From bizarre, to gross, to downright terrifying, there are many scary creatures that lurk under the waves. Through a long line of movies from the seminal Jaws to Sharknado, we all know about the fearsome great white and other types of sharks that roam the world’s oceans. But, sharks are just the beginning of the list of nightmarish creatures that live and thrive in the world’s waters.
The underwater world is like a different universe. The further down you go, the weirder the animals get. Many of the most bizarre – and also fiercest – creatures call the midnight world of the deep seas home, where sunlight seldom penetrates, and the pressure would crush us land based life forms within minutes. When the conditions are tough, the players have to be even tougher, and it results in fierce species of fish that evolved to devour whatever they encountered deep down below.
Some of the strangest and scariest sea animals are seldom seen, and sometimes very little is known about their lives in the darkest depths where we can’t explore. Others encounter human contact routinely. Here’s a look at the stuff that nightmares are made of, waiting for you under the waves.
15. Goblin Shark
The goblin shark or Mitsukurina owstoni is actually a kind of dinosaur shark, being the last living representative of a shark family that dates back 125 million years. It’s not hard to see what inspired the goblin shark’s very descriptive common name. Unlike their big toothed cousins such as the great white or deadly tiger shark, goblin sharks have rows of thin, needle sharp teeth that rip their prey apart. The long nose that gives the goblin shark its distinctive profile is what the predator uses to sense a tasty squid or other fish before sinking is its choppers for the kill — and it can throw those teeth three inches out of its mouth to get the job done thanks to a unique inner structure with flaps of skin. The goblin shark lives in the deep seas off the coast of Japan, and are rarely seen by human beings.
14. Sarcastic Fringehead
Imagine you’re in Cali, scuba diving and checking out the underwater world. You’re swimming by a rocky outcropping underwater and out of nowhere pops a multicolored demon with its fangs in your face. Congratulations – you’ve just met a sarcastic fringehead, or Neoclinus blanchardi. Naturally, we had to include something called the sarcastic fringehead on the list. They live among the rocky crevices along the Pacific coast off California, and grow to about a foot in length. As terrifying as it would be to see one of them rushing at you, though, your biggest threat from the whimsically named sea creature is probably forgetting to breathe out of sheer surprise. Normally a non-aggressive fish, the sarcastic fringehead is very territorial. If it is provoked, the sarcastic fringehead will flay open its impressively rainbow colored mouth and bare its teeth. But, it’s all show. The display is meant to scare off predators, and we bet it works.
13. Northern Stargazer
Looking like something that got kicked out of the bar in a Star Wars movie, the northern stargazer or Astroscopus guttatus hides in the mushy sands on the bottom of Atlantic ocean along the northeastern coast of the US. When an unsuspecting morsel comes near, the northern stargazer opens its large mouth, creating a vacuum that sucks its prey in where sharp rows of teeth eat it alive. They also have a secret superpower — an organ inside their flat heads that can emit an electric charge to stun prey and protect it in a fight. The bottom of the ocean is a position and environment that the stargazer is uniquely suited for. Its body is long, flattening towards the head. Its eyes are located on top of its head, pointed up towards its prey, but rotating — just to give it that over the top crazy look — and a mouth tilted upwards, all the better to eat you with, my dear. Luckily, the northern stargazer only grows to just under two feet, so while it may just bite you if you happen to swim by, you probably won’t get eaten. Probably.
This is one weird fish. The barreleye lives in the deep sea environments of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. The barreleye is also known as the spook fish because of its eerie appearance. The fish was discovered in the 1930s, but its nature remained a mystery for almost a century until one was live captured several years ago. The barreleye’s head is transparent. In fact, the Macropinna microstoma’s head is actually engulfed by a kind of shield, filled with fluid. Its bright green eyes are tube-shaped, and as scientists recently discovered, they rotate within the fluid so the barreleye can see behind and in front as well as above it. The deep sea environment is very dark, and the barreleye’s unusual eyes let it absorb a great deal of light. It only eats small fish and so it doesn’t pose a threat to humans — unless you count creeping us out and haunting our dreams.
