Claim: Climate Change is Creating Dangerous Hybrid Puffer Fish

Puffer Fish
A dead porcupinefish with clearly visible spines on the shore. By UY ScutiOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Consumers of gourmet Fugu face new dangers, as climate change facilitates the rise of dangerous hybrid puffer fish.

Climate change has created a mutant pufferfish, a poisonous Japanese delicacy that can cost up to $120 per pound and sometimes kill a person in as little as a few hours

Mari Saito, Reuters Dec. 10, 2018, 10:18 AM

  • The Japanese pufferfish, or fugu, is best known for its ability to kill a person in as little as a few hours.
  • During the holiday season, a fishmonger in Tokyo can sell up to $88,000 worth of the fish on any given day.
  • Though deaths are extremely rare, the danger associated with the fish contributes to its popularity.
  • But climate change is adding a new element of risk: Fishers are discovering an unprecedented number of hybrid fugu, which are no more dangerous than your average lethal pufferfish but can be hard to distinguish from established species.

News of poisonings elicits fevered national coverage. When a supermarket in western Japan accidentally sold five packets of the fish without its poisonous liver removed in January, the town used its missile alert system to warn residents.

And now, climate change is adding a new element of risk: Fishers are discovering an unprecedented number of hybrid species in their catch as seas surrounding the archipelago — particularly off the northeastern coast — see some of the fastest rates of warming in the world.

With pufferfish heading north to seek cooler waters, sibling species of the fish have begun to interbreed, triggering a sudden increase in the number of hybrid fish.

Hybrids are no more dangerous than your average lethal pufferfish. The problem is that they can be hard to distinguish from established species.

Confusingly, the location of the deadly neurotoxin differs in certain types of pufferfish; it can sometimes be found in its skin or muscle, as well as its reproductive organs.

Read more:

What they are saying its impossible to separate safe meat from toxic meat with a hybrid, because the parent species have toxins in different organs, and pass an unpredictable toxin map to their offspring.

Unusually this is a climate problem which has a simple solution. Stop eating deadly toxic fish!

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December 13, 2018 10:20 pm

That spiky fish is quite clearly telling people to leave it alone and not attempt to eat it. Unfortunately some people do not have the sense that they were born with. These people are frequently Global Warmists too.

Bill Powers
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
December 14, 2018 3:56 am

And the best part nichoas, or worst for taxpayers, is all too many of these warmists are traveling around the world to exotic places, eating exotic (read expensive) meals, and drinking fine wines on per diem expense accounts, paid with GovMINT grants (read taxpayer dollars). Their diets are going to kill them long before Global Warming does. Ordinary middle class taxpayers can’t afford to travel to Japan let alone eat expensive food and frequently are smart enough to leave the latter off their bucket list.

Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
December 14, 2018 10:00 am

This is something NO ONE needs to eat.

Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
December 14, 2018 10:55 am

Fugu aren’t spiky.
Artistic license or ignorance behind the pic.

Daniel Gruenberg
Reply to  c1ue
December 14, 2018 8:12 pm

I am a licensed fugu chef and this is true. Photo and story totally unrelated.

Critical Mass
December 13, 2018 10:45 pm

Claim: Climate Change is Creating Dangerous Hybrid Scientists.

Climate change has created a mutant scientist, a hybrid between a scientist with little to no knowledge of the climate sciences and a shyster.

Reply to  Critical Mass
December 14, 2018 4:37 am

So True!

Reply to  Critical Mass
December 14, 2018 4:54 am

Scientists have not discovered circumtropical

Tom Gelsthorpe
Reply to  Critical Mass
December 14, 2018 5:09 am

Ditto to Catcracking.

R Shearer
Reply to  Tom Gelsthorpe
December 14, 2018 8:28 am

Ditto to Tom.

Charles Higley
Reply to  Critical Mass
December 14, 2018 7:46 am

These hybrids probably drive from the stress on the populations of pufferfish, such that they cannot find a mate of the same species but, needing to ante, they take what they can get.

Timo Soren
Reply to  Charles Higley
December 14, 2018 10:44 am

Read about hybridization in a paper by Montanari.

