As sea monsters go, this one—a desiccated specimen that appears to have been dead for a while—seems less than, well, monstrous. Roughly two feet long, with a skull the size of a human fist, a narrow body, and skin that appeared “almost furry in places,” the mystery critter generated a good bit of confusion when its discoverer, Robert Loerzel, shared photos after running across it on the shores of Lake Michigan.
“I found this, um … THING at the Montrose Beach Dunes,” tweeted Loerzel, whose online bio describes him as a journalist, photographer, copy editor, and flaneur. “WTF is it?”
“A sign of the apocalypse,” was one guess. “Bighead carp” and “merman” were others. One Twitter follower posted an image of the Alien movie monster, while another pointed out the date—April 1—and congratulated Loerzel on his April Fools’ joke.
Sea monster mystery!
I found this, um … THING at the Montrose Beach Dunes.
And I thought: Well, I guess that’s some kind of fish. But WTF is it? … pic.twitter.com/YOtXkGtxij
— Robert Loerzel (@robertloerzel) April 1, 2022
But apparently, the find was no prank, and a post to iNaturalist, a social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists who map and share observations of biodiversity around the globe, produced a reasonable answer to Loerzel’s query: It’s a Lota lota, the only freshwater member of the cod family, variously known as burbot, coneyfish, mud blower, lingcod, eelpout and (kid you not) the lawyer. Anglers sometimes catch them when targeting lake trout, and those in the know consider them a rare treat. Poached burbot is also known as “poor man’s lobster.”
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Granted, once upon a time the slimy, bug-eyed wonder that looks like a cross between an eel and a catfish did get a bad rap as a “freak fish” (much like a similarly serpentine “monster,” the northern snakehead), And it has been the butt of much tomfoolery, including a now-defunct festival whose attractions included eelpout curling. But burbot is making a comeback, one that’s considered well-deserved by anglers who praise its fight and its flavor. In fact, its popularity with recreational anglers has grown to the point that Minnesota actually reclassified burbot from rough fish to game fish and instituted daily limits for the first time this year.