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Photos: Unique X-rays bring Arctic fish to life

Boa dragonfish (Stomias boa). Dragonfish are small but fearsome-looking predators with very large mouths. As with many piscivorous (fish-eating) fish species, their prey is swallowed whole. In the belly of this boa dragonfish, you can see the entire body of its last meal. Average length: 32 cm. The Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa X-rayed Arctic fish, highlighting their complex skeletal anatomy.
Courtesy Noel Alfonso & Roger Bull / Canadian Museum of Nature
Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides) hunting glacier lanternfish (Benthosema glaciale). Marine food chains function as one may expect: big fish eat little fish. Greenland Halibut hunt the northern oceans for other fish, such as these little glacier lanternfish. The Greenland Halibut is prized by humans for its rich flavor, and has long been a traditional fishery species. Thus, the hunter becomes the hunted. Average length of Greenland halibut is 120 cm, compared to that of glacier lanternfish, which is 10 cm. The Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa X-rayed Arctic fish, highlighting their complex skeletal anatomy.
Courtesy Noel Alfonso & Roger Bull / Canadian Museum of Nature
From left to right: Polar sculpin (Cottunculus microps), Average length: 12 cm. Longhorn sculpin (Myoxocephalus octodecemspinosus) Average length: 30 cm. Fourhorn sculpin (Myoxocephalus quadricornus), Average length: 25 cm. Sculpins live in shallow waters such as tide pools. The three species here, X-rayed lying on their bellies, show the typical sculpin shape: all head and minimal body. Sculpins do a lot of lying around, so they don’t need a muscular body. To avoid being eaten, they rely on camouflage and long, sharp spines. The Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa X-rayed Arctic fish, highlighting their complex skeletal anatomy.
Courtesy Noel Alfonso & Roger Bull / Canadian Museum of Nature
Ocean pout (Zoarces americanus). The ocean pout uses its peg-like teeth to crush and eat creatures such as sea urchins, brittle stars, sand dollars, crabs and barnacles. This X-ray reveals the hard shells of the pout’s last meal in its stomach. Some X-rays show enough detail that the species of shellfish that was eaten can be identified. Average length: 110 cm. The Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa X-rayed Arctic fish, highlighting their complex skeletal anatomy.
Courtesy Noel Alfonso & Roger Bull / Canadian Museum of Nature
Acadian redfish (Sebastes fasciatus) Average length: 30 cm. The complicated skeletal anatomy of fish is displayed by these Acadian redfish. Fish have many more bones than other vertebrates. For example, human skulls have 28 bones, while fish skulls can have more than 150. The Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa X-rayed arctic fish, highlighting their complex skeletal anatomy.
Courtesy Noel Alfonso & Roger Bull / Canadian Museum of Nature
Alaska Dispatch

Filed away in a building in Gatineau, Quebec, in jars full of preserving alcohol, sits a collection of specimens that its owners believe to be the most extensive such collection in the world. The specimens of Arctic fish belong to the Canadian Museum of Nature. But because they’re filed away in the museum’s collection facility, they’re rarely seen by anyone other than museum staff, or the rare researcher to whom the museum grants access. When those researchers get permission to take a look, they often use X-rays to get a better view of the fish specimens, because they can get information without damaging the specimen.

That gave the museum staff an idea, writes Nunavut online news outlet Nunatsiaq Online. Beginning last year, the museum began making these X-rays themselves and creating large prints of them to share with a wider audience. Once they ironed out some wrinkles -- some of the pickled fish get bent in the jars over time, for example -- they began experimenting, creating lifelike scenes with the skeletons that emerged from those X-rays.

The images they wound up with are arresting, pairing the stripped-down, monochrome world created by the X-rays with poses that suggest movement -- a Greenland halibut chasing a trio of glacier lanternfish, for instance, or the striking boa dragonfish that appears captured mid-lunge. The images went on display in a gallery at the Canadian Museum of Nature’s home in Ottawa earlier this month and the exhibit will remain up through January 2015. But in case you can’t travel to Ottawa, the museum has shared photographs of a few of their favorites (in the slideshow above) with Dispatch readers.