July 14–In a scene straight out of your nightmares, a truck full of “slime eels” lost its load Thursday on U.S. 101, causing a five-car crash, dousing sedans with goo and sending sea creatures slithering across vehicles and the highway.

Technically, the fish were not eels, but hagfish, which have a skull but no jaw or spine and they secrete slime when distressed, earning them the nickname “slime eels.”

And distressed they were, emitting gooey stuff that will make you shiver in your sandals — and that covered 101 along with the 7,500 pounds of fish.

Image credit: Oregon State Police/Twitter

The Oregon State Police tweeted photos of extensively damaged, slimy sedans. It was a decidedly disgusting scene best avoided by travelers.

The fish were loaded in the back of a truck driven by Salvatore Tragale for transport to Korea, where they are a delicacy. Tragale was driving northbound on 101 when he came upon road construction that had stopped traffic, police say.

But Tragale couldn’t stop his truck in time, and containers of hagfish flew. They sailed into the southbound lane, starting a chain reaction of collision.

Image credit: Oregon State Police/Twitter

The crates first struck a 2017 Nissan driven by Kim Randall, a 64-year-old from Arizona. The impact pushed the Nissan back into a Honda CRV, driven by Rachel Craven of Toledo. Craven’s car then collided into a white Ford Focus driven by two women, Kristine Torp and Melissa Waage, from Norway. The Focus struck a 2017 Ford F150 containing Kevin, Donna and Brandon White from Tigard.

Randall sustained minor injuries in the crash. No one else was injured. Unless, of course, you count the fish. Hagfish cannot survive outside of salt water. They died on the highway.

The highway was down to one lane for several hours as the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Depoe Bay Fire District hosed fish and slime off the road. The highway reopened about 4 p.m.

Authorities continued working late afternoon to clean the dead hagfish from the side of the road, a state police spokeswoman said.

Image credit: Oregon State Police/Twitter

Charges are pending for Tragale, the truck driver, the spokeswoman said.

Hagfish are caught along the West Coast, including Oregon, and shipped to Korea, where they are a delicacy.

They have unique qualities. The slime — a type of mucus — from a hagfish can expand to more than five gallons when combined with water. Sorry, ODOT.

Image credit: Oregon State Police/Twitter

Also, according to smithsonianmag.com, to prevent choking on its own slime, a hagfish can “sneeze” out its slime-filled nostril, and tie its body into a knot to keep the slime from dripping onto its face.

And, just to enhance the nightmare, this last fact from smithsonianmag.com: The eel-shaped creatures use four pairs of thin sensory tentacles surrounding their mouths to find food–including carcasses of much larger animals. Once they find their meal, they bury into it face-first to bore a tunnel deep into its flesh.

Good night.

— Jim Ryan and Samantha Matsumoto

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By Jim Ryan, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

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