October 22, 2017
By Damond Benningfield

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Line drawing of a ghost scabbardfish. Credit: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Ghosts haunt the oceans. They scuttle along the shore, lurk among the corals, and glide through the dark ocean depths. Some of them blend into the shimmering water so completely that they’re almost invisible. Others stare with big, dark eyes, watching every move as they slide through the water.

None of the ghosts are apparitions from the afterlife, though -- well, almost none of them. Instead, they’re fish and shellfish found around the world. But they’re called ghosts because they have some spirit-like qualities.

In the case of one class of fish, known as ghost sharks, it’s a combination of traits. Some species have silver-blue skin that makes them simply blend in to the watery background. Others inhabit the deep ocean, where they’re seldom seen. But you’d certainly know if you got a hold of one, because some species have a pointed venomous spine on their backs.

Ghost gobies get the “ghost” moniker because they’re almost transparent. And the ghostly scorpionfish got its name because it looks ghostly when it’s preserved in alcohol.

There are also ghost crabs, ghost shrimp, and even a ghost moray eel, which has a ghostly pale body.

One fish with the “ghost” name perhaps deserves it more than any other. Only one ghost scabbardfish has ever been seen, in a cove on one of the Galapagos Islands. It was about two feet long, and it had big, dark, “ghostly” eyes. What made it even more worthy of the name, though, was that this one example of the species was dead -- a ghostly apparition from the Pacific Ocean.