Keiichi Sanda, one of breeding staff of Takeshima Aquarium in Gamagori, Aichi Prefecture, was the unexpected winner of a contest to find the strangest creature in Japan. (Video footage by Takashi Miyazawa)

GAMAGORI, Aichi Prefecture--A competition to find the strangest creature of all the weird and wonderful specimens at zoos and aquariums across Japan has been won by a human.

Judges in the tongue-in-cheek contest looked at 20 particularly odd creatures but felt they were no match for 34-year-old Keiichi Sanda, one of the breeding staff at the Takeshima Aquarium here.

It's not that Sanda is so unusual to look at or anything, but his reputation as the “Gourmet Hunter,” which means he will eat any rare marine specimen caught in a net that dies before it reaches the aquarium.

As long as a creature is known not to have toxins, Sanda is game to wolf it down, cooked or uncooked.

He was up against some pretty stiff competition; for example: Balaeniceps rex, a large bird with beady eyes that stays frozen in place until a tasty morsel turns up. Quick as a flash, the treat is in its beak. Another contender was an intestine-like ribbon worm that lives off dead flesh on the ocean floor.

Sanda admitted to having "complicated feelings" about winning the competition. He garnered 7,151 votes.

Takeshima Aquarium takes the position that its breeding staff are also creatures to be exhibited. When the popularity contest was raised in conversation, colleagues decided that “the strangest creature would be Sanda-san.”

The title match was hosted by web service Ikimono AZ, which is operated by Sunshine Enterprise Co., the operator of Sunshine Aquarium in Tokyo. The result was announced July 12.

EXHIBITION ON SANDA PLANNED

Sanda is quick to explain his seemingly bizarre eating habits.

“I believe that finding out what an odd creature tastes like is part of the role of the breeding staff. Eating them also is meant to show respect for creatures that died before reaching our aquarium.”

Sanda has worked at the Takeshima Aquarium for 13 years and eaten 70 types of creatures to date.

He said a sea bug called bathynomus doederleinii found in nets to catch conger eels tastes like squilla or shrimp. One time, he boiled a spiderish-looking sea creature called ascorhynchus japonicus and squeezed its thin legs that contain its guts.

“As it is guts, it tastes like it,” he said.

As the final match was under way, there was an interim announcement that a pot-belly seahorse entered from Ise Sea Paradise in Ise, Mie Prefecture, was leading. Sea Paradise had won three consecutive years in popularity contests targeting only river otters or webbed creatures.

But in the end, Sanda prevailed.

It was the first time for the host company to hold a contest to find the strangest creature on display in Japan.

Ayano Tachizaki, an official of Sunshine Enterprise, admitted she never expected a human to win.

“I felt that is really unusual."

One outcome of the competition is that the Takeshima Aquarium now plans to prepare a large-scale exhibition explaining “What the creature Sanda is.”