Earthquake Fish


If you are looking for a good place to go during summer vacation Academia Sinica’s museums are packed with knowledge and resources making them an ideal place for school trips. The Museum of the Institute of History and Philology, Hu Shih Memorial Hall and Lingnan Fine Arts Museum have character and rich collections.

I recently paid a visit to the Fish Specimen Exhibition Hall of Academia Sinica and came away with a better understanding of giant oarfish and other deep sea fish. A characteristic of deep sea fish is that, because there is no light where they live, red or black are their only colors. Their teeth are long and sharp and their eyes are small because they are rarely used. It is estimated that there are 60,000 species of deep sea fish but only around 4,000 have been discovered. Research into deep sea fish is currently being conducted in Taiwan.


The first thing to catch your attention when you visit is the five meter long “giant oarfish”, also known as “earthquake fish” on display. Actually there is no solid evidence to prove that the appearance of the fish is connected to impending earthquakes. It is said that this fish can grow up to almost six meters in length. I would have trouble fitting all this “giant oarfish” in the frame even using my trusty digital camera!

I think the most interesting fish is the “angler fish.” The Japanese like to eat this fish because its meat is tasty and juicy but in Taiwan it is not eaten. In fact, the reason being that because of the mild climate the fish are very small and are not worth eating whereas Japanese angler fish are large because they need to grow to a large size to survive the cold water temperature. Many large fish species have become smaller as their mating environment has improved. A comparative study over the last ten or so years has found and this may be a crisis for mankind.


In the deep sea fish of the specimen hall there is also a shark. It is small and doesn’t look fierce; however, the interpreter told us how the vicious nature of sharks is evident even when it is in the mother’s womb. One mother shark had 30 small sharks inside her to begin but gave birth to ten or less, much to the consternation of researchers. They later realized that the baby sharks had been eating their own brothers and sisters because of a lack of nutrition. When I heard this I broke out into a cold sweat! This behavior is natural instinct. Looking at the specimens of sharks my reaction was to instinctively take a step back, Even small sharks send a shiver down the spine.

To lighten the atmosphere the interpreter pulled a light coffee brown striped fish that was really cute and reminded me of the Nemo in the animated film out of a long transparent tube. The interpreter told me that it was a “zebra bullhead shark.” Why are sharks called “sand fish” in Chinese? The reason is that their skin is very rough like sandpaper. This is very difficult to see so each of us touched the fish. I was a bit scared but also wanted a picture so I still inched forward. The shark was dead but its eyes were still lifelike and the razor sharp teeth in its mouth were clearly visible. As I touched it I was worried that it might suddenly come back to life and bite me!

At last the flat and round “mambo fish” we like so much can often be seen basking in the sun on the surface. It is not a good swimmer so is often caught by fishermen and is on the menu of many sea food restaurants. This fish can lay over 100 million eggs but only about five fish grow to maturity. This fact and the pressure from human exploitation means that the mambo fish faces extinction so from now on I will tell people not to eat this lovely deep sea fish out of curiosity.

This visit to the bottom of the ocean was full of surprises and also allowed us to learn about deep sea fish. Thanks to the interpreters Without these researchers whose valuable work goes largely unheralded how would we know what creatures live deep in the ocean and be able to learn about them? Human beings cannot yet dive to depths of 200 meters so when you visit you should be grateful to these hard working researchers and the interpreters for the information they provide. When you visit, take notes and photographs, then go to Academia Sinica’s Taiwan Fish Database then, when you return home, you can play the role of deep sea fish interpreter for your family. When they see how cute the little shark is they will want to visit too.

And there’s more! To learn more about Giant Oarfish visit Academia Sinica Digital Resources:

Giant Oarfish:(from Taiwan Fish Database
Earthquake fish:(from Google
Angler fish:(from Taiwan Fish Database
Shark:(from Taiwan Fish Database
Zebra bullhead shark:(from Taiwan Fish Database
Fish information:(from Taiwan Fish Database
Mambo fish:(from Google

More Info on 3D Exhibition of The Earthquake fish
Academia Sinica/ Betty Lin
Text and images are provided by TELDAP e-Newsletter (October, 2009)