Giant pike eel
Giant pike eel washes up on NSW beachEthan Tippa/Facebook

A giant pike eel has washed up on the shores of New South Wales, Australia, leaving onlookers bemused – and even a little bit scared. The nocturnal eel was initially found by fisherman Robert Tyndall near a boat ramp in Swansea, before being posted onto Facebook by Ethan Tippa.

The giant eel was described by Tyndall as "about 1.4m" long, and he said that the locals were "confused and slightly unnerved." Tyndall said: "I knew it was some kind of eel and it's a big eel, but it definitely looks bigger."

The image was confirmed as a pike eel by marine biologists, who said the species is often caught in fishing nets. It is not uncommon for them to be hauled onto a ship by accident, and bite their captors in defence.

Pike eel lunch
In Southeast Asia, pike eel is considered a delicacy, and can appear in a number of dishesnekotank/Flickr

"They have incredibly strong muscles and their teeth are geared towards inflicting slashing wounds," said marine biologist Julian Pepperell.

Pike eels can be very aggressive towards humans, and seeing as the average individual reaches 1.8m long – longer than the average height of a male human – it can be quite intimidating.

They are most often found in south-east Asia and Australia, although they usually hunt in the ocean depths, feeding on bottom-dwelling fish and crustaceans. Pike eels are nocturnal, and generally hunt at night.

When caught by fishermen in south-east Asia, they are brought to shore and used as a local delicacy, to be sold in the local markets.

Judging from the photograph, experts believe this particular pike eel died of old age. Pepperell described it as "relatively old", and a spokesperson for the NSW Department of Primary Industries agrees. "Judging by the size it is believed that the eel was mature and may have died from natural causes," the spokesperson said.