Mysterious mutant fish caught in SC lake has officials scrambling for answers

Two views of South Carolina’s monster fish.
Two views of South Carolina’s monster fish.

Photos of a grotesquely deformed fish posted on Facebook this week prompted an investigation by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, which wants to know what lake the fish came from and why it had what appears to be a giant tumor on its head.

Department officials said they reposted the photo on their Twitter page Wednesday in response to growing questions from the public.

It is believed the fish came from Lake Cherokee in Cherokee County, a fishing spot that is open to the public and widely used. That’s 60 miles south of Charlotte. However, confusion has spread on social media because there is a similarly named private lake in Oconee County.

Ross Self, S.C.’s chief of freshwater fisheries, said the state has not reached any conclusions, but he sees no reason for the public to panic.

Social media users put the blame on toxic water, illegal dumping, lawn fertilizer and algae, just to name a few.

“One has to ask have the waters been tested recently for chemical content? Carcinogens, et al.?” posted Lynn Sloan on Facebook.

“Keep dumping chemicals into our lakes and waterways and this is what you will get. Is anyone surprised?” wrote Angela Davis Brooks.

South Carolina officials don’t have the fish itself. The photo was posted on Facebook and came to the attention of department, but they didn’t know who caught it.

The photos were sent to Southeastern Cooperative Fish Disease Project to see if they have theories, Self said.

What comes next depends on if the state can pin down which lake the fish came from, he said. Once that happens, the state will catch a sampling of fish from the waters, to see if any more have similar symptoms.

He believes the fish has a tumor, and he’s hoping whoever caught the fish still has it so biologists can run tests.

“I can understand someone not wanting to keep this thing. It was not a pretty fish,” said Self. “It is not unusual to see a fish with a physical abnormality, due to disease or infection. … A lot of people are concerned about what caused the abnormality, but everybody is automatically thinking it’s the worst: Environmental contaminants.”