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Scaly, see-through thing surprises fisherman

By Brad Lendon, CNN
January 22, 2014 -- Updated 1945 GMT (0345 HKT)
This creature baffled a New Zealand fisherman, but scientists think he grabbed a salp, which feeds on plankton, and is translucent to avoid predators. Check out some other see-through creatures found under the sea. This creature baffled a New Zealand fisherman, but scientists think he grabbed a salp, which feeds on plankton, and is translucent to avoid predators. Check out some other see-through creatures found under the sea.
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See-through sea creatures
See-through sea creatures
See-through sea creatures
See-through sea creatures
See-through sea creatures
See-through sea creatures
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The fisherman found a salp, a scientist says
  • The creatures are plankton eaters found around the world
  • Salps are important part of the ocean food chain

(CNN) -- Did a fisherman pull some sort of shape-shifting alien from the ocean off New Zealand?

If you've ever seen the 1989 movie "The Abyss," you have an idea what I'm talking about.

If not, click here.

When Stewart Fraser spotted the translucent creature floating in the Pacific 40 miles off the North Island's Karikari Peninsula, he wasn't sure he even wanted on his boat, he told the UK's Mail Online.

"I was in two minds whether to haul it in, but curiosity got the better of me and I decided to take a closer look," he told the Mail. "It was quite something, and I'd never seen anything like it before."

A green biofluorescent chain catshark (Scyliorhinus retifer) A green biofluorescent chain catshark (Scyliorhinus retifer)
Glowing fish
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Photos: Glowing fish Photos: Glowing fish
A Saola is caught on camera for the first time in 15 years on September 7 in a forest in Vietnam. The species was discovered in 1992, and at most a few hundred -- and as few as a couple dozen -- of the animals are thought to exist. Because of its rarity and elusiveness, the saola is dubbed the "Asian unicorn." They are recognized by two parallel horns with sharp ends, which can reach 20 inches in length and are found on both males and females. A Saola is caught on camera for the first time in 15 years on September 7 in a forest in Vietnam. The species was discovered in 1992, and at most a few hundred -- and as few as a couple dozen -- of the animals are thought to exist. Because of its rarity and elusiveness, the saola is dubbed the "Asian unicorn." They are recognized by two parallel horns with sharp ends, which can reach 20 inches in length and are found on both males and females.
Strange and endangered species
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Strange and endangered species Strange and endangered species

Dennis Gordon, a scientist with New Zealand's NIWA water and atmospheric research agency, told the New Zealand Herald the see-through creature is a salp, and it's really not that rare. Salps are found around the world, and often in big numbers, scientists say. While Fraser pulled up a lone salp, scientists say they have often been found in chains more than 30 feet long.

And Gordon said some salps reproduce so rapidly that they can double their population in a day.

But obviously, they are really hard to spot, which protects the salp from other creatures that would like to make a meal of them, Paul Cox, director of conservation and communication at the National Marine Aquarium, told the Mail.

Fish put out neon light

"In common with other defenseless animals that occupy open water -- jellies and hydroids for example -- the translucence presumably provides some protection from predation. Being see-through is a pretty good camouflage in water," Cox said.

Gordon told the Herald that when they can be caught, scalps are a good food source for some fish, seals and turtles. They are more nutritious than jellyfish, he said.

He also said the salps, which feed by taking in water through internal filters, are important predators themselves, but not one that any human needs to be afraid of.

"They can eat the smallest plant plankton and can even eat bacteria, so they can exist in parts of the ocean where nothing else can live. The significance of that is they are an intermediary in the food chain,'' the Herald quoted Gordon as saying.

So what does a rapidly reproducing, filter-feeding, translucent predator feel like?

"Scaly and was quite firm, almost jelly like," Fraser told the Mail.

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