UPDATE (May 31, 2017): The 'faceless' fish is nameless no more. We've included the ID and more updates (plus photos!) below.

Remember when we awarded the honorary "Guillermo Del Toro" award to this eyeless goby? Well, we may have to reassign the title...

This alluring looker, dubbed the "faceless fish", was hauled up by scientists onboard the CSIRO research vessel Investigator during a recent expedition to explore deep-sea habitat from northern Tasmania to central Queensland.

An international team of 40 scientists is on a month-long voyage to study life in Australia's eastern abyss: a dark, mostly uncharted habitat found 4,000 metres below the surface. "We know that abyssal animals have been around for at least 40 million years, but until recently, only a handful of samples had been collected from Australia's abyss," notes Dr Tim O'Hara, senior curator of marine invertebrates at Museums Victoria and chief scientist of the "Sampling the Abyss" mission.

While there isn't much information available (yet) about this latest strange-looking find, it didn't take online commenters long to jump to some familiar Fukushima-related conclusions:

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Here's what we do know:

The fish is not a radiation mutant, and in fact, this likely isn't the first specimen to make an appearance in the region. According to Museums Victoria senior collections manager Dianne Bray, a fish of similar description was caught by the crew aboard the HMS Challenger back in the 1870s, in the Coral Sea off Australia's northeast coast. However, we don't know enough at this point to suggest the odd creatures are endemic to the region. 

Our own best guess is that we're looking at some kind of cusk-eel (the same family as this bizarre bony-eared assfish).

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Three views: inside the mouth, the underside and the gill rakers. Images: Dianne Bray and John Pogonoski

Despite appearances, the fishy find does actually have a face. Its featureless visage mostly comes down to its reduced eyes, which are common in the deep sea since sharp vision is no asset in a place where so little light penetrates. We see this same evolutionary pattern in fishes that inhabit caves or muddy streams

Along with John Pognoski of the CSIRO Australian National Fish Collection, Bray will be working to identify the fish over the coming months. Aside from the exciting possibility of discovering new deep-sea species, surveying these abyssal areas is important for other reasons, too.

"The data gathered on this trip will be crucial to understanding Australia's deep-sea habitats, their biodiversity and the ecological processes that sustain them. This will assist in its conservation and management, and help to protect it from the impacts of climate change, pollution and other human activity," explains O'Hara.

In the days since this strange fishy haul, RV Investigator has encountered even more specimens out on the open ocean.

"We reached our next sampling site off Newcastle this morning and put down a beam trawl to 4,000 metres," Investigator's onboard communicator Asher Flatt said in a trip update. "There was much excitement once the trawl came up as more faceless fish came up with it, some of which were nearly see-through. It looks as though it may be a new species!"

We'll be updating you on these finds as more information comes to light, so watch this space!

UPDATE (May 31, 2017): Eel expert John Pogonoski tracked down the ID of the faceless fish while working his way through various scientific publications. The fish is indeed a type of cusk eel: its scientific name is Typhlonus nasus (from the Greek "typhlos" meaning "blind" and "onos" meaning "hake" – a blind hake). 

"It’s not a new species, but it’s still an incredibly exciting find, and we think ours is the largest one seen so far. Although very little is known about this strange fish without a face, it does have eyes – which are apparently visible well beneath the skin in smaller specimens," writes the team in a blog update.

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Image: John Pogonoski/CSIRO Australian National Fish Collection
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Image: Asher Flatt/CSIRO
Wondering what a live 'faceless fish' looks like? This Typhlonus nasus specimen was spotted by the NOAA research vessel Okeanos Explorer during a dive near the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean, at 3,312 metres beneath the surface. Image: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.


Top header image: CSIRO's RV Investigator (Mal Booth/Flickr)