THE CANADIAN PRESS
First posted: Tuesday, March 08, 2016 03:57 PM EST | Updated: Tuesday, March 08, 2016 06:07 PM EST
HALIFAX -- For a brief moment, Nova Scotia fisherman Scott Tanner thought he might have a case of cabin fever when he spotted a fish with glowing, green eyes in his trawler's net.
The 23-year-old Lunenburg man was about a month into a 40-day commercial fishing trip for cod and redfish off Newfoundland and Labrador's Grand Banks when the mysterious creature turned up, shocking even veteran fishermen on board.
"It stood out right away with the green eyes," said Tanner, who snapped photos of the dead fish and posted them on Facebook. "Everybody was pretty amazed by it. The older guys, even, said they'd never seen one before."
With its luminous peepers, long tail, sword-like nose and fins resembling wings, the fish netted last month has caught both the intrigue and disgust of the Internet.
"What the hell is this?" blared a headline on the Daily Star, a U.K. tabloid that described the catch as a "winged fish with evil eyes" and "a nose like a wizard's hat."
There were more than 700 comments Tuesday posted under an image of the alien-like fish on the popular social media site Reddit.
"Put it back, the mothership is bound to come looking for it," read one post.
Someone else said the creature looked like something that was fished "straight out of my nightmares."
Andrew Hebda, curator of zoology at the Museum of Natural History in Halifax, offered a more scientific-based explanation: the bug-eyed creature appears to be a knifenose chimera -- one of three chimera species in North Atlantic waters.
"It's a kind of neat-looking thing," he said. "The eyes are quite striking."
In Greek monster mythology, the chimera is described as a grotesque mashup between a lion, a goat and a snake that spews fire.
But in reality, Hebdra said chimeras are a relatively primitive, cartilaginous fish related to sharks. Their retinas are designed to seek out food in extremely low light on the sea floor. Once exposed to light, their large eyes appear to glow.
In this case, the chimera's eyes were likely bulging out because of how fast the fish was pulled out of the ocean.
Tanner said the sudden change in pressure could also explain why the fish was dead when it was found in the net. After taking a few photos, he said the chimera, which he estimates weighed between five and 10 pounds, was tossed back into the ocean.
It's not unusual for unknown creatures to land in the net, but Tanner said the chimera ranks among the "coolest" he's ever seen -- if not the most unsettling.
"I'm not sure if it even had teeth," he said. "I didn't really look. I didn't stick my hands around there too much."
Hebda said it's not surprising the fishermen were stumped by the fish, given that chimeras are rarely seen or caught. Also known as "rat fish," they typically live between 2,000 and 3,000 metres down into the ocean, trolling along the sea floor looking for crustaceans and worms to eat.
Chimeras are edible, Hebda noted, though he'd prefer to have one in the museum's collection instead of on his dinner plate.
"I definitely wouldn't think about eating it."
A fish caught by Nova Scotia fisherman Scott Tanner is shown in a handout photo. For a brief moment, Tanner thought he might have a case of cabin fever when he spotted a fish with glowing, green eyes in his trawler's net. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Scott Tanner)
Fish with glowing 'evil eyes' found off Newfoundland inspires intrigue, disgust