Pallid sailfin, William Beebe

The pallid sailfin drawn by Else Bostelmann for Beebe.

The pallid sailfin (Bathyembryx istiophasma) was a deep sea cryptid fish seen once off Bermuda in the North Atlantic Ocean by William Beebe in 1932.[1][2]


It was seen between 1500 and 2500 feet, and was torpedo-shaped and 2 feet in legnth. It had a large mouth and a long, wide, filamentous pectoral fin, and no luminous organs.[1][2]



Beebe first saw the fish in a 1932 dive off Bermuda, at a depth of 1500 feet:[2]

"Finally, without my seeing how it got there, a large fish swung suspended, half in, half out of the beam. It was poised with only a slow waving of fins. I saw it was something wholly unknown [...] But all this time I sat absorbing the fish from head to tail through the wordless, short-circuiting of sight, later to be materialized into spoken and written words, and finally into a painting dictated by what I had seen through the clear quartz.
"The strange fish was at least two feet in length, wholly without lights or luminosity, with a small eye and good- sized mouth. Later, when it shifted a little backwards I saw a long, rather wide, but evidently filamentous pectoral fin. The two most unusual things were first, the color, which, in the light, was an unpleasant pale, olivedrab, the hue of water-soaked flesh, an unhealthy buff. It was a color worthy of these black depths, like the sickly sprouts of plants in a cellar. Another strange thing was its almost tailless condition, the caudal fin being reduced to a tiny knob or button, while the vertical fins, taking its place, rose high above and stretched far beneath the body, these fins also being colorless. I missed its pelvic fins and its teeth, if it had any, while such things as nostrils and ray counts were, of course, out of the question.
"There is a small family of deep-sea fish known as Cetovumidce, and somewhere in or close to this the strange apparition belongs. Only three species are known, and only twenty-four individuals have so far been captured, sixteen of which have been in our own deep nets drawn through these very waters. I have called the fish we saw the Pallid Sailfin, and am naming it Bathyembryx istiophasma, which is a Grecian way of saying that it comes from deep in the abyss and swims with ghostly sails.
"Although I had already seen many deep-sea forms on this dive, yet here was one larger than any we had ever taken in nets. The Sailfin was alive, quiet, watching our strange machine, apparently oblivious that the hinder half of its body was bathed in a strange luminosity. Preeminently, however, it typified the justification of the money, time, trouble, and worry devoted to bringing the bathysphere to its present efficiency. Amid nameless sparks, unexplained luminous explosions, abortive glimpses of strange organisms, there came, now and then, adequate opportunity to add a definite new fish or other creature to our knowledge of the life of the deep sea. At the possible risk of cumbering taxonomy with a nomen nudum, I have chosen to give definite names to a very few of these clearly seen fish, the physical type of which must, for a time, be represented by a drawing, made under my direction, with only the characters of which I am certain. With no visible increase of fin vibration, my Pallid Sailfin moved into outer darkness, and when I had finished telephoning the last details I ordered a further descent. This entire volume would not contain the detailed recital of even a fraction of all the impressive sights and forms I saw, and nothing at these depths can be spoken of without superlatives."

Beebe believed he saw the same fish again at a depth of 2500 feet, almost immediately after seeing the abyssal rainbow gar:[2]

"I alternated with Mr. Barton's camera at the window and there were hardly any seconds without lights or definite organisms coming into view. In one period of this duration, chosen at random, I counted 46 lights, ten of which were of unusual size, most of them pale yellow, but a few bluish. The sight I enjoyed most was a momentary glimpse of what I am certain was the same, or another, Pallid Sailfin. In all this vast extent in three dimensions, of black water, the chance of confirming at a wholly different depth a new observation made my satisfaction complete."

Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 Eberhart, George (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Beebe, William (1934) Half Mile Down