CSUF marine biologist makes waves in oarfish research

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CSUF’s Misty Paig-Tran with UCLA’s Michael McNitt-Gray prepare the giant oarfish for a CT scan at UCLA’s Translational Research Imaging Center. In a collaborative effort, Paig-Tran brought the oarfish to the center for the scan, in order to create a 3-D reconstruction of the deep-water fish for study. PHOTO COURTESY OF CSUF
CSUF’s Misty Paig-Tran with UCLA’s Michael McNitt-Gray prepare the giant oarfish for a CT scan at UCLA’s Translational Research Imaging Center. In a collaborative effort, Paig-Tran brought the oarfish to the center for the scan, in order to create a 3-D reconstruction of the deep-water fish for study.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CSUF

Lecturer and marine biologist Misty Paig-Tran, Ph.D., has teamed up with UCLA scientists to perform a CT scan of the 14-foot oarfish discovered last month and transported to Cal State Fullerton for study.

Paig-Tran has been working with Michael McNitt-Gray, Ph.D., a professor of radiology at UCLA to examine 3-D scans of the fish.

The scans will allow scientists to create a 3-D model of the fish to examine its swimming.

This particular oarfish has been in the spotlight since it first washed up on an Oceanside beach in mid-October and was collected by the National Marine Fisheries Service Southwest Fisheries Science Center (NMFS SWSC) and Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif.

Paig-Tran, who obtained and brought the fish to CSUF, is a biomechanist whose post-doctoral research project is focused on bone characteristics in deep-sea fish.

“My particular interests are in filter feeding, which an oarfish does,” Paig-Tran said. “Also, I am interested in why deep-sea fishes have such unmineralized (low calcium) skeletons.”

The oarfish resides in deep-sea waters, typically found at 600 feet but can go as deep as 3,000 feet. They are rarely seen or studied and there have been no living specimens examined.

Scientists have begun collaborating with oil drilling companies in the Gulf of Mexico to manufacture remote-operated vehicles to travel to these depths.

These vehicles have allowed live footage to be captured of oarfish and other deep-sea animals in their natural habitat—rare sights to be seen.

“It’s pretty cool actually, because these fish are really, really rare because of their location that they swim in, we don’t know that much about them,” James Smith, a biology major, said.

Kathryn Dickson, Ph.D., chair of the Biology Department, assisted with preparation of the oarfish for the scan. Dickson is also an ichthyologist, or fish biologist, and accompanied Paig-Tran to UCLA partly because of her own interests of deep-sea fish.

Although the oarfish is the main subject of Paig-Tran’s research, two other deep-sea fish were sent through the scanner.

The opah and ribbonfish both reside in depths that overlap with that of the oarfish and will be used for comparison purposes on the animal’s characteristics.

The ribbonfish specimen was supplied to Paig-Tran and her team by the scientists at NMFS SWSC and Dickson provided the opah, which she had obtained from previous research work.

Due to the depths at which these fish live, the resources available to them are far scarcer than fish whose habitats are closer to the ocean’s surface.

By examining the anatomical structure of the oarfish, opah and ribbonfish, Paig-Tran can start to make theoretical explanations about how the animals are living and finding food and mates for reproduction.

“Her study will contribute to our understanding of how diverse fishes ‘make a living’ in the deep sea where conditions are very different than near the surface and coast,” Dickson said.

In addition to studying swimming patterns, skeletal structure and means of survival, Paig-Tran will be analyzing the millions of eggs inside of the oarfish’s 6-foot-long ovaries. Paig-Tran said the studies of the eggs will be conducted with help from Lara Ferry, Ph.D., an associate professor at the school of mathematical and natural sciences at Arizona State University.

Until Paig-Tran and her team are able to synthesize and compile the data from the scans and provide more insight, there is still little information available on the lives of deep-sea fish.

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