When Aquarium props coordinator Perry Poon asks you if you want to check out his stash of deep-sea fishes, the only right answer is “Um, obviously.”

Alas, the fishes that Perry showed me were dead, but not lacking in the coolness department at all.

Perry got the fishes from a groundfish observer at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Essentially, the observer’s job is to monitor fishing activities and gather data aboard fishing vessels.

A close up look at the Pacific viperfish.

A close-up look at the Pacific viperfish.

The species featured here is the Pacific viperfish (Chauliodus macouni). Perry tells me that this particular specimen was found in the stomach of a rougheye rockfish (Sebastes aleutianus) that was caught off the coast of Haida Gwaii at almost 400 metres below the surface.

Pacific viperfish have bioluminescent light-emitting organs (photophores) arranged in rows on their underside. Bioluminescence occurs when there is a chemical reaction inside an organism’s body.

This deep-sea fish has needle-shaped, fang-like teeth and a lower jaw that unhinges to trap prey larger than its mouth. This species is relatively small – its maximum length is 30 cm, or as long as a standard ruler.

Learn more about bioluminescence and the lives of other deep-sea animals during Luminescence: a celebration of aquatic light through January 22, 2014.

Written by Karen Horak, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.

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