Researchers capture rare footage of bizarre fish with see-through head

The barreleye gazes upward through its own forehead.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

You've heard of tubular bells, but what about tubular eyes? The barreleye fish can see upward through its transparent head.

MBARI video gif by CNET

Who needs aliens from outer space when we have an abundance of strange, wondrous life forms lurking under the waves? On Thursday, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, or MBARI, released a new video of a wild-looking fish with a transparent head.

A remote-operated vehicle captured footage of the barreleye fish (Macropinna microstoma) during an expedition of the research vessel Rachel Carson in Monterey Bay off the coast of California last week. 

What stands out about the fish is its see-through head and the glowing green eyes inside. It can look upward through its own forehead to find prey. Talk about a superpower. If humans could do that, we'd all make an effort to have more interesting ceilings.  

The barreleye is a rare sight. "MBARI's remotely operated vehicles Ventana and Doc Ricketts have logged more than 5,600 dives and recorded more than 27,600 hours of video, yet we've only encountered this fish nine times," the organization said.  

The deep-sea creature is used to operating in darkness and its unusual eyes help it find food in those conditions. MBARI researchers have discovered the fish eat jellies and max out at 6 inches (15 centimeters) in length. The two little indentations on its face are actually olfactory organs, essentially nostrils.

The barreleye has been a fish of fascination for MBARI researchers for some time. Originally, scientists thought the fish's tubular eyes could only see upward above the fish's head, but a paper published in 2009 described how the eyes could rotate inside the transparent shield so it could see forward as well. That lets the fish track what's going into its dainty mouth.

We've seen some real doozies from the deep -- I'm looking at you, giant siphonophore -- but the barreleye may be one of the most adorably weird of the bunch. Here's to looking through you, little buddy.