Canada prides itself on welcoming newcomers, but one Asian immigrant is getting a chilly reception.
A predatory northern snakehead fish, which eats almost anything and can even jump out of the water and slither across land to attack small animals, has reportedly been discovered swimming in a small pond in a suburban Vancouver (British Columbia) park.
A visitor to Central Park in Burnaby videotaped what he said looked like a snakehead lolling in the pond, which is home to carp, koi, and turtles, on Mother’s Day.
Burnaby officials are investigating this reported sighting, reports the Vancouver Sun.
“We haven’t actually witnessed it ourselves,” Don Hunter, assistant director of Burnaby parks, told the Sun.
The spread of snakeheads has the potential to disrupt aquatic systems almost everywhere in Canada.
In their native waters, some snakehead species are fished for food or used for aquaculture. Many are exported to other countries where they may be sold live in food markets and pet shops.
Scientists believe that the Northern Snakeheads found in lakes in some US cities may have originated from food markets. Some may have been released to the wild in an ill-advised attempt at fish stocking or because they were no longer wanted as pets, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
According to the DFO, snakeheads can grow up to five feet in length. Adults can weigh 13 pounds and the Sun reports spawning females mate up to five times a year and release up to 15,000 eggs at a time.
They are highly aggressive predators with sharp teeth that eat other fish and small mammals.
Michael Russello, an associate professor of biology at the Okanagan campus of the University of British Columbia, said it’s possible the fish could have been dumped out of a fish tank, which is what happened in the U.S.
“It’s a big problem down in the States,” Russello said. “They have a primitive lung that allows them to move across land to other water bodies,” he added.
“They’re very scary. They’re an ambush predator. They can take a small dog.”
They’ve been dubbed “Frankenfish” for their unusual appearance, unique anatomy, and voracious appetite, CBC News noted.
The fisheries department says most of the 36 species of Asian and African snakeheads are native to warmer regions and thus unlikely to thrive in Canadian waters or survive our cold winters, but several—especially the northern snakehead— occur naturally in colder waters and are sufficiently hardy enough to live in all but the most northerly waters.
The DFO says those found in North America were likely released as unwanted pets or in ill-advised attempts at fish-stocking.
Snakeheads reportedly have been spotted in Ontario and the province has banned the sale of live snakeheads.
But British Columbia continues to permit such sales, according to DFO.
“On a recent trip to British Columbia, DFO scientists were able to purchase a live Northern Snakehead at a local food store, confirming rumors that the species was readily obtainable,” the department said on its web site.
UBC zoology professor Chris Harley told the Sun he was shocked to find live snakeheads being sold in a suburban Richmond Asian supermarket.
“It doesn’t make sense to cater to live sales,” he said, adding it increases the risk of the invasive species being released into local waters.
Harley and his colleagues want B.C. to ban live snakehead sales, as Ontario did.
Snakeheads have been a growing problem in some U.S. states.
“Many states have very strict controls on live fish sales, including live bait,” added Simon Fraser University biology professor Jonathan Moore.
The invasive species is a top-level predatory fish that comes from Asia and Africa.
He said some Buddhist temples release live seafood, in an act called “emancipation” to bring good karma.
If the Burnaby sighting is confirmed, he said, “It’s something to be concerned about because once an invasive species gets established, it’s difficult to remove.”
Say hello to Frankenfish. The savage, voracious, quick-tempered, razor-mouthed northern snakehead fish. Just when your chihuahua thought it was safe to go back in the water. This monster is known to inhale small mammals and shred human appendages.
—Mike Strobel, Toronto Sun