Slimy Hagfish Is Threatened— and Vital

Study says some species in danger of extinction
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 31, 2011 4:49 PM CDT
This image provided by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography shows a hagfish in La Jolla, Calif.   (AP Photo/Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Cabria Colt)
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(Newser) – Pity the poor hagfish: It has an awful name, an even-worse nickname ("slime eel"), shudder-inducing eating habits (it is thought to burrow into dead and dying creatures on the ocean floor and absorb nutrients through its skin), and now troubling numbers about its very survival. Of 76 species worldwide, nine face risk of extinction, reports Live Science. Scientists are worried because, while the hagfish will never be a cuddly poster subject, its function as a bottom scavenger is important for the food chain.

"Hagfish are a great example of one of those 'not-so-cute' species that play a vital role in ecosystem health," says a member of the Global Marine Species Assessment, which produced the study. Overfishing is again the main culprit: The hagfish is caught for food and leather, and it also gets unintentionally snagged in nets trawling for other fish. "This study highlights the impact we have on hagfish and the importance of protecting them to maintain the stability of ocean ecosystems," says the researcher.

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