Last week, after a successful seining trip in Shinnecock Bay, I lugged my dive gear out to the inlet to see if I could spot any tropical fishes among the rocks of the jetty. Although I didn’t encounter anything I would consider tropical, and the water was cold enough to give me brain freeze, I was treated to some pretty awesome sights. One of the highlights was this unusual sighting of a northern stargazer (Astroscopus guttatus) out for a swim. Although stargazers are not uncommon around here, it is rare to see them out in the open. They spend most of their lives buried in the sand with only their stalked eyes protruding. So I was surprised to see this one swimming along, apparently making his way through the inlet, out to the ocean. I followed him with my camera for about 500 meters before the constraints of my SCUBA tank forced me to turn around.
Like frogfishes, stargazers are ambush predators with enormous mouths and elastic stomachs, allowing them to eat impressively large meals. They have specialized rigid pectoral fins that enable them to burrow into the sand very rapidly. When a fish swims over a stargazer’s mouth, it creates a suction that draws the fish in instantaneously, giving the visual effect of a well-executed disappearing act. Another curious feature of the stargazer is its ability to produce an electric shock similar to that of a torpedo ray or an electric eel using a patch of specialized tissue on its head.
If you have four minutes to kill, watch the whole clip of this remarkable fish below.