Whiptail gulper eel

(Saccopharynx lavenbergi)

Meet a rarely seen denizen of the deep!

MBARI has studied the deep waters of Monterey Bay and beyond for more than 30 years. In our thousands of dives to these dark depths, we’ve only seen this species seven times. But we were so enamored by this curious creature that we featured it in our logo.

See that massive mouth? Food is scarce in the deep sea, so a gulper eel’s oversized mouth helps it swallow any morsel of food—big or small—that it comes across. Scientists think the glowing tip of this eel’s sinewy body might act as a luminescent lure to attract unsuspecting prey and then—gulp—it becomes dinner.

The midwater doesn’t offer any places to hide from hungry predators, so it’s eat or be eaten in these waters. Many fishes there have evolved inventive strategies for finding food, like sharp teeth, gaping jaws, and big bellies. MBARI scientists have been studying deep-sea food webs to better understand who’s eating whom.

Fast Facts

Maximum size: 1 meter (3.2 feet)

Depth: 300–2,000 meters (980–6,600 feet)

Habitat: midwater

Range: northern California to Peru

Diet: small fishes


Research publications

Choy, C.A., S.H.D. Haddock, and B.H. Robison. (2017). Deep pelagic food web structure as revealed by in situ feeding observations. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 284: 20172116. doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.2116.


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