Like an alien craft emerging from a distant galaxy, this disc-shaped creature has entered some unfamiliar territory: the wide-open Pacific off the coast of Japan. The aptly named minipizza batfish (yes, minipizza, as in miniature pizza) is far more at home on the seafloor than it is swimming, or more accurately plummeting, through the water column. Which is why this individual—swept up in a fisherman’s net and cast overboard—was headed right back to the bottom when photographer Tony Wu captured its surreal image.

Like other batfishes, minipizza batfish (Halieutaea stellate) are clumsy, inefficient swimmers. Their stubby fins and vertically compressed bodies are far better suited to clambering over sand and rubble on the ocean floor, as well as hunkering down to avoid detection. Their color, too, is well adapted to the depths the fish typically inhabit, 50 meters (164 feet) or more beneath the surface. Brilliant as their pepperoni red may be when illuminated by the sun or a photographer’s strobes, the batfish look colorless when strolling along the deep sea floor, since longer (red and orange) wavelengths of light are absorbed much higher in the water column.

While minipizza batfish already possess a number of other common names, including red batfish, starry handfish, and starry seabat, Wu suggests in a blog post that another, longer name might better capture the species’ true essence. He proposes “minipizza-batfish-with-funny-flippers-that-waddles-more-than-swims-and-sometimes-flattens-itself-to-be-inconspicious-and-at-other-times-stands-on-its-fins-to-gain-(self-perceived)-high-ground-advantage.” Sure, it’s a mouthful, but what more do you need to know?

Off the coast of Shikoku, Japan

Tony Wu

Tony Wu combines his love of visual art with his interest in the marine world through underwater photography. Since 1995, Wu has used his photographs and writing to encourage others to appreciate and protect the beauty of the oceans. Most recently, he’s devoted his attention to photographing whales and other cetaceans, as well as mass spawning aggregations of fish. His images have received international awards in Japan, Europe, and the US, including Grand Prize in Japan’s largest marine photo contest and first place in the underwater category of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

Steven Bedard

Steven Bedard

Steven Bedard is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of bioGraphic. He has spent the past 20+ years writing and producing science content for long-form feature stories, short- and long-form documentaries, immersive, multi-screen experiences, interactive simulations, and hundreds of articles and essays on topics ranging from astrophysics and archaeology to genetics, evolution, and public health. As a former field biologist who spent the early 90s studying spotted owls and northern goshawks, he has found his happiest place covering nature, conservation, and solutions to the current biodiversity crisis for bioGraphic.

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