The first time Vinalhaven lobsterboat captain Frank Thompson trapped hagfish in the Gulf of Maine, the pinkish-gray, snakelike animals popped the hatch off his hold — with their slime. When stressed or attacked, a single 20-inch-long hagfish spews a quart of stringy, suffocating snot in less than a second, and the stuff rapidly expands as it mixes with seawater.

It was May 2009, and Thompson’s 48-foot boat was carrying 2,800 pounds of hagfish — that’s roughly 5,000 fish oozing copious slime from their skins. Unable to escape their own goop, many of the fish were dead when Thompson unloaded his catch in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

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