06 March 2006

Staff at a north-east aquarium delved into the reference books when they came face to face with an unusual fish washed up on the Moray Firth coastline.

The thin, 3ft-long silvery fish with a large head, goggle eyes and a protruding jaw was found on the foreshore at Whitehills.

It was handed over to the marine aquarium at Macduff, where staff reckoned it was either an oarfish or a dealfish.

Aquarium spokeswoman Claire Matthews said: "We have settled on it being a deal, which is the same family as the oarfish.

"I am really surprised it was washed up on the Moray Firth because they are a deepwater species and I would have thought most of the firth is too shallow."

She said the dead fish had paper-thin, delicate tissue and when staff handled it, their fingers almost went through the body.

Miss Matthews said: "They have very little protein in their body muscle and normally only come to the surface at nights to feed.

"It was a species I had never seen before and it was almost like coming face to face with a sea monster."

She said the fish had no obvious injuries and it was assumed it had died of natural causes. Aquarium staff took photographs of the deal for their records before disposing of it. Miss Matthews said: "It was an interesting specimen to see."

Dealfish, also called ribbon fish, can be found in the north-east Atlantic, Norway and Iceland and are normally solitary, apart from feeding or breeding purposes.