The “monster” hunters faced a challenge: They first had to locate the fish in Yunchan Lake, a 30-acre man-made body of water filled with aquatic plants near the bottom. After two weeks of fruitless searching, the local government announced that it would drain the entire lake.
As the drain neared its end on Tuesday, Chinese media and TikTok influencers rushed to the site to get a glimpse of the fish. A live broadcast of the public tabloid Chutian Metropolis Daily drew more than 37 million viewers, as the hunting team set up searchlights and raked the remaining puddles with fishing nets.
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— 新京报Beijing News (@BJNewsOfficial) August 25, 2022
“I begin [a] fire to cook it,” said a commentator on the live stream. Others brainstormed ideas for the research team, with one person suggesting the use of Go-Pro equipped remote control cars and others suggesting luring it in with a laser pointer.
By the time the search team called it a day late Tuesday, there was still no sight of the fish.
The marathon livestream continued on Wednesday and Thursday, with hashtags related to the gar trending on the Weibo microblogging service. Government officials told local media that the gar may be hiding in a U-shaped pipeline about 200 meters long leading to the lake.
Alligator guys, originally from the Americas, were introduced to China as a pet fish. They were prized for their quirky looks, but many were later abandoned or released into the wild after getting too big. Although Chinese scientists are pushing for gar to be added to an invasive species inventory, it remains readily available at pet stores and e-commerce sites for as little as a few dollars.
The fish poses a threat to local ecosystems due to its voracious appetite, experts say. It also has few natural predators.
In the United States, where the alligator gar population appears to be in decline, the transportation and trade of fish is regulated by federal law. Washington state law allows the unauthorized release of alligator gar into state waters to be considered a felony.
“When a gar is released into a river, lake or fish farm here, it will start to devour everything, which can pose a great threat to local ecosystems,” said Gu Dang’en, an aquatic ecosystem expert at the Pearl River Fisheries Research. Institute, which has studied invasive fish species.
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The gar can grow up to 10ft and prefers slow-moving bodies of water such as the man-made Ruzhou Lake, he said. The fish can attack humans if it feels threatened, although such incidents are “extremely rare”, Gu added.
A 27-inch, 22-pound guy was captured in an eastern Chinese city last week after a boy was bitten, according to a television network in Jiangsu province.
Search party members said Thursday afternoon that they would enter the large water pipe to hunt the gar. But some online commentators began to question whether it was worth emptying the lake for a fish.
“With all the fanfare you’d think it was all about catching the Loch Ness Monster,” one user commented on Weibo.
Gu said local officials had good intentions but may have overreacted.
“Economically, of course, it’s not worth it. Are we going to empty all the lakes when we see some guys there? ” he said.