A shark expert told Snopes that despite its otherworldly appearance, the “sea creature” was likely a little skate (Leucoraja erinacea) tangled up in a fishing line.
A widely circulated video taken in October 2020 off of the coast of Coney Island showed what appeared to be a bizarrely shaped “sea creature” that looked to be out of this world.
Backed with the main theme music of Netflix’s sci-fi series Stranger Things, the video was posted by TikTok user Nataliia Vorobok on Oct. 7, 2020, and went viral in January 2021 after British pop-news site Unilad published an article likening the creature to the "Demogorgon" featured in the Netflix series.
Despite its otherworldly appearance, shark expert David Ebert told Snopes that the “sea creature” was likely a little skate, Leucoraja erinacea. And as for those large wand-like appendages, Ebert said that those are claspers that indicate the animal is a male.
“This is a skate, an adult male — you can tell from the claspers — but it looks like it is tangled up in monofilament fishing line, which is giving it a contorted appearance,” said Ebert.
Any explanation that the animal was “underdeveloped” or experienced malformations due to poison is not plausible, according to Ebert. A closer look at the video revealed that the ray’s wings wrapped in fishing line, furling them around the animal’s body.
Little skates are related to other cartilaginous fishes in the family Rajixae and are found in shallow oceanic waters along the North American east coast, from Nova Scotia, Canada to North Carolina. With a blunt nose and diamond-shaped disc of a body, little skates can grow up to about 20 inches long and have thorny spins on their shoulders, tails and backs that can prick a person if they are stepped on or picked up, according to the Florida Museum at the University of Florida.
And interestingly enough, the little skates are known to “walk” along the seafloor with tiny legs — a trait that may help explain how terrestrial animals evolved from swimming in the sea to walking on the land.