Democracy Dies in Darkness

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Overturned truck of 'slime eels' transforms Oregon road into highway of nightmares

By Alex Horton

July 14, 2017 at 12:16 PM

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Highway 101 in Oregon was covered in slime after a July 13 collision spilled 7,500 pounds of hagfish all over the road. (Depoe Bay Fire District)

Whatever you call them — slime eels, hagfish, nightmare fuel — an Oregon highway was drenched with 7,500 pounds of the sea creatures after a five-vehicle collision Thursday.

Hagfish secrete sticky ooze when they're attacked, startled or, apparently, catapulted from a truck into oncoming traffic.

The 3.4 tons of cargo was ultimately bound for Korea, where the fish are a delicacy, the Oregonian reported. One person was injured in the accident on Highway 101 on the central Oregon coast.

Related: [Australian scientists went looking for deep sea creatures and pulled up your nightmares instead]

According to a local affiliate, the truck driver slammed on his brakes while approaching a construction zone, and gravity took over, with one container striking a car in the opposite lane. "It was a mess, approximately 150 to 200 yards of roadway blocked with fish and cars," said Senior Trooper Brian Tucker of the Oregon State Police.

The accident closed the traffic lane for hours. The truck driver is being investigated in connection with the case, a police spokeswoman told the Oregonian.

Video and photos posted by first-responders evoke a scene straight out of a horror movie: mashed up cars covered in slime, slithering hagfish desperately searching for water and roadside ditches brimming with carcasses. One video shows a small bulldozer steaming through a dense pile of fish to clear the roadway.

Despite being nicknamed "slime eel" and their eel-like shape, hagfish belong to a family of jawless fish called Agnatha. Sensor tentacles around their faces help them find food, which they attack face-first by boring a tunnel into the bodies of prey, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

Hagfish are sought by Pacific Northwest fishermen for export to South Korea, where overfishing has depleted stocks.

But it's their penchant for sliming that makes the hagfish stand out in an ocean full of strange creatures. The mechanism is used to freak out predators and coat their jaws in a sticky, transparent cloud that allows the hagfish to escape. And, thanks to a lack of vertebrae, a hagfish can tie itself in a knot to avoid slime from coating its own face.

It is too early to tell how fans of the fish might use the tale of the slimed highway to mark Hagfish Day, which falls on Oct. 18 this year.


Alex Horton is a staff reporter and former Army infantryman.

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