Hagfish are awesomely disgusting creatures. My first personal encounter was seeing their handiwork (and then seeing the fish themselves) while gillnetting off of Massachusetts. The sheer amount of slime produced by these little monsters has long been thought to function as a sort of predator defense, though the hollowed-out carcasses covered in slime we pulled out of the net would suggest that the slime pretty effectively smothers things they’re preying upon as well. New observations made at baited cameras support both hypotheses.
The slime clogs the mouth and gills of potential predators, sending sharks and wreckfish alike packing as they wretch up impossible amounts of mucus. On the offensive, hagfish capture smaller fish and knot themselves around the hapless prey, literally drowning it in slime before rasping it down. It’s not a stretch to think that hagfish might gather around a larger fish captured in a net or otherwise immobilized and let the slime go to work finishing it off, which is likely what happened to the creepy hallowed-out cod and dogfish we found off of Cape Cod.
Are you having nightmares yet?