Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Journey of Eels

Do you like eels? I don't very much. They are bit too snake like for me. I've seen them feeding in a seething mass like this and it was the stuff of nightmares.

Photo of eels in Victoria's Royal Botanic Gardens from Wikpedia taken byfir0002  flagstaffotos.com.au


I have eaten smoked eel when I was much younger, but I did not like the taste. Pie and mash with eels at a pub in Greenwich, yuk.


However, Melbourne's resident eels in the lake at the Royal Botanic Gardens, short finned eels, have a quite fascinating life cycle. They can breathe through their skin, and so survive in mud pools and they can exude a mucous like substance from the skin, enabling them to travel overland in damp conditions.

Once mature, they are drawn towards flowing water, in this case Melbourne's Yarra River, travelling either the short distance overland in appropriately damp conditions or using connecting drains. Fat and full of rich oil, they cease feeding and their digestive tract shrivels and for the rest of the lives they will not eat. They make their way down river, dodging container ships on the way, into Port Phillip Bay and out through the heads into Bass Strait, and then across the Tasman Sea to pass south of New Zealand's south island.

They then take a northward course at a distance from New Zealand's east coast to New Caledonia where they mate in the place where they were born, lay their eggs and then die. They have travelled around 4000 kilometres.

The eggs hatch into a larva, which then drifts on the currents towards the north east coast of Australia. As they drift they mature into 'glass eels', quite transparent but now in the shape of an eel. Down the east coast of Australia they travel, not yet eating. They smell fresh water and head into the coastal estuaries and find a river, possibly the one where their parents came from. At full moon when there is a flood tide, they make their way into the river. In our case, they will keep going right down the coast to the south of Australia and into Port Phillip Bay where they will find the mouth of the Yarra River and end up like their parents in the lake of the Royal Botanic Gardens. By this time they have matured into elvers and developed a digestive system and so the cycle begins again as they mature and fatten.

Of course any fresh water source along the east coast of Australia will attract them and they are able to climb waterfalls and at times end up in isolated dams.

For such a small brained creature, what a truly amazing fish they are.

Obviously England has eels, as does Europe and I don't know about America. I wonder where they all breed? I've no idea where it is, but do I have a faint recollection of the Sargasso Sea?

36 comments:

  1. Hello Andrew,

    Oh we do not like slippery eels either alive or in any pie. As you say, far too snake like for us. When we lived in London our travels took us past the iconic Manze's pie and eel shop. We never looked too closely through the windows at the diners.......but it was always packed!

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    1. JayLa, aren't people rather passionate about eating eel. Some things in this world we are just not meant to understand.

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  2. I am amazed at how could someone work out the complicate path.

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    1. MM, just programmed instinct I suppose. Truly amazing.

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  3. Quite extraordinary but I still don't fancy eating them.

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    1. Victor, it is a relief to know we won't be dining on eel when we visit.

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  4. We used to catch them in Parramatta weir when I was a kid. Could never eat them though as river was too polluted. Parramatta Eels (Rugby Team) is named after them.

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    1. Interesting Allan. Did you catch them with your hands?

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  5. I wonder if they would be tasty. I may need to at least give it a try someday.

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    1. Keith, maybe your wife is familiar with eating eel.

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  6. They sound interesting but I agree with you I do not like the taste.
    Merle.......

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    1. Best left in the water Merle.

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  7. Andrew at my place eels are popular and I like them . The smoked ones are the best but it is my personal opinion..

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    1. Gosia, yes I thought you would probably like them. It is a very European and English thing.

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  8. Such a complicated and fascinating life-style. Like turtles who come to lay eggs on the beaches where they were born. Better than any GPS I have ever seen.
    And yes, they look more than a little snake like - which would turn my wimpy self off.

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    1. EC, they too are quite fascinating. It was sad to hear somewhere overseas a resort has been built and when the eggs hatch, the babies head for the resort lights rather than moonlit sea.

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  9. I don't enjoy looking at creatures that don't have exactly 2 or 4 legs. Anything with more than four legs (eg spiders, crayfish) or less than two legs (eg eels) is enough to make a person vegetarian.

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    1. Hels, I like the way you define what you like, by the number of legs. Clever.

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  10. I did not know any of this about eels at all. :) How amazing that they travel all that way to New Caledonia!

    It is endlessly fascinating to me what we each know and can share with each other. :)

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    1. Snoskred, while I did have some knowledge of the eels and their migration for a long time, the post was pretty well based on research as I wrote. Regardless, nothing detracts from the story.

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  11. They may very well be an amazing fish, but this is far more than I ever wanted to know about eels.
    My mother used to eat smoked eel and a family friend enjoyed jellied eels. I can't think of anything worse to eat. Maybe tripe.

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    1. River, I have eaten both and would say, tripe is worse.

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  12. Anything that looks like a snake SO doesn't work for me! As for eating it? ARRRRGGGH! But I bet we all eat things that other cultures find disgusting!

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    1. Yep Red. We eat lamb and to Asian people, it makes us stink. But then I don't like being overwhelmed by the smell of garlic.

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    2. It's true, meat makes us stink. After not eating meat for a long while, smelling the breath of a meat eater turns my stomach. also meat takes a long time to travel through the digestive system, so a meat eater who is often constipated, (probably from all that meat) has breath that smells like poo. Too many times at the checkout I had to turn away from certain people because of their breath and that's on top of all the smokers! I do eat a little meat, but not every day and only a tiny portion each time, with plenty of vegetables or salad.

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    3. River, I think it is about balance. Not too much meat, balanced with vegetables. The thing Asian people complain about is the smell from the skin from people who eat a lot of lamb. I would guess it is the fat from lamb that they can smell.

      I can't say I have really smelt the breath of someone who has eaten meat. Some people seem to naturally have an unpleasant smell from their mouth. As for smokers, I would rather smell smoky breath than bad breath, in fact smoky breath excites me a little. But there are the people who seem impregnated with the stink of cigarettes, and that is not nice.

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  13. Not into looking at live Eels and have never eaten either. Too much like snakes which I don't mind if they don't go slithering over my toes :)

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    1. WA, snakes are dry skinned when they slide over you. Eels are really slimy. Have I added to your nightmares?

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    2. The snake did happen. Over that now. The thought of slimy Eels makes me shiver. ..

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  14. I don't particularly like eels either but I always stop near the lake in the Botanic Gardens to see them . I discovered how fascinating they are a few years back when there were no eels in the lake and I emailed the Botanic Gardens people to ask what had happened to them! It's astounding - stranger than fiction.

    I've never eaten one and never will though.

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    1. Jayne, yes, of course you would be familiar with them. Was that when the lake dried up a few years ago and it was only mud?

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  15. Replies
    1. No eels for the Perth lassie.

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  16. Ew! I have never tasted eel, and probably never will. So creepy. I did, however, have imitation baby eel here in Spain. The real thing became so expensive that a Japanese company came up with the idea to process fish to look like baby eels. It's called gula. They add food coloring to imitate the striations. The only way you can tell the difference is that the fake baby eels don't have eyes. It was delicious, but it looked exactly like worms.

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    1. Mitchell, so if you like the imitation eel, that is nearly identical to the real thing, don't you think you would like the real thing?

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    2. Oh, sure, the taste would be fine. But they still look like worms!

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