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Hagfish: Skinned, slimey and still alive
Photo by Anna Waigand

When I first saw them they were just tubes of raw, pink flesh frantically writhing in a shallow red bowl. No skin, no scales, no head. Just a line of pink flesh with a white lattice of fat woven into it. In a couple of seconds, the slithering turned into an infrequent twitching, and then it joined the pink pile of now dead hagfish.

One narrow street of the Jagalchi Fish Market is where all the hagfish sellers seem to congregate. The method for killing hagfish is just as disgusting as the fish. Each hagfish seller has a board with a round peg that sits in a hole in one end. They take a live hagfish, stick their head under the peg and crush it into the hole. With the fish still moving, they do a couple of quick knife swipes to seperate it from its skin and organs. (Hagfish hides are actually made into leather as it turns out.) The fish are then tossed into a pile of their recently dead friends. To see the process for yourself, check out the video.

Hagfish: God’s Grossest Creatures from Seoulful Adventures on Vimeo.

Video by Andre Francisco. Editing by Anna Waigand.

You probably haven’t heard of hagfish before because almost no one but Koreans eat them. And why don’t they eat them? Maybe because they’re mud dwelling scavengers that burrow their way into nearly-dead fish that fall to the bottom of the sea and then eat their way out, even if the fish are still alive. Or maybe it’s because their other name is the slime eel because their defense mechanism is to produce a mucus that turns into unbelievable quantities of slime when mixed with water. Slime that suffocates other fish who eat them.

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