The first fish to arrive at a whale fall in deep waters off the coast of California are Pacific hagfish. They consume the soft flesh of the whale carcass and are referred to as mobile scavengers. The prehistoric fish known as the Pacific hagfish, often referred to as the California hagfish and slimy eels, has not evolved much over the past 330 million years, according to fossil records.
These fish live at the bottom and eat polychaete worms, tiny invertebrates, and dead or dying animals. They are often the very first visitors to a new fall at Whale Falls and are mobile scavengers. Hagfish are commonly referred to as “slime eels” because of their propensity to create large volumes of slime when startled.
Distribution, Population, and Habitat
Hagfish species exist in every ocean in the world, but it is unknown how many of each type there are. Every species can be found in cold saltwater, although each has a different range of the ocean. Living in cold, low waters with a temperature of 15°C and a depth range of 52–5,600ft (15.85–1,800m), but often 4,000ft (1,219m), they burrow into the ocean floor or into dead and dying fish.
Predators and Prey
Hagfish are parasitic scavengers that consume meat. Although they will scavenge on dead or dying creatures when given the chance, they prefer to feed on or parasitize live victims. They can generate slime when they feed and can absorb nutrients via their skin. Hagfish are able to squeak through openings that are less than half their body width, which not only allows them to escape predators but also to forage. Hagfish have few marine predators due to their slime. The majority of its predators are different species of birds and mammals, with humans, per the IUCN, constituting a threat to 20% of the population.
Reproduction and Lifespan
Hagfish are a sexually dimorphic species, with females outnumbering males by a ratio of up to 100:1. There are hermaphrodite species. Females can lay anything from 1 to 30 hard eggs with Velcro-like ends that adhere to one another. There is no larval stage, unlike lampreys, and the gestation time is approximately 11 months. Due to the difficulty of breeding them in a lab, little more is known about their reproductive habits. However, they have a lifespan of up to 40 years in the wild and 17 years in captivity.
Fishing and Cooking
For starters, they are consumed in Japan and Korea. They are frequently skinned in Korea before being grilled or stir-fried, and the males regard them as aphrodisiacs. Because its slime can bind a lot of liquid with little to no cooking, hagfish are used as a substitute for tofu in Japan. Hagfish meat has a modest yet distinct flavor and a bad aftertaste.
Slice the raw fish with scissors and fry it on a hot plate before serving it with greens and gochujang (red chili paste). Normally, the head is left on the fish and served as a gift to visitors. The fish can also be consumed raw, and it is a popular option. Hagfish skin is a tough leather that is used to make a variety of apparel accessories, such as belts, shoes, and wallets. It is commonly referred to as “eel skin.”
These animals must be kept in aquariums in sufficiently large tanks with nearly continual filtration. If the created slime is not regularly cleaned out, it could injure other fish. In order to prevent them from producing excessive slime from being attacked, it is also crucial to maintain them with non-aggressive fish species. They will eat the leftovers of other fish in the aquarium and can be fed almost anything.
Behavior of the Hagfish
The majority of species are nocturnal, meaning that nighttime is when they are most active. They are concealed on the ocean floor in burrows made of mud or silt throughout the day. Their keen sense of smell helps them find prey or carrion at night. Their slow metabolism allows them to go for up to a few months without eating. Some species live alone, while others coexist in big groups. The majority will gather and feast collectively on a huge carcass.