05/16/2012 05:51 EDT | Updated 07/16/2012 05:12 EDT

Burnaby Frankenfish Video Prompts Hunt For Bizarre Creature

VANCOUVER - Government biologists will inspect a Burnaby, B.C., pond for a suspected snakehead fish dubbed Frankenfish for its monstrous ability to decimate native species and slither onto dry land.

Matthias Herborg, an invasive species expert with the Environment Ministry, said Wednesday that a YouTube video supposedly taken from a pond at Central Park appears to show a snakehead.

"It definitely looks like a snakehead but it's difficult to tell which species," he said.

Biologists will investigate the reservoir this week to determine if it contains the dangerous northern species of the fish that's native to China and Russia.

"They are very concerned so we're going to get there pretty soon," Herborg said.

"This little creek eventually runs into the Fraser River and them getting into the Fraser, that would be one of our biggest nightmares."

Herborg said it's possible someone dumped the snakehead in the pond from a private aquarium.

"Even if they're contained in this pond, it is a place where people could go and get more snakeheads and maybe people get silly ideas and put them somewhere else."

Biologists may install barrier nets to keep the voracious fish from moving about but the biggest concern is that more than one fish would quickly multiply and spread to nearby waterways and beyond, Herborg said.

Burnaby's parks and recreation director David Ellenwood is concerned the so-called Fishzilla has made it into a pond and wants the issue dealt with as soon as possible.

He said the video that shows the snakehead on the surface of the water appears to be from Lower Pond at Central Park.

Chris Harley, associate professor of zoology at the University of British Columbia and a native of Maryland, said he was stunned to see snakeheads being sold in Asian markets in Vancouver and neighbouring cities.

"I'm getting to know more and more about invasive species regulation and management in Canada and they're really lax," he said of the fish that can gobble up frogs and other small animals.

"You can sell all kinds of things live in seafood markets and a lot of those things are known to be invasive species so I'm really just flabbergasted that it's legal to sell snakeheads here."

He said it's a Buddhist tradition to release marine life back into the ocean for good luck, particularly at the new year, and that may include snakeheads, which pose an enormous environmental and economic threat.

There are about 30 species of the invaders and two of them are known to be "super dangerous," Harley said.

The first finding of the toothy snakehead in Maryland is believed to have occurred in a lake in 2002 after a man illegally released two of the fish there, he said.

Biologists eventually poisoned the lake, but the fish was later found elsewhere, including the Potomac River, the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States, Harley said.

"Then it's game over because you just can't (poison) the river," he said. "It's not known whether it will take time for them to be fully established, or it's possible native species are helping to control them by eating their babies."

He said that unlike an oil spill, the devastating effects of which eventually recede, the establishment of a new species forever changes a marine environment, especially if it involves the predatory snakehead.

"In B.C., where there are so many important fisheries, where the fish spend part or all of their lives in fresh water, do you really want snakeheads swimming around in the Fraser River, picking off salmon fry?"

The snakehead is believed to have originated in habitats that dry out, enabling it to deal with low oxygen and stay out of the water for short periods of time.

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