Creature from Malibu sea

A rare fish is caught off the shores of Malibu-even experts could not immediately identify it.

By Cortney Litwin

Staff Writer

Scientists know very little about deep-water life. More is known about the surface of the moon than what lies below the ocean’s surface at more than 3,000 feet, which makes up more than 95 percent of the volume of the biosphere. So it’s no wonder the ichthyologists at the Natural History Museum, which is home to 5 million preserved fish, were grateful for a new deep-water acquisition.

Malibu resident Peter Gajitch caught a rare deep-water fish, which even experts couldn’t immediately identify, two weeks ago near the Malibu Pier.

Gajitch, 38, was on his kayak, fishing for halibut near the pier, when he spotted the 5-foot-6-inch fish about 15 feet below the surface of unusually clear water.

“It was disoriented and on its side,” he said. “I snagged it and brought it up.”

Gajitch immediately realized he had something unusual.

“I knew it was a mutant from somewhere,” he said. “Definitely a freak.”

He brought his catch to Wylies Bait and Tackle, where it was stored in a freezer. The owner of the bait shop called Ed Tarvyd, a professor of marine biology and zoology at Santa Monica College, who reported to the call with enthusiasm.

“Wylies bait shop told me that this strange fish was found,” said Tarvyd. “I very much wanted to see it. It was still intact. They did the right thing by freezing it.”

Tarvyd said he was excited by the find and identified it as a type of ribbonfish, but didn’t know the species.

“It’s rare,” he said. “These fish will go down 3,000 to 4,000 feet. It’s the first one I’ve seen in my life. I’ve only seen pictures of them.”

He said the ribbonfish may have surfaced because it was sick.

At the suggestion of a friend, Gajitch called Jeff Seigel, collection manager of the fish department at the Natural History Museum. Seigel agreed with Tarvyd that it was a ribbonfish, but also wasn’t sure of the species.

“It’s probably a tapertail ribbonfish or a king of the salmon, which is more common,” he speculated. “Both are deep-water species. We don’t know much about their biology. In 10 years, I’ve only seen a couple [of ribbon fish].”

Seigel tentatively identified the new specimen as a Trachipterus Fukuzakii, which have been found in the waters off Southern California and Chile.

When he took the ribbonfish back to the museum, Seigel wanted to confirm the species, but it remained a mystery.

“I compared it to the ribbonfish we have and got even more confused,” said Seigel, with a laugh.

He said specialists will preserve and examine it, including measuring the gonads to determine the sex and examining the stomach contents to see what it eats. They’ll also run a DNA test from a tissue sample.

“We really appreciate it when anglers find something unusual out there and let us know about it,” said Seigel.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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