Have we been catfished? Or is this animal a signal that the environment is a wreck? (Updated)

UPDATE: 30-Mar-2016 The Gothamist has followed up on this story of a three-eyed catfish and announced it was a hoax by an artist. The NY Times actually delivered the details on March 28 that an eccentric artist known as Zardulu orchestrated the three-eyed fish hoax from the Gowanus canal. She approached actor “Greg Hunter” [actually Greg Boz] with the fake fish tale and a bunch of taxidermied fish:

He was given a fishing pole and instructed to return another day and to appear to have caught one of the fish, and to alert passers-by to his catch.

“It felt totally fake to me,” Mr. Boz, 29, said last week at his apartment in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the five fish laid out on his kitchen table. “I felt like I was being a bad actor. But it was funny.”

It worked. Zardulu also claims credit for the pizza rat video that also went viral and the selfie rat story noting that perpetuating modern myths is “a tragically underappreciated art form”. Really? Well that does explain a lot of Doubtful News!

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NEVER FORGET, all news is doubtful!

Originally posted 2015-Nov 12

Nothing gets headlines like finding a weird critter in a scary place. It’s triply fun if the critter imitates a pop culture icon. So, in the news, we have the supposed discovery of Blinky – a three-eyed catfish that has been found in a polluted waterway in New York. Is it real? Or is this a put on that is not what it seems?

Capture from video of freaky catfish.

Capture from video of freaky catfish.

A story appeared on The Gothamist on November 8 that some “dude” caught a freaky fish:

“Bunch of people were crowding this dude fishing near Whole Foods on Gowanus,” a tipster who captured the fish on video wrote us. “He caught a 3 eyed cat fish. Some lady was flipping out cause he whacked it dead and she said they were trying to preserve the remaining wildlife there or something. It was a crazy scene. He said he was gonna eat it! Crazy.”

The event which took place on the Hamilton Avenue Bridge was recorded on video by Greg Hunter who sent it to the media.

Notice that there is no water around the fish. Why is the guy just hanging around if he’s going to eat it? Why would ANYONE be fishing in this place to begin with? Other clues in the video lend itself to suspicion. It’s looking like a planned joke.

The Gothamist followed up the story with links to biologists who think this is fishy. Curiously, The Gothamist was also the source of this story of a “thing” (a decomposing raccoon) that washed up along the East River in the summer of 2012, as well as several other stories of freaky finds – dyed pigeons, a goat head, and the salad frog. So, it seems to be the media outlet for this kind of “news”. They aren’t as tabloidy as other sites that would publicize such a story. But it did get around. NYMag picked up the story and noted that the placement of the “third eye” was suspicious, as did the NY Times who was outright dubious about the tale.

One biologist quoted by the Times says that finding this freshwater bullhead in the saltwater Gowanus Canal is unlikely. But these fish are hardy, CAN tolerate pollution, and are bottom feeders, eating dead things and just about everything else. They can also tolerate brackish water but it’s generally conceded that the salinity here is still too high.

It’s also possible that this “third eye” could be a lesion or injury and that the catch was real. Regulars to the canal say they have never seen such a big fish in there before. Hunter insists the fish was real but that does not preclude a hoax by the dude on the bridge. There is no mention of what happened to the fish.

The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn has a fascinating history. It was completed in 1869 to serve as a major transportation route. But now it is a Superfund site, which means it has been established that it contains levels of hazardous contaminants that need to be cleaned up with government money. The Canal was polluted by decades of industry, effects from ship transportation and urban runoff including sewage, and lack of environmental regulations and enforcement. The lands adjacent to the canal hosted stone and coal yards, mills, cement plants, gas, chemical and fertilizer plants, tanneries, paint, ink, and soap factories and machine shops. The water is saline. Rumors circulated that the Mafia dumped bodies in the waterway. Heck, it looked like everything else was dumped there. There have been repeated attempts to rejuvenate the area. 10-20 feet of toxic sludge has accumulated on the bottom. This must be dredged out and disposed as hazardous waste. Some report that wildlife is returning to areas along the waterway but the situation remains awful. EPA has identified more than a dozen contaminants in the canal including pesticides, metals, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). Cleanup planning has begun but it is estimated to take about 10 more years. The goal is a waterway that people can safely fish in and exist alongside once again.

Freaky “Blinky” fish have occurred before. Any rumor of strange “mutated” animals alarms people regarding pollution in their immediate environment. That’s not a bad thing but hoaxes should still be called out. Real data are better than scare-mongering. It could be that this is a stunt to raise awareness of the condition of the canal and to push for the cleanup to begin. Was it an eye? Was it from that location? We don’t know. If another is found, alert a biologist. Don’t kill it. And, geez, DON’T eat it.

