The Ribbonfish, Elegant Swimmer of the Deep

by Owen James Burke


(Photo: Joshua Lambus)

“A very rare fish to come across, usually; I’ve only seen two in the many times I’ve done the blackwater dive,” said Lambus of the shot. “But this night for whatever reason I saw four! Maybe a spawning of some sort, or maybe I ought to go buy a lottery ticket!”

There are six known species of ribbonfish (Trachipterus), which get their name from the fin- or cilia-like membranes that help them swim, can grow to up to at least 20 feet. This one is yet to be named.

Ribbonfish live in the deep pelagic, and are a fairly rare sighting, though they are found nearshore on occasion, and do have their places in folklore. In Taiwan, it’s popularly believed that they’re found washed up on beaches after earthquakes, and indigenous Makah peoples of the Pacific Northwest called the species “King-of-the-Salmon” (T. altivelis) as it was believed that they led salmon to the rivers during the fall spawn. If any one were to kill one, the salmon would not make home, and the Makah people would starve.


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