Expansion of ranges, predation, opportunists mating, etc are all part of fish hybridation and it has been studied in reef fish for some time.

Fish species are the most common of this although birds are up there.

This has been happening throughout time and is only observed after enough of the hybridization has occur to be readily visibility by the common man or by the lucky research scientist.

This is called evolution and every single cat/dog/horse/cattle breeder will tell you they are not overly selective when “ready”.

It is just in this case macho rich people may die from it. I believe a Bernarduahua, would kill a Chihuahua female but not a St Bernard female.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Charles Higley
December 14, 2018 4:09 pm

Closing time at the bar.

Pop Piasa
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
December 14, 2018 8:12 pm

Beer goggles.

December 13, 2018 10:51 pm

“Unusually this is a climate problem which has a simple solution. Stop eating deadly toxic fish!”

Not At All.
1) This is a classic case of a self-limiting problem. Leave it alone and it will sort itself out all by itself.
2) Contestants for the Darwin Awards. For those who do not know, the Darwin Awards are awarded to those people who improve the gene pool of the human race by removing themselves from it. The competition is fierce (apparently). Points are given for style, grace (or lack of it), creativity, and of course, sheer mind boggling stupidity.
Deliberately eating a fish which is known to have lethal amounts of a potent neurotoxin should rate well with the judges.

{For more information, just do an internet search on “Darwin Awards”. Yes, it is for real. You can read the stories of some previous winners.}

Reply to  TonyL
December 14, 2018 12:44 am

The Darwin Awards have really gone downhill in recent years. Most reports are factually incorrect or don’t meet the original criteria. They would be better placed in the ‘false’ section of

Tom in Florida
Reply to  Roger
December 14, 2018 5:52 am

Who snopes

Reply to  Tom in Florida
December 14, 2018 7:35 am

Nice, but it sounds better in Latin:

Quis snopesiet ipsos snopesies?

Reply to  Gary
December 15, 2018 6:50 am


But who cares. Don’t read it, since they’re just political.

Reply to  Roger
December 14, 2018 10:32 am

very nearly all of snopes is the ‘false’ section these days, ah for the days when it was simply a place to warn us about chain-letter-email…

Reply to  TonyL
December 14, 2018 3:02 am

I have an older book version of some, its an excellent cheer up read;-)
more hybrids=more fools removed
gotta be a win win

D. Cohen
Reply to  TonyL
December 14, 2018 4:04 am

The biggest Darwin award winners are those who choose not to have children (even though they could) in order “to save the planet”.

After all, the point is to reproduce, not just to stay alive.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  D. Cohen
December 14, 2018 4:11 pm

We should honor their sacrifice. Imagine the screwed up kids they would raise.

December 13, 2018 11:16 pm

It is somewhat difficult to extract the ‘core’ from this article.
The two statements:
1. The hybrid is difficult to distinguish from the common pufferfish and
2. The hybrid is no more dangerous than the common pufferfish
are not compatible with the following
3. Parents of hybrids pass an unpredictable toxin map to their offspring
So if the certified fugu chefs are preparing this supposed delicacy in accordance with the procedures set out for the common puffer fish and do not realize that they are in fact processing a hybrid, and the toxins are not where they should have been, it would follow that there would be a notable increase in poisonings, which suggests that point #2 is not true. There is not mention of such an increase in poisonings, so the whole issue is left hanging.
Seems like someone is trying to get mileage out of the fact that local fishing waters may have increase in temperature. To what end, one can only guess.

Reply to  Asp
December 14, 2018 1:51 am


To what end, one can only guess.

To get a grant for studying something utterly inconsequential, then stitch ‘climate change’ into it to guarantee funding and lay the path for lots more funding of inconsequential studies?

Just a suggestion.

Reply to  Asp
December 14, 2018 1:13 pm

Agreed, mostly, Asp.
Echoing and slightly restating your points:

A)Only certified Fugu chefs and fish mongers are allowed to “clean” puffer fish and only the certified chefs are allowed to prepare puffer fish for the table. Anyone else cleaning and selling puffer fish is at danger of arrest for murder

B) Only the meat is safe to eat.
B) i) The liver is extremely toxic.
B) ii) Other organs of the puffer fish are also toxic. Which is why Japan requires certification before professionals can handle or prepare the fish for sale.

