Re: NANFA-- lamprey bites

Christopher Scharpf (
Tue, 31 Jul 2001 15:08:16 -0400

> Lampreys will attack humans. Here in the great lakes, long distance
> swimmers are commonly attacked by exotic sea lampreys.

I haven't seen any primary literature on this, but I would say it's unfair
to characterize such occurrences as "attacks," i.e., actually parasitizing
on humans. Sea lampreys are known to "bum rides" on boats and big fishes.
Maybe they're just using a swimmer as a free ride?

In most cases, it's the other way attacking lamprey. The
lamprey is generally considered too repugnant to be a commercially important
fish in America, but Europeans love 'em. King Henry I was a lamprey
connoisseur who is said to have died from a "surfeit of lampreys." In
ancient Rome, where cooks fattened up lampreys in special ponds, a friend of
Augustus Caesar believed lampreys that fed on humans had a more delicate
flavor, so he banished disobedient slaves into his pond for lamprey food.
And in present-day Portugal, lamprey is a culinary delicacy wherein
restaurants proudly display living lampreys in aquaria, and secret and
exclusive lamprey dining clubs are formed. A two-year Minnesota Sea Grant
study to determine the marketability of unwanted Great Lakes sea lamprey to
Portugal, where sea lampreys are rare and expensive due to overfishing, had
mixed results: while the Great Lakes lamprey had a more desirable texture
than European populations of the fish, it also had mercury levels that were
too high for European Union standards.

Perhaps it should also be stated that in the study of neurobiology, lampreys
are useful as experimental animals because of their nerve cells are large
enough to be seen with the naked eye, and for the ability of their brain and
spinal cord to remain alive when cut from the body and placed in a saline
solution. Researchers in human paralysis are especially interested in the
sea lamprey, which is the only known vertebrate that can repair its spinal
cord when it is severed.

Chris Scharpf
Lamprey Anti-Defamation League of North America

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