Pike with primeval horns from River Irtysh puzzle experts: did rocket pollution lead to mutant fish?
Fisherman Alexey, 25, pulled two fish from the river last autumn, but his bizarre catch is only disclosed now.
He was puzzled as one pike weighing 12 kilograms had two horns, and the second – 7 kilograms – had four horns. Both fish were immediately nicknamed dragons by fellow anglers.
Alexey ate the fish, despite warning of them being potentially poisonous, with no ill-effect.
Alexey kept and dried the heads, preserving them in his garage.
‘I was impressed with the catch’, said Alexey. ‘One of the pikes was 14 kilograms, another one was 7 kilograms.
‘They had horns bent back towards their tail; the smaller fish had four horns.’
Locals sought to explain how the pike had come to grow horns, asking whether pollution was the cause.
For years there have been concerns over the impact of falling rocket parts from launches at Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Journalists have blamed debris containing rocket fuel for illnesses among children in this area.
Closer to home, the Tarsky Mining and Processing Combine is fairly near the spot, where the fish were taken from the river.
Tarsky Mining and Processing Combine, and Tarsky district of Omsk region marked on the world map
Folklore tales among the indigenous peoples of western and northern Siberia include accounts of pike as underwater dragons.
In Yamal, to the north, the legendary Pyrie is a flesh-eating pike with horns on its head.
The Khanty people who live further south, say the river spirit Sart-Lung turns into a huge pike.
Local emergencies official in the region where the horned pike were caught, Mikhail Kolesov, said: ’It is true that from time to time parts of rocket-carriers launched from Baikonur fall into marshes here and poison the territory with rocket fuel.’
Arkady Balushkin, chief of the Ichthyology laboratory of the Russian Academy of Sciences Zoological Institute, was sceptical about pollution as the cause.
The zirconium plant has been in any case closed for several years.
‘Any change happening under influence of chemical substances or radiation does not lead to new formations like this,’ he said.
‘A pike would still remain a pike, it might develop a tumor or edema, and these are the typical illnesses for these species.
‘But it is not supposed to have any horns.
‘To confirm that it was a pike with horns, and not another fish, I would need to see it for myself.’
Anglers with pikes on shores of river Irtysh in Omsk region
In people, a rare condition caused cutaneous horns is seen as being caused by radiation; can fish also suffer from this?
An article called Pike with Horns, by Dr E J Crossman, suggests the phenomenon in this type of fish, while, exceptionally rare, is not unknown.
He wrote in 1987: ‘In moments of excitement I think many Pike anglers have compared the personality of the Pike to that of one of the more infamous, mythical or real, horned beasts.
‘The same anglers would not, however, expect to actually find horns on their quarry once it was landed.
‘Nevertheless in six isolated cases to date that is exactly what has happened.
‘All six fish had very obvious structures referred to as ‘horns, spines or prongs’.’
He cited a number of cases in North America, according to a publication by the Pike Anglers’ Club of Great Britain.