What's it like to go fishing with Guillermo del Toro? I imagine something like this:
OK, but really.
The ghoulish animal in the video above was caught off the Malaysian coast by fisherman Anuar Pak Tam, and though it looks like an eel, it's something else entirely: a goby.
If you've seen goby fishes before – in your home aquarium, perhaps – you may be thinking that this colourless creature doesn't fit the bill. But what you might not know, is that the Gobiidae family is one of the world's largest fish families, comprising more than 2,000 species in more than 200 genera.
My best guess is that our mystery fish is a representative of one of two new, undescribed genera known simply as "S" and "E". But it's also possible that it belongs to the genus Taenioides or Odontamblyopus. All of these in turn fall into the Taenioides "group" of fishes. Also referred to as "eel gobies" (no surprise there), these animals are commonly found in fresh and brackish estuaries, and coastal marine waters in the western Pacific and Indian oceans. And many of them are undeniably freaky.
Even for experts, sussing the cryptic differences between these fish can be tough, but "S" and "E" gobies are known to inhabit Malaysian waters, and all of them possess stout, fang-like teeth, often with two symmetrical canines on the bottom jaw. This makes the freshly re-jiggled groups top contenders for this ID.
While it looks like you can see the fish's facial bones, and some have speculated that this specimen is sick or starving, ichthyologist Dr Edward Murdy explains that those strange protrusions are typical of Taenoides gobies. The ridges are actually covered in sensory structures, known as papillae, which help the fish navigate through their often silty habitat. This also explains the animal's reduced eyes: just like in the blackness of the deep sea, eyes aren’t of much use in murky, muddy water.
While we certainly don't condone the amount of poking and prodding this fish received from its captors, the catch does offer up a unique view of an animal rarely caught on camera. Whether or not the fish was released remains unclear.
If anyone out there has more information on the species, please let us know in the comments below!