The three-starred anglerfish (Bathyceratias trilynchus) was a cryptid deep sea fish seen once, off Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean, during a bathysphere dive by William Beebe on 11 August 1934. Beebe described it as a fairly small ceratiid anglerfish, distinguished by the presence of three bioluminescent escae, or "lures," rather than the usual one.
This 6 in (15 cm) anglerfish resembled the common genera Ceratias and Cryptosparas, with some important differences. Rather than the pronounced underbite seen in these anglerfish, it possessed a mostly-flattened mouth with short teeth of even sizes. Furthermore, while anglerfish famously sport a bioluminescent "lure," a modified fin ray known as a esca, this specimen featured three such escae, "each tipped with a strong, pale yellow light organ ... clearly reflected on the upper side of the fish." The third esca was thicker than the other two, but of the same length. From what Beebe could see, the general morphology, black colour, fins, and eyes were otherwise similar to those of Ceratias and Cryptosparas.
From 1930 to 1934, Beebe and his colleague Otis Barton (1899 – 1992), based on Nonsuch Island in Bermuda, performed several pioneering deep sea dives in a bathysphere, an unpowered submersible designed by Barton. These record-setting dives allowed them to observe deep sea life alive for the first time. On 11 August 1934, at a depth of 2,470 ft (752 m), Beebe and Barton had begun to reascend from their maximum depth, and had left the bathysphere suspended for a tie rope to be cut, when this anglerfish appeared outside the window. Beebe, who was in constant telephone contact with Gloria Hollister (1900 – 1988) at the surface, described the new fish to her, intending to expand upon it later.
Beebe classified Bathyceratias trilynchus as an anglerfish in the family Ceratiidae, related to, but distinct from, Ceratias and Cryptosparas, especially the latter genus. Out of a variety of undescribed fish reportedly seen during the bathysphere dives, Beebe penned descriptions of just a handful: the three-starred anglerfish, the giant dragonfish (Bathysphaera intacta), pallid sailfin (Bathyembryx istiophasma), five-lined constellationfish (Bathysidus pentagrammus), and abyssal rainbow gar. Ordinarily unwilling to formally describe new species without extensive research, Beebe chose to assign taxonomic names to the most memorable of the fish he saw because he knew there would likely be no second chance. His written descriptions were verified by Barton, and illustrations by Else Bostelmann, showing only characteristics of which he was certain, acted as "type specimens." However, given the circumstances of the sightings and the lack of either physical holotypes or any later observations, Beebe has been accused of misinterpreting or inventing his abyssal fishes, and unlike some of the controversial fish he described, Bathyceratias trilynchus does not appear on modern taxonomic lists.
Notes and references
- Beebe, William "Three New Deep-Sea Fish Seen From the Bathysphere," Bulletin of the New York Zoological Society, Vol. 37, No. 6 (1934)
- Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, ABC-CLIO, Inc., ISBN 1576072835
- Shuker, Karl P. N. "A Supplement to Dr Bernard Heuvelmans' Checklist of Cryptozoological Animals," Fortean Studies, Vol. 5 (1998)
- Beebe, William (1934) Half Mile Down – Online
- Gould, Carol Grant (2012) The Remarkable Life of William Beebe: Explorer and Naturalist
- Ballard, Robert D. & Hively, Will (2017) The Eternal Darkness: A Personal History of Deep-Sea Exploration