Invasive 'vampire fish' is captured in Virginia river - and experts say its presence is a good sign

Invasive 'vampire fish' is captured in Virginia river - and experts say its presence is a good sign
By: dailymail Posted On: July 03, 2024 View: 112

A parasitic ‘vampire fish’ has been spotted in a Virginia river that is rarely seen by humans and while it is invasive, experts said it's a good sign. 

An Alexandria local pulled what is called a sea lamprey from the Potomac River with his bare hands and tossed the nearly two-foot-long eel-like creature onto dry land.

The fish gets the nickname for its sucker-like mouth and pointed teeth, which it uses to latch onto its victim and feed on their bodily fluids -  sometimes feasting for weeks.

The Potomac River has been long polluted and government agencies have taken steps to clean it up, making the lamprey's appearance a sign that the pollution is finally ebbing away because the creature is sensitive to toxins .

Sea lampreys are an invasive species initially native to the Atlantic Ocean, but they invaded the Great Lakes in the 1800s through manmade canals and shipping docks. 

The population started growing in the Potomac in 2002, which experts believed was a positive sign for the river.

‘The resurgence of sea lamprey is another indication that water quality is getting better,’ Jim Cummins, the then-associate director for the Living Resources Section told the Potomac Bay Reporter at the time. 

‘Sea lamprey are fairly sensitive to pollution.’

The 23-year-old man posted an Instagram video of him catching the vampire fish, claiming it was ‘the first sea lamprey caught in the Potomac River.’

The fish migrate from the Chesapeake Bay to the freshwater river each year to lay their eggs, which suggests this is not the first sighting.

However, he appeared shocked, repeatedly saying: 'Oh my gosh' as the person recording dares him to put the lamprey on his arm.

'I'm not doing that,' he said, but called his catch 'insane.'

People responded to the video, saying that because it’s an invasive species and should be removed.

'They eat other fish and infect them with parasites with a bite so, they'll eventually die. They are invasive. Check what damage they did in Michigan and what they had to do to fix it,' one person commented.

A single female can produce as many as 100,000 eggs and as the population rose in the Great Lakes during the 1940s and 1950s, they nearly decimated the lake trout and whitefish, prompting efforts to eliminate them. 

Another person simply said: 'Kill it.' 

The river was given a ‘B’ grade last year for its cleanliness, up from the ‘D’ ranking it received in 2011.

Studies are being conducted to determine if the river will be clean enough to lift the ban on swimming in the next two to three years, according to the Potomac Conservancy.

While social media called for the sea lamprey to be killed, its presence in the  is not harmful to the ecosystem.

The Chesapeake Bay Program said after the lamprey reaches maturity at four to five years, they leave the freshwater rivers to live out the rest of their life in the ocean.

The fish gets the nickname for its sucker-like mouth and pointed teeth, which it uses to latch onto its victim and feed on their bodily fluids - sometimes feasting for weeks

Lampreys have existed for millions of years, but they have become threatened by habitat loss and chemical treatments called lampricide which kill lamprey larvae and has reduced their population by more than 90 percent. 

They have the appearance of an eel, with a long body measuring between 12 and 22 inches long and brown and yellow skin that is covered in dark spots.

These fish can accidentally latch on to humans who are swimming in the water, and while the bite won’t be fatal, it is painful and untreated wounds could cause an infection.

Sea lamprey are native to the area and have existed in the Potomac for years, but they don’t typically take fishermen’s bait and the polluted water has previously hidden them from view. 

The fish is believed to have once been plentiful in the Chesapeake Bay, which flows into the Potomac, but the population was reduced in part because of increased sediment, pollution, and blockage of spawning areas by dams. 

Since 1989, the Alice Ferguson Foundation has spearheaded the Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup and the DC Water Clean Rivers Program has invested $2.6 billion to reduce pollution.

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