C) Ordinary fisher persons and consumers who catch and choose to eat puffer fish, do so at their own risk. Poisonings are not unknown for fisher persons mishandling and then consuming puffer fish.

D) Much is made in this shrill article about rising sea temperatures. Except, the deeper waters, i.e. anything over two feet deep, have experienced miniscule temperature rises. Puffer fish do not live, feed or mate in the upper surface water. Where puffer fish live has experienced very little increased warmth.

E) Other areas of the world have puffer fish with low to zero toxicity; e.g. East Coast of America where puffer fish are equated to chickens, because the puffers yield drumstick like meat pieces.

This puffer fish claim ranks right with the recent island Tuvalu is sinking claim made amongst wails and piteous cries for “climate change cash”.
It is just another alarmist attempt at extortion.

Reply to  ATheoK
December 16, 2018 5:27 pm

Thanks for the clarification ATheoK.
Of interest is your note that puffer fish are equated to chicken on the East Coast of America. In Indonesia, trigger fish, a relatively close relative, is sold as ikan ayam or chicken fish, and is very popular. It is not unusual to see boxfish being sold in restaurants as well.
In Australia, we eat leatherjackets, another member of this group, but not triggerfish, box fish, file fish, toadfish, porcupine fish, cow fish etc.
Given the popularity of triggerfish around the world, excepting Australia, I am tempted to try it, but so far have not found the courage. We have not reached 97% consensus on the safety of eating triggerfish in Australia as yet.

December 13, 2018 11:38 pm

How can different “species” of pufferfish interbreed? Would not that violate the definition of “species?”

Reply to  DHR
December 14, 2018 3:29 am

No, a certain amount of interbreeding between closely related species is not unusual. Normally the hybrids have decreased fitness/fertility so things sort themselves out, though some gene exchange between species does occur.

This is how it worked with human/neanderthal hybridization, most of the neanderthal genes have been selected out of modern humans, those we still have are often useful ones like immune system genes that confer resistance to diseases found in Eurasia but not in Africa.

Occasionally a hybrid population can become stabilized and form a new, third, species. This is very rare for animals, but fairly common for plants.

December 13, 2018 11:47 pm

With pufferfish heading north to seek cooler waters, sibling species of the fish have begun to interbreed, triggering a sudden increase in the number of hybrid fish.

That’s assuming the fish are migrating to seek cooler waters. There are other possible explanations including fishing practices. In that light, it can be seen that blaming CO2 for everything can keep people from finding the actual causes of problems. Folks can die as a result.

Reply to  commieBob
December 14, 2018 4:42 am

About 45 years ago I shot a puffer fish when spear fishing off Rabaul in new Guinea. It was over 2Ft long, so I had not recognised it before I shot it, & it immediately puffed.

Isn’t it amazing it was there. The water temperature in the Georges channel is so close to air temperature you can not tell what the level is as you walk out over the coral flat, so about 26/28 degrees.

If puffer fish are migrating seeking cooler water, what the hell was it doing right up near the equator

Ian Macdonald
December 13, 2018 11:56 pm

Clearly this is just natural selection at work. When humans invent the knife, which makes it possible to (reasonably) safely eat a substantial part of the previously inedible pufferfish population, those fish which have toxin in less usual places have a better chance of survival. A fish population which has a few such of their number, indistinguishable from the rest, has the best survival value so tends to dominate.

Reply to  Ian Macdonald
December 14, 2018 12:50 am

If you can’t tell the ‘dangerous’ fish from the ‘safe’ fish, you’d be wise to quit eating all those fish. In that light, the ‘dangerous’ fish contribute to the survival of all the fish.

Apparently, it’s possible to grow non-poisonous fugu.

Farmers now produce ‘poison-free’ fugu by keeping the fish away from the bacteria; Usuki, a town in Ōita Prefecture, has become known for selling non-poisonous fugu. link

Reply to  commieBob
December 14, 2018 1:52 am


Doubtless a climate change phenomenon as well.

