Lamprey biting binge signals species' return to Baltic Sea

Sabine Devins
Sabine Devins - [email protected]
Lamprey biting binge signals species' return to Baltic Sea
Photo: Environmental Protection Agency

Two swimmers in the Baltic Sea sought medical treatment over the weekend after being bitten by sea lampreys, an uncomfortable incident that has the state fisheries department aflutter about the return of the parasitic marine animal.


The two people were bitten near the town of Damp, 50 kilometres north of Kiel on the east coast of Schleswig-Holstein. A lamprey had to be removed after it attached itself to the leg of a 14-year-old boy. The other lamprey victim told German tabloid Bild that he was swimming and bitten by “a metre-long snake-like creature.”

Martin Franz, manager of the Schleswig-Holstein fisheries department said the offender was most likely a sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), which can grow to be as long as 80 centimetres, trying to catch a ride.

“They aren’t very good swimmers so they latch on to a passing fish – or in this case a person – to get around,” he told The Local on Monday.

The sea lamprey had been considered to be increasingly rare in the southern Baltic Sea. Franz sees the two incidents as a positive sign for the population.

“Not so long ago, the lamprey was a delicacy here and they were completely overfished. This is actually a good sign and means the population is improving,” Franz said.

But swimmers have nothing to worry about, he added. Their bite is not dangerous and despite the menacing look of their mouths, they have no teeth.

“They just latch on with their mouths and that may cause a little bit of blood but there is absolutely no danger caused by the lamprey, though I imagine if a full-grown one attached itself to you, it would cause quite a shock,” he said, adding there was no reason to seek medical treatment after a lamprey encounter.

The snake-like creatures are decomposers, or detritivores, meaning they feed on dead organisms.

In the case of a lamprey “bite,” Franz recommended gently pulling the parasite from side until it releases hold.

Northern Germany is also home to river lampreys and creek lampreys, both of which are considerably smaller than the sea lamprey.


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