastic swimming tube. Despite its cracked edges, it was in fairly good condition. So I cleaned it up, and all of us on the day watch signed it as a gift for our watch chief, to help her remember her first time running the watch by herself! It was neat that for once, we could reuse a piece of trash we caught instead of just putting it in the trash can.

Food Habits Were Grim, Then an Alien Showed Up

One thing that I did find a little boring this trip was the stomach contents. I mostly found shrimp, krill, polychaetas (worms), gammarids (tiny crustaceans), and an occasional bony fish. That’s why I got excited to see a stomach full of caprellids. These tiny crustaceans look like alien/skeleton hybrids. In order to find them, you have to tease through the stomach contents and stretch out their long body. That’s when you can see the tiny head with large antennae and thick claws. I’ve usually seen only a couple at a time in a stomach so it was exciting to see these little creatures make up the majority of the stomach contents for this fish.

Two color images in one photograph. At left, exclusively found in the ocean, many caprellids heaped on a measuring board. At right, a close-up of a single caprellid with long, thin bodies and hooked appendages.
A large pile of caprellid on a measuring board (left), and a close-up of a caprellid (right), found in the stomach contents of a fish. Credit NOAA Fisheries

Christine Kircun

2021 Northeast Fisheries Science Center Fall Bottom Trawl Survey

Aboard the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

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Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on February 21, 2023