Earlier this week, an odd-looking gargantuan fish from Japan became a minor celebrity on Twitter. But the tide soon turned as curious reactions gave way to harmful rumors that its strange appearance is the result of the effects of radiation from the Fukushima disaster.
The fish, however, was no radioactive specimen. It was a Bering wolffish (Anarhichas orientalis)—a species found off the coast of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. It also just happens to look like a cross between a grumpy grandpa and a monster.
When rumors broke of the fish's supposed contamination, no one was more disappointed than the man who captured the creature: Hiroshi Hirasaka, a reporter and researcher who "lives life in pursuit of odd-looking creatures."
"The wolffish I caught was given write-ups on the internet as 'monster as a result of nuclear accident,'" Hiroshi Hirasaka, the man who caught the fish, told me. Hirasaka initially tweeted the photo because he was proud of his catch, but he soon became devastated by the rapid-fire spread of false internet buzz around the fish.
"That fish has been in [Hokkaido] for a long time, so it's not feasible for it to be affected by radiation. It's rude to the fish to say that, and it's not cool to blame everything on radiation," Hirasaka said. "Creatures only become big in the world of science fiction, and we're not living in the world of Hulk or Godzilla."
Another dramatic shot of a common and not-mutated species of fish. Image: Hiroshi Hirasaki
Hirasaka has degrees in marine biology and ecological sciences. He initially started blogging about all the obscure and odd-looking animals that he came across, but that soon turned into a full-on profession. He has a passion for raising the profile of niche creatures, and to understand them better, he told me he catches, studies, then consumes them.
In Japan, and in Asia more widely, there has always been a tradition of eating foodstuffs such as insects and reptiles that would appear odd in the West. So far, Hirasaka has received no complaints in Japan for eating obscure species. On the whole, people in the country only complained when cute animals such as dogs and cats were eaten elsewhere in the world, he said.
In 2014, Hirasaka even published a recipe book detailing how other people could catch and consume odd fish. He asserted, however, that it's his policy to avoid catching endangered or rare species. If one ends up in his net, he just lets it go. For example, the wolffish, said Hirasaka, is a plentiful species that fishermen in Hokkaido do not catch. Though it tastes like cod, it is not caught and sold commercially as people in the region prefer tastier fish like salmon.
In October, Hirasaka intends to publish a recipe book on niche deep sea fish. He enjoys providing a platform for the unknown, obscure, and ugly species of this world.
"I find slightly odd, grotesque or scary fish interesting," Hirasaka told me. "There will always be other writers who report on the beautiful creatures of this world, but I want other people to understand the allure of more ugly specimens."
As for the internet rumour—he tried debunking it on Twitter, but admitted that the misunderstanding was probably still developing out of his sight and control.
"People in Japan are used to seeing that fish in aquariums, but I guess other people don't know it. I'm not sure if it was a joke or not, but I was sad to think that they thought it was like that because of nuclear radiation," said Hirasaka. "I just want them to have the correct information."
Cool Japan is a column about the quirky and serious happenings in the Japanese scientific, technological and cultural realms. It covers the unknown, the mainstream, and the otherwise interesting developments in Japan.