11. Pink See-Through Fantasia
The pink see-through fantasia looks like something you’d encounter in a sci-fi movie, not on a swim. The pink see-through fantasia was only discovered in 2007 by researchers from the United States and the Philippines on a deep sea exploration run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, the National Geographic Society, and the WHOI Ocean Life Institute. The group of scientists and photographers were on an expedition in the Celebes Sea, part of the Pacific Ocean near the Philippines. The pink see-through fantasia or Enypniastes is a type of free swimming sea cucumber, and it lives about 8,200 feet below the surface of the ocean — and that’s pretty much all that we know so far about this freakish creature.
10. Box Jellyfish
With their transparent, pale blue skin and the boxy shape that gives them their name, the box jellyfish is spookily weird, and deadlier than almost anything you’ll ever come across on land or sea. No one actually knows how many people are killed around the world each year by the extremely poisonous box jellyfish. The only figures available come from the Philippines, where about 30 people annually are harmed by these venomous creatures. There are many species of box jellyfish, and they are found in all of the world’s oceans, including the waters off Hawaii and Florida. The Chironex fleckeri is the largest species, found in the oceans near northern Australia. It has tentacles up to 15 feet long, each with enough of the jellyfish’s potent toxin to kill over 50 people. The venom attacks the body on multiple levels, including heart and nerve function, and the skin, and can kill you within 3 minutes. That’s why the box jellyfish is often called the most poisonous animal in the world.
Pity the blobfish, that really does nothing to deserve the revulsion we instinctively feel looking at its permanently frowning face. The blobfish seriously looks like something from the Alien franchise — like a botched sci-fi cross-species transfer between a human being and a fish gone horribly, horribly wrong. The blobfish or Psychrolutes marcidus lives at depths between 2,000 and 4,000 feet off the coast of Australia, where the pressure is about 120 times stronger than the one we experience on land. The extreme pressure has created a fish that is literally a blob of gelatinous flesh — with no muscle or bone structure to speak of — that sits at the bottom of the ocean with its mouth open, waiting for unsuspecting crustaceans. Unluckily for the blobfish, it’s often a victim of fishing trawler overkill, and may be in danger of extinction. Good thing it’s too dark to see much at that depth.
8. Bobbit Worm
Up to 10 feet long, with creepy antennae and pincers, and sparkling with rainbow colors underneath, the Eunice aphroditois or bobbit worm burrows under the ocean floor, lying in wait for its prey. Its mouth, or pharynx, is muscled, and when a fish or other tasty morsel swims by, it goes into deadly action. It can chomp a fish literally in half, or simply clamp down on its dinner and drag it back down the wormhole. Experts think it may also use poisons to immobilize its victims. When they’ve been included in aquariums and other watery displays by accident, they usually start to quietly pick off all the other fish n the tank, and have been known to attack divers on rare occasions when they come into contact. The animals is said to be named after the infamous John Bobbit case – when John’s wife Loreena was charged with cutting off her husband’s penis in a fit of rage.
7. Great Barracuda
The great or giant barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) is not a fish you want to come across in your holiday scuba diving or snorkeling adventures. They’re found in subtropical waters around the world, including the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans, often in reefs where they hunt other fish. Long and sleek, they can grow to more than 5 feet long and weigh more than 100 pounds. They’re generally silvery grey in color, and you’ll know them by the black spots along their sides — and the double row of sharp, pointy teeth inside their mouths. The great barracuda can zoom into its prey at over 35 miles per hour, and while they don’t normally attack human beings, they have been known to clamp down on a diver’s arm by mistake, attracted by shiny objects, or maybe a fish you’ve caught on a spear.
