Bloodsucking Sea Lampreys Are Attacking People

By Chad Langen | Updated

Sea lamprey

Sea lampreys, taking on a role akin to menacing characters from a horror tale, are unleashing destruction within the Great Lakes, throwing the ecological balance into disarray. As highlighted by Science Alert, the population of these parasites, infamous for their aggressive hunting tactics, has seen a rise in recent years.

Known to feast on lake trout and other aquatic creatures, these terrifying beings have an unsettling tendency to latch onto humans, not for the purpose of a typical violent assault, but instead, they use people as a bizarre mode of transportation.

Sea Lampreys, nicknamed vampire fish, are overruning the Great Lakes, biting fish and humans alike.

Native to the Atlantic Ocean, sea lampreys are jawless, parasitic fish whose distinct features and life cycle set them apart from other marine creatures. Characterized by their eel-like bodies and a suction-cup mouth ringed with rows of sharp, horn-shaped teeth, lampreys latch onto their prey and drain their body fluids, leading to significant ecosystem disruptions when introduced to new environments.

Typically spawning in freshwater rivers and spending their early life as non-parasitic larvae, they metamorphose into parasitic adults before migrating to the sea or lakes, where they can have profound impacts on populations of native fish species.

Sea Lampreys invaded the Great Lakes 60 years ago and have been a constant problem ever since.

Around the start of the 19th century, sea lampreys made their invasive entry into the Great Lakes, and per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it took them merely a decade to infiltrate all five lakes.

Here, they rapidly became predators of commercially significant fish species, such as trout, whitefish, perch, and sturgeon. The unchecked spread and rampant predation of lampreys led to a devastating collapse of the trout fishery within a hundred years, primarily due to their uncontrolled proliferation.

Sea lampreys

The impactful sea lamprey invasion of the 1960s devastatingly diminished the annual commercial lake trout catch in the upper Great Lakes from an estimated 15 million pounds to a paltry half a million.

The task of controlling and managing this intrusive species is collectively shouldered by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, with their collaborative efforts yielding considerable victories.

A proud assertion on the Fishery Commission’s website declares a remarkable decrease in sea lamprey populations, witnessing a 90 percent reduction “in most areas of the Great Lakes.”

How Covid Helped Sea Lampreys Spread

The Covid-19 pandemic, like its effect on numerous other aspects of life, impeded the ability of the agencies to execute their usual population control measures for sea lampreys. As routine operations were disrupted, a notable surge was observed in the sea lamprey population.

Although exact figures on this increase remain elusive, reports suggest that a mere 25 percent of the intended streams underwent treatment in 2020, pointing towards significant unchecked growth in lamprey numbers.

By 2021, the management efforts had significantly recovered, with 75 percent of target streams undergoing treatment, signaling a gradual return to pre-pandemic operational standards. The silver lining in this scenario is that despite human encounters with sea lampreys not being uncommon, these creatures do not represent a substantial threat.

Due to their sluggish swimming capabilities and overall poor aquatic maneuvering, they pose limited danger.

Interestingly, sea lampreys might attach themselves to humans for transportation, but the human body environment is far from ideal for their survival. Our body temperature deviates from their preferred range, rendering the human body an unsuitable host. Thus, any human interaction with sea lampreys is more of an oddity than a genuine threat.