The original award-winning NEFSC FishFAQ, created in 1993, has been archived.
For current information, please see our new FAQ.

What species do you study at the NEFSC?

A: Check out the Species List to see some of the species we study here at NEFSC

How long have you been studying fish?

A: Check out the NEFSC Historical Page to see how long we have been at it.

Is life found at all depths in the ocean?

deep sea fish

The question was settled in 1960, when Piccard and Walsh reported a swimming animal, resembling a sole or other flatfish about a foot long, at 35,800 feet deep, observed from a porthole of the bathyscapne Trieste. Some scientists believed, as recently as 1860, that marine life could not exist below 1,800 feet. That view was altered when a telegraph cable laid in the ocean bottom at 6,000 feet deep was retrieved and found covered with many forms of marine life.

deep sea fish
Deep-Sea Fish caught from NMFS RV Albatross 4

How many fish species are there?

The most often quoted estimate is 20,000. There may be as many as 20,000 more.
Smalltooth Sawfish
Planehead Filefishplanehead fish

Which is the oldest fish, as a class?

The most primitive fish-like animals are those with sucking mouths, such as lampreys and hagfishes, whose evolution stopped short of the development of biting jaws. Mainly bottom-dwellers, these animals are of great interest to zoologists, for many parts of their bodies show forms and functions that help to explain some of the evolutionary steps leading from low to advanced life forms.

What is the world's largest fish? The smallest?

The largest is the whale shark, which grows to more than 50 feet in length and may weigh several tons; second largest is the basking shark, which may measure 35 to 40 feet long. The smallest fish is the tiny goby, an inhabitant of fresh-to-brackish-water lakes in Luzon, Philippines. It seldom is longer than a half inch at adulthood, yet is so abundant it supports a fishery.

basking shark photo
Basking Shark
Photo by Chris Gotschalk

What is the most common fish in the sea?

Any of the several species of Cyclothone, a deepwater fish sometimes called a "bristle mouth." Rarely visible at depths that man can readily reach, the fish is about the size of a small minnow. It is netted at 500 meters or deeper all over the world.

Do fish sleep?

It all depends on what you mean by sleep. My dictionary says that sleep is a period of rest in which the eyes are closed and there is little or no thought or movement. That is, sleeping means closing your eyes and resting. The first thing we notice is that most fish don't have eyelids (except for sharks). Also, while some deep ocean fish never stop moving a great many fishes live nearly motionless lives and many do so on a regular diurnal/noctural cycle, some active by day others by night.. So we can't generalize and say that all fish sleep like we do. But most fish do rest. Usually they just blank their minds and do what we might call daydreaming. Some float in place, some wedge themselves into a spot in the mud or the coral, some even build themselves a nest. They will still be alert for danger, but they will also be "sleeping."

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