Happy (belated) Lunar New Year! According to the Chinese zodiac, 2020 is the year of the rat. As divers, what better way is there to celebrate the year of the rat than by celebrating the spotted ratfish! With a rabbit-like head, smooth scaleless skin, large fins, and a tail reminiscent of a rat’s, the Spotted Ratfish is truly an adorably bizarre fish.
The Spotted Ratfish is one species in a group of fish known as the chimaeras. This group is related to sharks and rays and has been around for hundreds of millions of years. Like sharks and rays, the spotted ratfish does not have bones but rather a skeleton made up of hardened cartilage.
The spotted ratfish tend to live on the sea floor along rocky or muddy bottoms at depth as low as 3000 ft. They can be found in the Eastern Pacific Ocean from Alaska to Baja California but are most common along the California coast.
Spotted ratfish are not fast swimmers, because of this their prey must stay relatively still. Ratfish will typically feed on clams, crabs, shrimp, and small bottom dwelling fish. Similar to sharks, ratfish will use smell and electroreception to locate their prey.
While the spotted ratfish typically spends most of its time at or near the seafloor in waters greater than 100m it is still possible for divers to see this incredible fish. The best chance for a SCUBA diver to see this fish is at night. At night, ratfish will often travel to much shallower depths and have been known to approach divers.
In general, the spotted ratfish is a curious but harmless fish to humans. However, care should be taken if handling them do to a large venomous spine in their dorsal fin. Their venom is not deadly, but it can cause painful wounds. Even though they are nor well known, ratfish are truely an awesome and unique fish. Be sure to keep only the look out for one the next time you are diving in the Pacific.
Visit the Patriot SCUBA Blog again for more posts on all things ocean and join me for my next blog entry on the history of Diving.