Fish, Fisheries and Queryomics
Bowfisherman Doug Cutler harvested this lovely beast from the Raritan River, New Jersey. A friend of his then posted a photograph of the fish on Reddit, where it went viral. The photograph, shown below, has over 1,750,000 views and 2065 comments.
Beel used Topsy Analytics to examine activity in the Twitterverse regarding Cutler’s fish. Please friends, allow Beel to present the results of this analysis.
Up until a few days ago, there was just a small background volume of tweets regarding lamprey and sea monsters- these presumably from cryptozoologists up on Loch Ness. Then Cutler and his fish were reported in the news media and twitters started tweeting and re-tweeting, etc.
So what is it exactly? Doug and his fishing buddy can be excused for not recognizing the fish for what it is- a lamprey. But the confusion by resource managers is frightening.
“The photo doesn’t allow counting of gill openings (seven per side for sea lampreys), but based on size alone, this does appear to be a sea lamprey,” a New York Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman told Outdoor after seeing only image shown above. (source)
So, let’s run down the possibilities. It isn’t a shark, skate, or ray; nor could it be a bony fish (trout, bass, minnow) or a lungfish. These fish all have paired fins and a jawed mouth.
So, if we consider jawless fishes, there are only two possibilities:
Hagfish have tentacles, lamprey do not. There are many other differentiating characteristics, but this is enough to make a definitive call.
You learn all this in a basic vertebrate biology or ichthyology (science of fishes) class.
The “scientists” at Outdoor magazine got it right:
Scientists at Outdoor magazine believe that the monster river creature is most likely a very large sea lamprey, a type of parasitic fish that lives in the northern Atlantic Ocean and have moved into the Great Lakes region, where they are an invasive species.” (source)
Beel has to point out that calling these folks “scientists” is like confusing your paperboy with Lance Armstrong, even allowing for the fact that both use drugs. But they knew more about the fish than the so-called professionals.