Reply to  HotScot
December 14, 2018 4:01 am

Are you referring to non-poisonous fugu? That sounds like a good thing so it’s probably not caused by climate change. 🙂 LOL

Reply to  Ian Macdonald
December 14, 2018 3:30 am

Actually this is a very plausible scenario.

December 14, 2018 12:26 am

If a hybrid pufferfish has evolved, how do the authors know that the cause of the evolution is climate change? Evolution results in better survival of the species. The biggest threat is humans eating them. Having the poison in more organs would surely be an improvement to survival chances.

Tom Gelsthorpe
December 14, 2018 12:45 am

Uh-oh! Dangerous mutant fish! Next thing you know, we’ll see mutant, poisonous porcupines that look like friendly cocker spaniels. Pet the little puppy and walk away with a throbbing hand that looks like a pincushion. Then it turns blue, you go into convulsions, and kick the bucket.

Spread the rumor! Spread the rumor! We don’t have enough obscure horrors to worry about.

December 14, 2018 12:47 am

As Ian and Kevin (above) imply this is not bad news, quite the reverse, except perhaps for the incautious consumers of items rational people would avoid. It is actually very reassuring because it shows that species can adapt, and very quickly, to environmental changes whether of human or natural origin.
It should be studied dispassionately as an ex- laboratory experiment of evolution in action.
It also raises doubts about the validity of claims that human interference to the natural environment is causing massive extinction of species. Modification perhaps , but not extinction.

December 14, 2018 1:21 am

Unprecedented genetic miracles: Imaginative and non-documented climate change creating dangerous hybrid fish?! Even poor old Darwin must be rotating in his grave.

Harry Kal
December 14, 2018 2:25 am

The toxin comes from bacteria that grow in the organs of the fish.
Fish that are bred sterile from birth do not contain the bacteria and are not toxic.

So this story about interbreeding is nonsense.

It is al dependant on where in the fish the bacteria grow and that is where the toxin is.


December 14, 2018 2:56 am

It’s far more likely that having exhausted the original fishing grounds, the fisherman are merely fishing in different grounds at the extremities of their range – and more thoroughly, and hence finding more of the hybrids that have always existed.

Interspecific hybrids in fresh and salt water have always been extremely common, but they are often sterile so don’t form new populations.

Reply to  MrGrimNasty
December 14, 2018 3:38 am

Also when a species is low in numbers and it becomes difficult to find a conspecific mate the hybridization rate will increase. This is a well-known phenomenon. So yes, overfishing might quite well be a factor.

December 14, 2018 3:30 am

I am waiting for the movie mutant Puffer fish fighting Godzilla.

Nothing to do with over fishing then?

December 14, 2018 3:48 am

They don’t seem to have eliminated all other possible causes of mutation from their analysis. The water may be warmer but have they tested for all possible mutagens in the water, radiation leakage from nuclear power plants, run off from farming etc? It may well be down to Brexit!

D. Cohen
December 14, 2018 4:14 am

It sounds crazy to eat fish that might poison you, but I remember coming across an article years ago that made it clear what was going on. Even in well-processed fish traces of the poison remain, often enough to give a sort of buzz or high. Combine that with the macho aspects of risking your life just to show that you are that sort of person, someone to be respected by those who respect that sort of thing, and there you have it — are you daring enough to eat fugu tonight? This attitude is a familiar one to those who attended college during the late sixties and early seventies.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  D. Cohen
December 14, 2018 5:57 am

That is 100% correct.

Reply to  D. Cohen
December 14, 2018 7:32 am

That is what I have seen on fugu as well. The trick is to leave just enough of the toxin to get a high, but not kill the patron.

December 14, 2018 5:37 am

Let’s see:
$120 a lb, so only the ultra wealthy are eating it
Deadly toxic if not prepared correctly

Food of the rich who like to live on the edge. I can’t feel sorry for anyone who ends up dead this way. I doubt many can. What the object of the study was I have no idea, unless it was to further alienate people from the climate change dogma.

December 14, 2018 7:16 am

I haven’t read the comments yet, and so this might be a repeat of another insight that somebody before me got to first:

Claim: Climate Change is Creating Dangerous Hybrid Puffer Fish

Corrected title:

Fact: “Climate Change” is Created by Rabid Puffer Fish, where “puffer fish” is understood to mean climate-alarm blowhards.

Pamela Gray
December 14, 2018 7:40 am

Too bad the 60’s produced serious, now silly, nuclearized humongous spiders, ants, and seafood movies. Or maybe we are fortunate because of that mistake. Else we would be faced with a B-grade puffer fish horror movie because…climate change.

rob p
December 14, 2018 9:03 am

Could the mutations be caused by the radiation from Fukushima?

December 14, 2018 9:28 am

why is this a surprise, I read an article a while back that the Audubon society was having trouble with birds, apparently they I guess they were breeding across varieties and the society was having a hard time keeping up.

December 14, 2018 10:54 am

To people who don’t understand why people eat fugu: it is delicious.
The primary reason why people die from fugu poisoning is that there are a significant number of people who like the tingly sensation from having just too little fugu neurotoxin to kill you.
The professionals know exactly how to do it – the amateurs don’t, screw up and die.
As for the article – it is idiotic in many ways.
The primary fugu species are warm water – they live primarily in the South of Japan (Fukuoka). I’ve been in the Fukuoka City main train station and seen literal mounds of breaded, fried fugu for salarymen lunches.
However, the current in Japan is north moving – meaning warm water coming up anyway toward Alaska. Why would climate change affect this significantly?
Secondly, remember that little thing called Fukushima? I could believe more that we’re seeing somewhat mutated puffer fish than climate change induced, interbred hybrid fugu puffer fish. Note that Fukushima’s position feeds directly towards the seas of Northeast Japan.
Thirdly, I don’t ever remember seeing non-fugu puffer fish for sale in a grocery store. The liver issue could be more a quality control problem than anything else – but I will readily admit I don’t know what they eat in North Japan. There are a number of things eaten there which are famously not popular anywhere else, including the rest of Japan.
Seems more like a climate change DANGER meme finding an excuse than any serious reporting.

Dale S
December 14, 2018 11:21 am

I’m curious how much the *waters* have really warmed in this area and how that compares to the temperature range that pufferfish already live in (with their seasonal fluctuations. Globally ocean waters have warmed a tiny fraction of the sea surface warming, so I’ll be surprised if the warming is actually significant when placed in context.

December 14, 2018 11:34 am

Oh, shit,

We didn’t prepare that fish correctly. Somebody might die … they might blame us. How can we deflect blame. What can we do … think, think, think ….

George Bush … no that one is used up … think think think ….


December 14, 2018 8:57 pm

Fugu is one of the many pieces of evidence that show the Japanese are crazy. (Green tea Kit Kat – an offense against the Gods and men – is another.)

Waiter: Here’s your fish, sir. Lightly sliced with just a soupçon of paralytic neurotoxin. Er…if you could pay in advance, sir …

December 14, 2018 9:01 pm

December 15, 2018 3:27 am

No deadly hybrid puffer fish here in Wisconsin, yet!

December 15, 2018 7:36 am

“Claim: Climate Change is Creating Dangerous Hybrid Puffer Fish”

Not dangerous to me.

Craig from Oz
December 16, 2018 3:04 pm

Yes, but we still need the big questions answered – are these new fish left or right handed?

Craig from Oz
December 16, 2018 3:22 pm

Counter Claim – Climate Change(tm) is Creating Dangerous Hybrid Cars

Every one of these mutated 4 wheeled monsters draws the earth one expired battery closer to a Deadly Lithium Apocalypse and the world’s leaders are doing NOTHING.

Think of the Children. It may be too late to act. Honest!!! 🙂

Wiliam Haas
December 18, 2018 8:09 pm

If the fish are becoming dangerous then leave them alone and find something else to eat.

Johann Wundersamer
December 25, 2018 11:58 pm

Japanese are the least endangered by diabetes and body mass because government cares for fish “sweeties” in automates – fish doesn’t fit to chocolate!

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