Three-Eyed walleye in the Great Lakes basin

Something to freak out about: Three-eyed fish caught near nuclear power plant (dubious)

Obligatory Simpsons reference

Obligatory Simpsons reference

  6 comments for “Have we been catfished? Or is this animal a signal that the environment is a wreck? (Updated)

  1. drwfishesman
    November 12, 2015 at 12:36 PM

    OK confession time. I worked for a couple of years as a fisheries observer up in Alaska. The National Marine Fisheries Service contracts out for observers to be on commercial fishing vessels up in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. The job basically entails doing sampling to estimate catch rates of both target species and by-catch. On one Pollock fishing vessel, I would sit for hours and watch the Pollock go by on a conveyer belt. One day I picked one up and pulled out it’s eye and cut a small slit in the forehead of another fish (they were all dead BTW) and placed the eye inside to give the fish the appearance of having three eyes. It looked just like the picture above. I placed it back on the conveyer and watched it freak the hell out of the workers down the line. After they saw it, I immediately was their first suspect and we all had a good laugh about it. This is so easily and convincingly faked that it’s preposterous.

  2. Amarok
    November 12, 2015 at 2:09 PM

    Imo, this one could be authentic. Most chordates have got a structure called pineal (or parietal) eye, which is, basically, a third eye situated at the centre of the skull. In most vertebrates, it’s a vestigial organ, that is reduced and often useless, but some reptiles (the Tuatara, also called sphenodon, in particular) and some species of fish still have a partially functional one, often implicated in circadian cycles.
    Unfortunately, i don’t know if the black bullhead has one, but they have a small hole between the parietal bones, which suggests, at least, that it might have existed in the past (I mean, the evolutionary past).
    That’s why it’s not, in fact, a weird placement for a third eye; if the parietal eye reduction is due to an inhibition, one single small mutation (caused, or not, by the toxic waste) would be enough to “get it back in place” (I’m not sure if anyone studied the evolution of the parietal eye in fishes, but i didn’t find any satisfying scientific article about it).

    This fish also looks fresh, even maybe still alive; if you look closely, you can even see, at 0:19, a muscular contraction on the back of the head; catfishes are die-hard animals, and can stay alive for several hours out of water; that could explain why the area around the fish is dry (or it could also have been brought alive from somewhere else).

    As a conclusion, i’d say that i think the fish itself could be authentic, but the background story could, or not, have been made up; in any case, i wouldn’t eat this fish, nor anything coming from this river, even normal-looking fish.

  3. Ryan
    November 13, 2015 at 2:22 AM

    I might argue with you on the fish looking fresh. I see what you’re saying about the possible spasm, but the video is far to shaky to make any determination there so I don’t think its valid to assume its movement. I’m an avid fisherman, live in a maritime community, and work in the food business. What we can see of the eyes they look cloudy, dull, and possibly sunken. All classic hallmarks of fish that have been dead for quite a while. And we’re not just talking dead for an hour or two. Its a sign that the fish has begun to spoil. As in its been dead for many hours and improperly stored/handled at minimum. But you’ll most often see it (in markets anyway) in fish that have been dead more than a day. We don’t get a direct look at the usual eyes, but that 3rd one is most definitely an eye that’s been dead for a good long time. Recently dead or still living fish do not have eyes like that, even if they’ve been sitting on a bridge in the sun for a bit.

    I’m also a little suspicious of that guy’s fishing pole. It looks to be a very light pre-packaged rod/real combo intended for very small fish. They aren’t particular strong or robust, and typically come pre-loaded with low quality 3lb or 5lb test nonalignment (which visually looks to be what’s on the pole). I don’t do much fresh water fishing, and tackle for that is typically much lighter than we use for salt water. And Bullhead are apparently quite small for catfish. But catfish in general are very strong fighters. Some googling indicated at 15lb test line is the recommended minimum for smaller catfish.

    Frankly I don’t think that reel is strong enough, or the line robust enough to pull in a catfish of that size. Particularly when fishing off a tall structure like a bridge (line has a tendency to snap when the fish leaves the water).

  4. Ryan
    November 13, 2015 at 2:26 AM

    That should read “monofilament” rather than “nonalignment”. Spell check is dumb as rocks.

  5. Craig
    November 13, 2015 at 7:01 AM

    “IF” this is true? I’ll add it to the list of mutations and rare oddities we’ve seen before.

    Conjoined twins; two-headed amphibians, mammals and reptiles; frogs and toads with three front legs; a human with a vestigial tail.

  6. Russian Skeptic
    November 20, 2015 at 10:30 AM

    This does not look much like an eye, to my opinion. Rather like a shirt button pressed into the skin. Take notice how blurred the video is. It never allows to see the details clearly. And the fish is never moved or handled. Wouldn’t it be natural to pick it up and get a closer look? The answer is: because the button would not hold on if you moved it.

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