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Last Updated: Monday, 19 September 2005, 18:56 GMT 19:56 UK
Tropical fish 'may be UK first'
Porcupine fish
Dr Jim Ellis identifies the stranger watched by Alan McMurchie
A fish which rarely strays from tropical waters has been washed up on one of the North Sea's chilly shores.

Experts say the 8lb porcupine fish found on the beach at Winterton in Norfolk on Sunday could be a UK first.

The spiny fish was spotted on the beach by birdwatchers who alerted coastwatch volunteer Alan McMurchie.

"I went to investigate and was quite astonished at its appearance so I went to get a cardboard box and protective gloves and retrieved it," he said.

Coral reefs

The fish was identified on Monday by marine biologist Dr Jim Ellis, from the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) laboratory in Lowestoft, Suffolk.

Dr Ellis said porcupine fish tended to occur much further south, in the Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean, and all around the world in tropical and sub-tropical waters.

The fish, often found on coral reefs, eats molluscs and shellfish and blows jets of water into the sand to expose its prey.

It inflates its body with water when threatened and the spines stick out for defence so when it is eaten it sticks in the throat of its predators.

Experts believe the fish could have been brought across the Atlantic on the Gulf Stream, either around the top of Scotland or through the straits of Dover.

Another possibility is it could have been a pet which grew too big for its tank and was dumped in the sea.

It is to be dissected at the Cefas laboratory and then preserved as a specimen.

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