The Game Warden's Dilemma
You be the game warden, what do you do? Do you count this as ONE or TWO fish?
This was the question posed when this siamese, attached-at-the-head, Northern Pike was caught in 2001, by angler, Donald Tayer. Tayer caught the fish in the Ottertail River, near Wahpeton, ND . The fish was verified by the North Dakota Fish & Game Department and the 'story' - floating around the Internet, has been verified - albeit with some minor errors as to location of catch - by online Hoax busting site: Museum of Hoaxes [Siamese Pike - verification of truth - ]. The typical sites for checking out the validity of 'Internet stories', such as HoaxBusters.com, TruthOrFiction.com, Snopes.com and HoaxKill.com did not even have it in their databases.
The condition that created this "siamese twin" northern pike is called monozygous  [identical twins- single egg into seperate embyos] fusing, (as opposed to dizygous [fraternal twins- two eggs, seperate zygotes, simultaneous])). I could find no medical term or word specifically for, identical twins, joined at the head and thorax; despite this tongue-twister of a medical term: real or made-up: craniothoracopageal fusing: given by a person describing this fish. As he called it, "...craniothoracopageal fusing is where the head is common and the gastrointestinal tracts are diverse, but the heart and respiratory system are a single unit." OK. I could NOT find verification of that word, in any online medical source. But it sounds good. So .. that's what it is - for now.
This condition occurs in nearly all life forms. It happens in humans, rarely, but the survival rate is probably zero: even with the many miracles of science. As we've seen in a couple of very high-profile stories in the past 6 months.
The off-chance zygomatic (bone) fusing, shown in this pike specimen, would most likely have been fatal in other, less aggressive, fishes. The odds of this happening are much lower than the odds for survival to adulthood.
I put the image file though a thorough testing in Photoshop CS and it held up under close scrutiny. There were no obvious pixel duplications or blendings - common to 'dupes'. So, I guess it is the "real-deal".
What is truly amazing - is that the fish not only lived, but the left body is that of a very well developed pike! I couldn't find any stats - such as weight, length, girth or age on the fish. But ... I have a call into the ND Fish & Wildlife looking. I'll let you know if/when I hear something. I do hope someone did 'jot this down' as it would be very interesting to know.
This condition is NOT at all outlandish; it's just rare. There are numerous two-headed calves, snakes and turtles. The chances among fishes is probably quite high, with the extremely large egg masses produced. So, the chance possibility of fusing is likely quite high. The survival rate must be very low; obviously; because, not many 'two-headed-fish' are reported. In over 50 years of fishing I've NEVER caught or even seen one myself.
So... does the fisherman get to keep ONE or BOTH. I'd let him keep 'em as they only came in 'one-package' and who'd have expected him to 'return it' ! But I will let you know what the ND Officer decided when I find that out as well.
UPDATE: 4:37PM GMT-4 06.14.06
This so-called North Dakota Northern, it seems - is NOT - after all, a North Dakota fish.
It was - according to all reports (so far verifiied) - caught in the Ottertail River. The Ottertail, flows ONLY IN Minnesota. Thus is could NOT be a North Dakota fish.
What's the matter, doesn't anyone want to claim the rare oddity of nature? Or, is there a piscatorial stigma attached here?
The Ottertail ends on the east-bank of the Red River at the town of Wahpeton, North Dakota. The Red River is an official demarkation line between North Dakota and Minnesota - making the Ottertail, technically a Minnesota river: ONLY.
I received a return call, around 4PM GMT-4, from Ron Wilson, Editor of the North Dakota Game & Fish Department's North Dakota Outdoors magazine, letting me know.... he went 'downstairs' to speak with Greg Power, North Dakota Game & Fish Department, Fisheries Division Chief about this question. According to Greg, this was a South Dakota northern pike. But Ron remembers it being a Minnesota northern pike.
What?? Who's got it right? Does anyone? I sure hope so!
Ah!ha! .. now, the plot thickens.
I guess I will have to contact the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources ... and, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, to get down to the bare-bones-skinny on this piscatorial mystery after all.
Stay tuned. This is bound to only get better.