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.
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.