Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Rare Albino Ratfish Has Eerie, Silvery Sheen

Date:
September 26, 2007
Source:
University of Washington
Summary:
A ghostly, mutant ratfish caught in Washington state's Puget Sound is the only completely albino fish ever seen by both the curator of the University of Washington's 7.2 million-specimen fish collection and a fish and wildlife biologist with more than 20 years of sampling fish in Puget Sound, the nation's second-largest estuary in the Lower 48.

An albino ratfish – pure white except for pale green eyes – was caught off Whidbey Island during sampling for a University of Washington project to bettter understand the food web in Puget Sound. In the tray below are typical Puget Sound ratfish, dark brown with white spots, to blend in with muddy sediments, and bright green eyes.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Washington

A ghostly, mutant ratfish caught off Whidbey Island in Washington state is the only completely albino fish ever seen by both the curator of the University of Washington's 7.2 million-specimen fish collection and a fish and wildlife biologist with more than 20 years of sampling fish in Puget Sound.

Related Articles


"Ratfish usually hang out in places with soft, muddy bottoms," says Jon Reum, the aquatic and fishery sciences doctoral student who found the albino ratfish during a UW research project. "The typical ratfish in Puget Sound is brown or black with a smattering of white spots so it blends in with the sediments."

This fish was almost pure white with a crystalline layer near the surface of its skin that gave it a silvery sheen.

"It must have been like a beacon," says Ted Pietsch, UW professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences and curator of the UW fish collection. "Why didn't it get eaten, long before this, by some predator, for example, by a spiny dogfish so common in Puget Sound and that love to devour ratfish""

The foot-long female may have been 2 or 3 years old, Reum and Pietsch estimate, making her a teenager in the ratfish world.

She was caught this summer in about 200 feet of water during a UW research project examining the food web in Hood Canal and Puget Sound. Puget Sound is the nation's second-largest estuary in the Lower 48 after Chesapeake Bay. The city of Seattle, home to about 4 million people, is built on its shores. Puget Sound connects to the Pacific Ocean via the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north.

Albinos, found among mammals, fishes, birds, reptiles and amphibians, have a gene mutation that keeps them from making the pigment melanin. The condition is rare in sea life, Pietsch says. He could find only a handful of sightings of albino sharks, and none of albino ratfish, though ratfish are common and abundant in many places around the world. Puget Sound, for example, is filled with a greater number of ratfish, by far, than any other fish, Reum says. In the June survey that turned up the albino specimen, researchers counted 7,100 ratfish compared to 2,300 English sole, the second most prevalent fish in that sampling.

"I've seen tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of ratfish in my career, and have not seen a completely albino one before," says Wayne Palsson, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who studies groundfish populations in Puget Sound. "I've seen lightly colored or partially albino ratfish but never completely albino." Palsson says the only other pure albino marine organism of any kind that he's seen in Puget Sound was a sea cucumber collected near UW's Friday Harbor Laboratories in the '90s.

Ratfish are probably so-called because they have tails that are exceptionally long and streamer-like. To move through the water they flap large, wing-like pectoral fins on their sides

There are 33 species around the world, but only one is found in Puget Sound, the white-spotted ratfish. They can grow as long as 3 feet. Like sharks and rays, ratfish have skeletons composed of cartilage instead of bone.

After the albino ratfish was caught the researchers attempted to keep her alive in a bucket of water but, in spite of boards placed over the top, she managed to flip out of the bucket onto the deck during the night. She is now preserved and part of the UW Fish Collection, which has 82 other ratfish specimens, ranging from eggs to full-grown adults. The collection, which focuses on North Pacific and Bering Sea fishes, is needed by researchers on and off campus to identify species and to understand fish biology and conservation.

Pietsch says ratfish seek meals of sea-bottom worms, crabs and clams by burrowing their snub snouts into the mud and using special sensors in their heads to detect the faint electrical signals given off whenever animals use their muscles.

Powerful jaws and grinding teeth able to crack the shells of crabs and clams require caution by researchers and fishermen who handle them. Ratfish don't bite divers or swimmers in the water, Reum says, but they get snappish when brought on board.

And then there's that venomous spine.

Located on their back, just in front of the dorsal fin, ratfish have a spine several inches long that is serrated on one edge, needle sharp at the tip and delivers an irritating venom. The spine could be the reason the only predators to eat Puget Sound ratfish are dogfish and six-gill sharks, both able to gulp ratfish down whole and headfirst, Reum and Pietsch say.

The Hood Canal food-web survey, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program, is led by UW assistant professor Tim Essington. He also has SeaDoc Society funding to examine another aspect of the Puget Sound food web using historical trawl records to create a database of fish abundance over time. It seeks to find, for instance, whether ratfish have always been so numerous or whether changes in their main predators allowed them to flourish.

As far as humans eating ratfish, Reum says New Zealand is the only place he knows where there is a commercial fishery. They're used for fish and chips.

Has Reum ever tasted ratfish" A spasm of dismay briefly crosses his face at the thought. Then he laughs.

"We're always challenging each other during our expeditions to eat one, but, they're just a really greasy fish. And they really stink. Their stomach contents and juices are particularly foul."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Washington. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Washington. "Rare Albino Ratfish Has Eerie, Silvery Sheen." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 September 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070924172949.htm>.
University of Washington. (2007, September 26). Rare Albino Ratfish Has Eerie, Silvery Sheen. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070924172949.htm
University of Washington. "Rare Albino Ratfish Has Eerie, Silvery Sheen." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070924172949.htm (accessed November 25, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) The US FDA is announcing new calorie rules on Tuesday that will require everywhere from theaters to vending machines to include calorie counts. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stray Dog Follows Adventure Racing Team for 6-Day Endurance Race

Stray Dog Follows Adventure Racing Team for 6-Day Endurance Race

Buzz60 (Nov. 24, 2014) A Swedish Adventure racing team travels to try and win a world title, but comes home with something way better: a stray dog that joined the team for much of the grueling 430-mile race. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Yellow-Spotted Turtles Rescued from Trafficking

Yellow-Spotted Turtles Rescued from Trafficking

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) Hundreds of Amazon River turtles released into the wild in Peru. Sharon Reich reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deadly Japanese Pufferfish Discovered in Crimean Waters

Deadly Japanese Pufferfish Discovered in Crimean Waters

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) The capture of deadly Japanese pufferfish in the waters of Crimea is causing concern for fishermen and scientists alike. Sharon Reich reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins