It seemed that lampreys were falling from the sky in Fairbanks, Alaska, last week. Residents of the northern state reporting seeing several long, eel-like fish in odd places, such as the Value Village parking lot, alive. One of them was put into a bucket, according to the owner of Value Village, Sue Valdrow, who then called officials. Another one was found alive and returned to a river nearby. Scientists are telling residents that if the eel-like fish is spotted out of place, to please call local authorities, as biologists know very little about the fish – now known to be Alaska’s Arctic lamprey. Most of the fish that were found were dead.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has a picture posted on Facebook of a 15-inch long lamprey. These fish are adult Arctic lampreys, so residents have no need to worry, according to the Department of Fish and Game. The eel-like creatures die soon after they spawn.
Arctic lampreys are native to Alaska and are a type of parasitic fish. They prefer to live in the mud of rivers throughout Alaska, so they are rarely seen. The Department of Fish and Game believes that these eel-like creatures have been dropped by seagulls who snatched them from the Chena River, where the fish spawn. It is now apparent that lamprey are not falling from the sky in Fairbanks, Alaska. It is just uncommon to see them at all – let alone on land.
Fisherman in the Lower Yukon River harvest the fish as they return up the river in November to spawn, according to Erik Anderson, Fish and Game educator. They cannot be caught easily with a fishing hook and net. The fisherman cut holes in the ice and use sticks with spikes on them to pull up the eel-like creatures. Last year, the commercial harvest brought in 44,000 pounds, commented Gryska, adding there is a market for them in Japan. The fish are harder to catch in the Upper Yukon and the Chena River.
If the lampreys kept moving at the same speed in the Lower Yukon. they would get to Fairbanks closer to February, rather than in November. This was proven by the limited amount of evidence biologists have been able to obtain about this arctic parasite.
Baby Arctic lampreys look similar to worms and are unable to see. They feed on micro-organisms in the water and are easy to find on riverbanks. When they grow to be adults, they become parasitic, attaching themselves to fish or mammals using their round, jawless suction mouths to attach themselves to their hosts. The parasite’s tongue has teeth that are used to burrow into the host’s skin so that bodily fluids can be sucked out.
Biologists are seizing the opportunity and using these rare finds to research the elusive creatures. On Thursday morning, one of the eel-like creatures was found alive and then given to Gryska. After examining the wounds found around the lamprey’s eyes, he believes the seagulls are dropping them from the sky. Gryska said he has seen it happen before when a group of seagulls chase one carrying a fish and it gets dropped. He continued by saying that determining the exact species, age, and habitat would be difficult. Lamprey seem to be falling from the sky, due to gulls fighting for food while they are in the air over Fairbanks, Alaska.
Information that scientists gathered estimates that the parasitic fish found in the Value Village parking lot is five to eight years old and has spent time in the ocean, stated Gryska. He also hopes that the showering of fish means that there will be many more in the Chena River so that he and the other researchers may better understand the fish and their spawning behavior.
Some of the lampreys, once they are adults, head to the Pacific Ocean. However, the Alaska Brook lampreys prefer to remain in freshwater their entire lives. Dissections of adults from the rivers have shown empty stomachs, proving that they do not feed in freshwater when they return to spawn.
Arctic lampreys are seasonal delicacies in Alaska. When they feed off salmon, it gives them a fattier flavor. Chefs enjoy preparing them by braising or roasting, as it provides entertainment to watch the way their cartilaginous structure melts during the process.
By Jeanette Smith
Huffington Post: Hellacious Eel-like Fish are Dropping From the Sky in Alaska
ABC7: Birds Likely to Blame for Monster-Like Fish Falling From the Sky in Alaska
The Weather Network: Raining Lampreys: Fish Falling from the Sky, Here’s Why
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Raining Lampreys: Eel-Like Fish Drop From The Air in Fairbanks
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Biologist Sees Shower of Lampreys in Fairbanks as Opportunity for Research
Photos courtesy of:
Bart Heird’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Bureau of Land Management’s Photostream – Creative Commons License