Information about a mutated fish caught downstream from Alberta's oil sands region will be sent to a joint government-industry group that monitors the health of rivers and lakes.
The 2.5-kilogram goldeye caught last week in Lake Athabasca has two mouths, one beneath the other.
Two boys pointed the deformed fish out to Stuart Macmillan, Parks Canada's manager of resource conservation at Wood Buffalo National Park, who studied it before handing it over to the Mikesew First Nation.
"We had just pulled up to the dock and some kids came over and said, 'Hey, we've got a fish over here with two mouths," Mr. Macmillan said Tuesday.
"It was really unusual. The fish has an obvious abnormality. I had never seen anything like that myself before. I can't speculate on what might have caused it."
Mr. Macmillan said Parks Canada has not tested the fish, which was caught outside the park boundary, but he will forward a report on the mutation to Alberta's Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program.
RAMP includes Alberta Environment, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Health Canada, oil sands corporations and aboriginal groups. It was established to identify and address the potential impacts of oil sands development.
The two-mouthed fish created a stir at the Keepers of the Water conference on the weekend at Fort Chipewyan, about 600 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.
Aboriginal communities downstream of the oil sands have expressed concerns about how industrial development is affecting the animals that they eat and their drinking water. Elders believe pollution is responsible for high cancer rates and other health problems in the region.
George Poitras of the Mikesew Cree said he quickly froze the fish and later put it on display for 20 minutes at the conference on a bucket of ice.
"It was important for the fish to be displayed at the conference to show people what we have been claiming all along," Mr. Poitras said.
"People were in disbelief. Here they saw a fish that we suspect is very much linked to tar sands development and contamination of the Athabasca River. Our elders tell us that what happens to the animals and the fish is just a sign of what is going to happen to human life."
A federal fisheries official acknowledged the department is a member of RAMP but doesn't get directly involved when mutated fish are reported.
Alberta Environment officials and RAMP chairwoman Janice Linehan could not be reached for comment.
Health Canada and the Alberta Cancer Board said earlier this year they plan to study cancer rates in the Fort Chipewyan area.
Mr. Poitras said the Mikesew plan to send the fish to an independent lab for testing. He said the band will not send the fish to RAMP, of which the band is a member, but plans to withdraw from, because it doesn't trust the organization to provide an objective assessment.
"It is very heavily represented by industry and government and we feel that it doesn't do any justice as far as accurately representing any data to the community," Mr. Poitras said. "This is evidence and we need to ensure that is preserved."
According to RAMP, it is normal to occasionally find deformed fish and that physical injuries or increased water temperatures in the egg stage can cause mutations.
Abnormalities can include growths or tumours, lesions and missing or additional fins. Two-mouthed fish are not listed on the RAMP website.
A two-mouthed trout was caught in Nebraska in 2005 and sparked headlines around the world.
Nebraska fisheries officials speculated the deformity was caused by genetic mutation.
The angler who caught the two-mouthed trout cut off its head and donated it to Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology.
The man said he kept the body, which he ate. He later said he wished he had kept the fish intact and had it mounted for posterity.