New Zealand is one of those beautiful places that just seem too idyllic to exist. Lush rolling hills give way to gorgeous mountain vistas with dense and plentiful forest or plains everywhere in between. It’s no wonder New Zealand serves as a movie set for so many modern films.
And yet right next to what is quite possibly the most alluring country in the world lies a deep, dark secret. Just off the coast lie terrors beyond imagination.
New Zealand’s lands may be home to all manner of cute and cuddly creatures, but beneath the seas there are untold horrors lurking. Sometimes they wash up on shore to the shock and amazement of local residents. Sometimes fisherman bring them up from the deep in their nets, only to be completely disgusted and fearful of what they find.
More so than anywhere in the world, New Zealand’s waters are home to some of the strangest and creepiest creatures on Earth. Fishermen are constantly dredging up bizarre sea life that looks like something out of Guillermo del Toro’s nightmares. And what they don’t find in their nets they find washed up on the beach dead, and yet somehow even more terrifying than if they were still alive and kicking.
Here are 15 creepy creatures discovered by New Zealand’s fishermen.
15. It’s Like A Floating Brain
It may look like a floating brain, but the Sea Salp actually doesn’t have a mind to speak of – just a primitive nervous system to help it get from point A to point B while munching on tiny creatures it meets along the way. The translucent body conceals a jet propulsion system similar to how octopi get around, sucking in water from one end and shooting it out at another.
The lifecycle of the salp is probably the most bizarre of all. They begin life as a giant chain of creatures all attached to one another. They’re all hermaphrodites, so they then interbreed to produce even more salps before detaching to begin life as a solitary salp where they asexually reproduce one more time before expiring.
14. A Terror From Beyond The Abyss
One day in December of 2016, a local fisherman was walking down Muriwai beach in Auckland, New Zealand when he stumbled across something straight out of a horror film. Dubbed the “Muriwai Monster”, this tentacle infested behemoth captured the attention of both local residents and the world for a little while, everyone describing its putrid smell and appearance as though made of wriggling worms.
Even though it looks like a class sea monster, it turns out that the Muriwai Monster is just a large piece of driftwood covered in gooseneck barnacles, so called because they attach themselves with a long stalk – called a peduncle – similar to a goose’s neck. As larvae, the barnacle drifts through the ocean and then attaches itself to rocks or driftwood using a super-strong biological cement and then filter food from the current.
13. A Washed-Up Sea Monster
Even though most of the things that wash up on New Zealand’s beaches are dead, that doesn’t make them any less terrifying. Even when those creatures turn out to be something we normally associate with wholesome family movies like Free Willy.
In 2013, a carcass washed ashore near Pukehina in the Bay Of Plenty that was so bizarre nobody could say what it was. It was clearly aquatic, given its location, but with only a set of deadly-looking chompers to go by it was hard to say what the creature could have been in life. Local residents guessed anything from a saltwater crocodile to a massive moray eel as an explanation for it’s long and toothy appearance.
Scientists eventually determined it was actually an orca that had decomposed in the sea and somehow been washed ashore, but for a while there people thought there was an actual new species of sea monster about to be discovered.
12. Skate Into My Nightmares
When things have been dead for awhile it can make them hard to identify, and especially if there’s no dental records. In this case there’s no dental records because all that washed ashore was bones.
Actually not bones – cartilage, the stuff that makes up your nose and ears. It’s also the stuff that replaces bones in sharks and rays since they need to be all bendy but not break-y underwater. What came ashore on Waitarere Beach in February of 2016 may look like something out of Aliens, but it’s actually the vertebrae and braincase of a New Zealand smooth skate.
Related to sharks, the smooth skate is a bottom dweller that typically eats crustaceans along the ocean floor. This example, measuring 6.5 feet long, is on the high end for how large a skate can grow.
11. Black, Three-Legged Fish Terrifies Local Fisherman
I guess if you live in New Zealand you sort of get used to finding some bizarre stuff in your nets. When one fisherman found this thing, I’m sure he crapped himself.
This fine example of deep-sea horror was found in the Bay of Islands area in the far north of New Zealand’s North Island. Posted online, people thought it looked like some sort of mutant fish born of radiation and science gone wrong. It has three leg-like appendages to further confuse people into thinking it’s some sort of amalgam of fish and reptile.
10. Cue Jaws Theme
Discoveries don’t always have to be of new species. Sometimes they’re personal discoveries, like discovering that fishing in a kayak around New Zealand is only for those with a deathwish. One kayaker in Kawakawa Bay found that out after he hooked a 4-meter long bronze shark while trolling for fish. Which he caught, since sharks are fish, but he probably should have cut the line and let this one get away.
“It dragged me around for about half a kilometer before I think it realized it was attached to a fisherman and it started leaping out of the water,” the fisherman, named James, told Newshub. He estimated the shark to be around 300 kg, or 660 lbs. “I thought, what the f— am I going to do with this? I’m in a freakin’ kayak.”
9. Mysterious Bones Ahoy
Mystery Bay in New Zealand is aptly named, as lots of weird stuff washes ashore there. So much so that there’s actually an identification service available so people can get stuff ID’d by real scientists and fish specialists.
