The heavy currents of Hurricane Harvey dragged a mysterious fish up onto the Texan coastline, leaving the biology side of Twitter abuzz with questions over its identity.
Preeti Desai found the mysterious creature while documenting the effects of Hurricane Harvey on the area’s coastal bird population. Desai, an experienced science educator who currently works as the social media manager of the National Audubon Society, was curious rather than frightened by the mysterious creature.
So she posted a call to action on her Twitter, calling on fellow scientists who might know more about the animal. Some of the responses she got were serious, and some of them were very much not (xenomorph, irradiated dolphin, Donald Trump without his wig), but most agreed that it had to be some kind of eel.
Eventually, one of her contacts told her to get in touch with Kenneth Tighe, a biologist with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
Tighe is an eel expert, and he suspected that the body was probably a fangtooth snake-eel, or Aplatophis chauliodus (eel pictured below with drinking straw, for scale).
His backup choice is the garden or conger eel since those two also have large teeth and live in the waters around Texas.
While all these eels are normally deep-sea fish, this particular specimen may have been washed up onto shore by the storm currents. And while these eels typically have eyes, it’s likely that the eyes decomposed quickly, leaving the specimen “faceless.”
The experience has left Desai with a reinvigorated faith in the online scientific community.
“I follow a lot of scientists and researchers,” she told BBC News. “There’s such a great community of these folks that are very helpful, especially when it comes to answering questions about the world or identifying animals and plants.”
Still, Desai is frustrated with the knee-jerk fear and revulsion towards the creature from others on Twitter. In a follow-up tweet, she said, “This thing wasn’t frightening, wasn’t colossal, and wasn’t a monster. It was just a sea creature trying to live its life.”
At the end of the day, she ruefully concluded that perhaps what her mystery eel needed was better press.