A Ballooning Gulper Eel Reveals Its Massive Jaws

Gulping Gulper Eel

While exploring the waters of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument of Hawai’i, the ROV Hercules, launched from the E/V Nautilus captured the sight of an odd large-headed creature floating just above the sea floor. The creature became so disturbed by the presence of the ROV that its cheeks ballooned out and revealed a massive jaw. As soon as the camera backed off, the creature shrunk back down to a less defensive posture. It was only then that the crew was able to identify it as a very rarely seen pelican gulper eel.

The Nautilus team spotted a gulper eel (Eurypharynx pelecanoides) doing just that in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Its pouch-like mouth can inflate in an instant, scooping up much larger prey just like a pelican–and giving it that muppet-like look! This gulper eel was likely a juvenile, as this species can grow up to three feet in length.

Pelican Eel Shrinking Down

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails. Lori can be found posting on Threads and sharing photos on Instagram.