Brad Pennington of Houston was considered one of the favorites in the Missouri River 340 kayaking race. That is, until he was hit in the head by a leaping 30-pound Asian silver carp shortly after the race began. Pennington, a 43-year-old who practices law when not racing kayaks, said the fish to the head felt “like a brick.” The blow left him with a “pounding, pounding headache that kept getting worse,” causing him to withdraw from the race.
While the story sounds like something out of Monty Python or the Muppets, the carp are a serious problems in rivers from Ohio to South Dakota. “It’s definitely a risk of being out on the river,” said Tracy Hill of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “It’s extremely serious. Those things can kill you.” According to Hill, the 30-pounder that hit Pennington could’ve been a lot bigger. “These fish can grow into 70 or 80 pounds.”
The Asian carp were first imported in the 1970’s as a way to control algae and plankton in fish ponds — they can eat 40% of their own weight in plankton every day. However, they quickly infested the Missouri, Illinois and Mississippi rivers.
The danger to boaters comes because the carp jump out of the river when they panic, and with little warning. The only warning is a sucking sound which tells boaters they better duck. According to Duane Chapman, a research fish biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, the carp can be even more dangerous to power boats:
If they hit the throttle front or back, it’ll floor the engine in reverse or forward, and that’s dangerous. Someone could fall out and even be run over by his own boat. There are times when a fisherman doesn’t come home, and who knows what happened to him out there on the river?
Here’s some scary flying carp video — if you dare to watch:
(Eds. note: not only are the carp threatening fisherman, they are also threatening the ecology of Lake Michigan. Lawmakers in the surrounding states are currently debating whether or not to close off boating locks that feed into the lake in order to prevent the carp from invading.)