While trawling the floor of the Bering Sea and the Aleutian region, scientists have discovered several new species of fish — snailfish. Some were only named last year. Researchers were not looking for them, the trawl was a part of a yearly stock assessment by the federal government that helps set quotas for fisheries.Listen nowSnailfish can be hard to distinguish. The combed snailfish (top) is found in the Aleutian Islands and the comet snailfish (bottom) lives in the Bering Sea. (Photo courtesy of Jay Orr/NOAA)Snailfish look like overweight tadpoles. They don’t have scales, making them easy to damage. Biologist Jay Orr, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, says that partly explains why there are so many unnamed species.But really, the different species are just hard to distinguish. Orr thinks scientists might have avoided identifying them and called all snailfish, snailfish. Now with a special bag attached to the trawl, it’s easier to collect the fish undamaged.“I was able to see them alive, in good shape and full color.” Orr said. “And began to realize we were seeing different species. And I began to realize we hadn’t seen these species before.”From the Arctic to Antarctica, there are more than 350 different types of snailfish that live in a variety of environments — from shallow tide pools to the depths of the Marianas Trench. That’s more than four miles below the ocean’s surface, making snailfish the deepest known swimmers in the vertebrate world.Orr says a lot is still unknown. But it’s important to study snailfish to improve our inventory of the ocean environment.“To understand biodiversity of the system is to understand how many species are actually out there,” he said. “We can’t really begin to manage the ecosystem until we understand what pieces are there.”With 86 species of snailfish known to live in Alaska so far, it’s a complex picture for scientists to piece together. But Orr is up to the task. Over his career, he’s discovered 26 different species of snailfish. About a dozen of those still need names.And now, he’s starting work on a new project — identifying the evolutionary relationships of North Pacific snailfish and piecing together their place in the global snailfish family.