New Jersey 'sea monster' is likely a lamprey

Photos of an eel-like creature captured in New Jersey have gone viral, prompting speculations of a 'sea monster.' The animal appears to be a sea lamprey, a type of parasite common in northern Atlantic waters, experts say.

Just one week after they appeared on the social news site Reddit, photos of a strange, bloody animal caught in a New Jersey river have drawn more than one million views. The eel-like creature has a large, round mouth, thick lips, and rows of jagged teeth.

A sea monster? Probably not. For Doug Cutler, a New Jersey fisherman who speared the creature in the Raritan River nearly two years ago, it is nothing he hasn't seen before in New Jersey waters, although that was the first time he'd actually caught one.

“A friend recently posted those pictures because we were having a contest about who had the weirdest catch. It’s nothing new to the Raritan," Cutler told the Newark Star-Ledger.

A spokeswoman of New York Department of Environmental Conservation told the paper that the animal was likely a type of sea lamprey, a parasite native to northern Atlantic waters.

Experts say sea lampreys can grow up to 3.9 feet in length, weighing up to 5.5 pounds. Cutler said the one he caught was about 3 feet long and weighed about 4.5 pounds.

Cutler, who works at a state fish hatchery, also denied rumors that he faked the photos. 

“It shows just how disconnected people are from nature,” he told the Star-Ledger.

The sea lamprey, whose scientific name is Petromyzon marinus, is native to the Mediterranean and North Atlantic. They can be found in the coastal seas off the Northeast USA, Nova Scotia, southern Greenland, the UK, Ireland, and Scandinavia. In the 20th century, the species spread through the Great Lakes, where they drastically reduced populations of native fish. 

Lampreys use their suckers to attach to herring, mackerel, salmon, trout, and even some sharks. They use their rough tongue to suck out fluids and tissues for food. As few as one in every seven host fish are thought to survive. 

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