The Barreleye Fish and Its Weird See-Through Head

The Pacific Barreleye fish gets its name from large eyes that are literally shaped like barrels, topped with beautiful green lenses. Also known as the Macropinna microstoma, its head is completely transparent, filled with fluid. This unique creature lives at depths of around 2000 to 2,600 ft. The Pacific Barreleye’s see-through head may seem weird, but it has a very clear purpose – to help it see better in the dark waters that it inhabits.

The Barreleye’s eyes have been found to be incredibly sensitive, snapping up any stream of light available. Unlike most other fish, both the eyes are in the front of the head and point in the same direction, which gives it amazing binocular vision. So the Barreleye is able to spot faint objects that other fish cannot, making it a feared predator. It’s extremely fascinating, how it searches for prey. It starts off by staying still, eyes pointed upward in search of prey. Sometimes the eyes are rotated to face forwards, or the eyes are still and the body is rotated so that the mouth is pointing in the same direction as the eyes. When tiny silhouettes of prey are spotted, the Barreleye moves in exactly the same direction to catch them. Its flat, horizontal fins help it to swim very precisely. This method is so efficient that it is sometimes able to even snatch food away from the stinging tentacles of other deep sea creatures. Its mouth is really tiny so that’s of great help as well, and the transparent shield makes it immune to stings.

The Pacific Barreleye was discovered in 1939, but it hasn’t been spotted alive since 2004 off California’s central coast by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MABRI). Its biological system apparently has flaws; it is said to be rather sensitive to pressure. When fished up, it’s head would shatter somewhere along the way and only mangled specimens would come up in the nets. MABRI was successful in finding the only such fish with its soft dome intact, measuring about 6 inches in length.


Old Man of the Lake in Oregon

In 1886, when geologist Joseph S. Diller was making the first geological study of Oregon’s Crater Lake, in the US, he noticed a tree stump completely untethered and moving about the lake as dictated by the wind and waves. Six years later, Diller published his findings in which he briefly described seeing the stump. This became the first written record of what eventually came to be known as the Old Man of the Lake. The 30 foot long ancient hemlock is still there, floating and bobbing, absolutely vertically, in the waters for more than 100 years. At the waterline the stump is about 2 feet in diameter and stands approximately 4 feet above the water. Its surface has been bleached white by many years of sun, and while the exposed end of the floating tree is splintered and worn, it is wide and buoyant enough to support a person's weight.

At first Diller thought the tree was rooted to the bottom and might constitute evidence that Crater Lake’s surface had risen over time. Later, Diller established that the tree was mobile by tying bailing wire to the exposed portion and pulling it a short distance. Over the years, the lake became a minor tourist attraction and the Old Man became a celebrity.

Why the Old Man floats so serenely, and has not become completely waterlogged and sank, or rotted, remains something of a mystery. The generally accepted theory is that the tree fell into the lake, presumably carried there by a landslide, taking along sufficient rocks trapped among its roots, to weigh it down and set it bobbing. Over time, the roots decayed and the rocks tumbled into the depths, but by then the trunk had become waterlogged, and the weight of that water kept it vertical. Whereas the four feet above the water dried out in the sun, and gave the Old Man just sufficient buoyancy to remain afloat. The cold water prevented the wood from rotting.

An outstanding feature of the Old Man is that it travels extensively throughout the lake. In 1938, park naturalist John Doerr spent three months tracking its travel patterns, and found that within that period, the tree moved 62 miles, and on one one particularly windy day, it traveled 3.8 miles.

Soon a legend rose that the Old Man controlled the weather. In 1988, during a submarine expedition of the lake, scientists tied him up near Wizard Island to avoid the tree bumping into the submarine. The story goes that the moment they did, the sky grew dark, and a storm blew in. The skies miraculously cleared only when the Old Man was released.

A park ranger demonstrates the buoyancy of the Old Man of the Lake. Circa 1930.