The stonefish or Synanceia family is considered the most venomous fish in the world. They live in shallow waters in the Indian and Pacific oceans, and a few species have even been known to live in freshwater in rivers. The stonefish has the camouflage game down to perfection. Its color and texture allow it to perfectly blend in with the plants and genuine rocks and stones, waiting for unsuspecting fish — and sometimes human beings too. It kills its prey by injecting it with a powerful neurotoxins through stingers in their dorsal fins, and it can live on the beach, out of the water, for up to 24 hours. About 25 cases of stonefish poisoning are reported in Australia alone each year, and it’s not uncommon for people to die of its sting.
5. Giant Squid
The giant squid or Architeuthis dux is something you’d expect to see in a cheesy monster movie. The largest one ever officially recorded rang in at 43 feet long and probably weighed in at a ton or so. Despite their massive size, giant squid are rarely seen, since they live in the cold, dark waters of the deep oceans. They have been found washed up along the shores of North America, Europe, Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, and scientists found their first live sample near Japan. To snatch their prey, giant squid can reach out with tentacles more than 30 feet away, using suckers with sharp teeth that lead dinner — kicking and screaming — down the tentacles and into the sharp beak. With thousands of suckers on eight arms, the giant squid is a formidable predator way down in the depths of the world’s oceans.
4. Gulper Eel
It’s not hard to notice the feature that gave the gulper eel its name. The scientific version is Eurypharynx pelecanoides, hinting at its other nickname — pelican eel. Its long, thin body ends at one end with a long tail, and at the other with a mouth that is horrifically wide, with loose hinges that leave it hanging open and able to swallow fish that are much larger than its much skinnier length. At the end of the tail, there is a special organ that generates light in shades of pink and red. While it’s hard to observe in its deep sea habitat, scientists believe it uses that light to lure fish close, then snapping them up in its huge jaws. Gulper eels are found around the world in tropical and subtropical oceans at depths ranging from 500 to 6,000 feet.
The anglerfish not only looks horrific, it leads a lifestyle that is something out of a messed up sci-fi movie. The anglerfish lives in the murky deep seas — up to a full mile below the surface. Down there, the creatures of the deep need to come up with creative strategies for survival. The anglerfish goes fishing for other fish with a built-in fishing rod. In the female of the species, a part of the spine extends out and over her head just like a fishing pole, and the lure that attracts smaller fish is a light that glows courtesy of million of bioluminescent bacteria. The much smaller male actually attaches himself to a female by biting her. Over time, they actually grow into one fish, with one bloodstream. The male loses his entire body — except the testes. Females, which can grow over 3 feet long, have been known to have up to six males growing from their bodies.
2. Deep Sea Dragonfish
Life is pretty vicious down in the depths of the ocean. It seems inordinately full of aggressive, fanged creatures like the deep sea dragonfish, or Stomiidae. Like many other creatures in the deep, dark ocean, the dragonfish is able to produce its own light with a specialized organ located at the end of a long protrusion that extends from its chin, called a barbel. Researchers speculate that the light is used to attract prey and possibly also potential mates. Just like human fishermen, the dragonfish can wiggle the lure and flash it on and off. Once a small fish or crustacean gets too close, those big jaws and sharp fangs do the rest. Deep sea dragonfish live in the north and western Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico at depths of up to 5,000 feet.
1. Goliath Tigerfish
The goliath tigerfish or Hydrocynus goliath is a freshwater fish, but for its sheer ferocity and terrifying look, it makes our list. It lurks in the waters of the Congo River basin, Lualaba River, Lake Upemba and Lake Tanganyika in the DR Congo and central African region. It’s fast, it’s fierce, and it can grow up to 5 feet long and over 150 pounds in weight. Its mouth is lined with 32 sharp, jagged teeth ready to rip its prey in pieces. According to local legend, even crocodiles are on the look out for this aggressive predator, and it has been known to attack humans on occasion. Living in waters that are teeming with fish, they use superior vision and hone in on their prey by sensing low frequency vibrations.