Commercial fisherman Jason Moyce found this weird skull-like object washed up on the beach after a storm. He posted a few snapshots to the Narooma News Facebook page, who then shared it with a few scientists to come up with the likeliest explanation.
8. A Crystal Blue Sailor
Imagine walking along a pristine beach and rounding a bend to find thousands upon thousands of tiny jelly-like creatures. That’s what happened on Fitzroy Beach on the West Coast of New Zealand in October, much to the surprise of the locals.
They’re called Velella velella, so cool looking they had to name it twice. Although the Velella are related to jellyfish they’re not actually the same thing. Velella float on the surface of the water using a sail-like appendage to catch the wind much like a sailing ship. That’s why they’re sometimes called “by-the-wind sailors.”
They pose no threat to people, unlike jellyfish, as they don’t actually have stinging tentacles to contend with. They just filter plankton near the surface of the ocean with their tentacles and look pretty.
7. It’s Not A Lizard, Even Though They Call Them That
For some reason, New Zealanders call these little blue guys “marginal sea lizards”, even though they’re not lizards at all. They’re sea slugs, and they’re not to be trifled with.
Beaches across Australia and New Zealand were closed in early 2017 due to a sudden influx of Glaucus marginatus, a species of tiny blue sea slugs that sting. Painfully. Although about as painful as a bee sting, these little guys are often found in conjunction with their favorite prey – jellyfish.
6. Oh So Frilly
Part eel, part shark, all teeth. The frilled shark is a prehistoric throwback to shark kind when they were more eel-like and less fish-like, although still considered to be sharks. They were also a lot more hideous back then.
Frilled sharks are not normally seen by humans as they typically live hundreds of feet below the ocean’s surface, but occasionally one gets dragged up to the sun by an unfortunate New Zealand fisherman.
With a mouth full of needle-like teeth and a set of spiked gills that give the frilled shark it’s name, most marine biologists consider the frilled shark to be “hideous”. Despite their appearance, the frilled shark is not considered dangerous. They feed on squid in the ocean depths and are rarely seen in the wild.
5. Benthic Behemoths
New Zealand fisherman may dredge up a lot of deep-sea stuff that we’d all rather they hadn’t, but sometimes they can find things in the ocean without involving nets or hooks or whatever. Sometimes they’re as plain as day.
The basking shark, so named because they tend to float around the surface of the ocean slowly (as though basking) are native to many waters of the world but can be spotted around New Zealand during the warmer months. Despite being enormous – up to 45 feet long – and possessing a mouth capable of swallowing a human whole, the basking shark is completely harmless. Its huge mouth is actually for feeding on tiny plankton which it scoops inside by the gallon as it slowly swims through the water.
4. I Mean, I Guess That’s Pretty Big
An astounding 22 feet long. That’s how big the squid was caught off New Zealand’s Southern Island in February 2007. With massive tentacles and weighing over a ton, the colossal squid is some of the sea’s most fearsome predators.
Thought to be the inspiration for legendary sea monsters, little is known about the colossal squid other than it lives in the deep ocean and eats whatever is smaller than itself – including other squids. Images of live specimens were rare until the 2000s when deep-sea submersible craft began to come across the massive cephalopods, although rarely.
3. They Could’ve Called It Orc Shark
Perhaps the creepiest of all sharks, the goblin shark has a face that only a mother could love. If that mother were also a goblin. And blind.
As with most creepy sea creatures, these bad boys are found in the deep ocean typically below 1200 meters (that’s nearly 4000 feet). When caught it’s usually by deep-sea trawlers looking for crabs or other low-down ocean dwellers.
Their distinctive snouts which give them their ghastly appearance are unique among shark species in that they swing outward to snatch fish and crustaceans for consumption. It’s also been described as a living fossil for being the only living member of the family Mitsukurinidae, and for looking super freaky.
2. Like A Barrel Of Fish
Did I say the goblin shark was freaky? I was wrong – this is the freakiest of all fish. The barreleye are a family of deep-sea fish that have transparent heads. That’s right: you can see into this fish’s brain. This bizarre adaptation isn’t to make it easier to give it little fishy brain surgery though.
The barreleye is so called because its eyes can actually retract into its head and point upwards so it can see what’s above it, since it often lives near the seafloor and doesn’t care what’s beneath it. The transparent head is so that it can actually still see when its eyes roll back inside its head. Freaky.
And we’re still learning about this family of bizarre fish. In 2016, two new species of barreleye were discovered off the coast of New Zealand, and we’re still not sure how many more might be out there.
1. New Year’s Resolution For This Fish: Lose Some Weight
I know what you’re thinking: this fish looks like it’s already been slaughtered. I assure you this is exactly how the New Zealand fisherman found it: red and gooey, but not because it’s covered in blood.
The distinctive reddish pigment of the flabby whalefish’s scales is due to the fact longer wavelengths of light (such as red and orange) have don’t reach down to the depths the whalefish calls home. To everyone else that matters the whalefish appears black. To us humans it looks like it’s been half-eaten by a shark.
As for the “flabby” moniker, just one look at its distended belly should put that mystery to rest. Sometimes New Zealand fisherman hit the nail on the head when it comes to naming the weird fish that inhabit their waters.
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