Amazing creatures: Longfin eels

I know what you’re thinking: what’s so amazing about longfin eels?! They’re certainly not the nicest-looking fish. These were my thoughts too when my husband and I recently went to Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, and had the opportunity to attend the daily eel feeding. I have to admit, I wasn’t very excited at the prospect, but what I learned that day completely changed the way I feel about eels.

The longfin eel is found only in New Zealand, and is one of the largest eels in the world. They can live to 60 or even 80 years, although 30 to 40 is more common. Still, that’s a pretty long life for a fish!

To me, the most amazing part was learning that, when the eels reach sexual maturity, they swim all the way to Tonga (5,000km) to spawn. And once they’ve spawned, they die…

What’s also pretty awesome is that, when the eggs hatch, the larvae (called leptocephalus) drift back to New Zealand on the ocean currents. Until almost a week after leaving the sea, the leptocephalus are transparent – how cool is that?!

New Zealand longfin eels are considered to be an ‘at risk’ species, with declining numbers. It used to be quite common to catch large eels, up to 40kg, but nowadays the biggest eels are only about 10kg. The lady at Pukaha Mount Bruce also mentioned that fishermen are unable to catch as many eels are the quotas allow.

So maybe longfin eels are just fish, and not even pretty fish at that, but I think they’re amazing and totally worth trying to save.

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