Home Australia On the tail of the eel – creatures of mystery

On the tail of the eel – creatures of mystery

On the tail of the eel – creatures of mystery

It is one of the world’s tall migrations, yet it is a long way often unseen. Under the quilt of darkness, eels bound into the ocean to then move hundreds of kilometres to breed. However where attain they trek?

Every summer season, at the new moon when the sky is at its darkest, eels alongside Victoria’s shoreline initiate disappearing into the ocean.

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After living in fresh water for a long time, they are returning to the establish they were born.

They might maybe maybe well move quick distances over land to put a waterway that will carry them out to sea.

This a long way away migration puzzled the eel-irregular for hundreds of years and resulted in about a ordinary theories about where they approach from — Aristotle thought eels spontaneously generated.

Even though science has approach a prolonged method, worthy about eels stays a mystery.

a person tips eels out of a net

Scientist Wayne Koster at Budj Bim(

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For the first time, Australian scientists are tracking eels with satellites to sign their migration.

The leer is being undertaken by the Victorian authorities’s Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Study.

Wayne Koster lays out a get at sunset(

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As the solar items on Port Phillip Bay, Wayne Koster lays out prolonged cylindrical nets at the mouth of a creek.

Tonight, his body of workers hopes to acquire migrating eels magnificent enough to abet the satellite tv for computer transmitters.

A person throws a net into shallow water at a river mouth,

Scientist Wayne Koster laying out a get.(

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Since 2019 when the leer began, 20 transmitters bask in been connected to eels, with every software costing hundreds of dollars. 

Assuredly it might maybe well in point of fact maybe well feel cherish leaving a message in a bottle to the mercy of the ocean.

The researchers hope the eels will manufacture it a long way enough to create advisable knowledge; they moreover hope the devices efficiently transmit.

But one of the most consuming knowledge records so a long way became retrieved by accident.

“That tag had in level of fact failed to transmit. It had been eaten by a whale and the antenna became damaged,” Dr Koster says.

“Happily, somebody who became fossicking alongside a beach [on Lizard Island] found it and sent it back.”

a small cylindrical device which fits in the palm of a hand.

The satellite tv for computer tracking software historical to set to eels.(

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On the total, after the software is connected to an eel it collects and retail outlets knowledge for the next six months as the eels swim to their spawning grounds.

“Then [the device] pops up to the surface and transmits to the satellite tv for computer community,” Dr Koster says.

“We are then in a space to buy care of that knowledge and reconstruct migratory tracks of where the eels bask in been.”

The transmitter resurfaces because of this of by then the eel is needless — the migration to the breeding grounds is the fruits of a life’s move.

After breeding, the eels, which will reach the age of 50 or more, die.

There are two species of Anguillid eels in Victoria — quick-finned and prolonged-finned eels.

Assuredly the scientists mission out to acquire them for several nights before they fetch an eel magnificent enough to abet a software.

It is chilly, moist work, undertaken in the middle of the evening when the eels are most full of life.

However the scientists’ dedication is paying off.

“We’ve tracked eels from the west flit of Victoria for approximately 3,000 kilometres up to warm tropical waters round Fresh Caledonia, an establish of abode round the Coral Sea,” Dr Koster says.

Here’s the first time the oceanic migrations of Australian eels bask in been tracked and documented, he says.

a map showing where eels are migrating from Western Victoria to the Coral Sea.

Mapping of the eels’ migration.(

Supplied: Arthur Rylah Institute


The same research has been undertaken to note eel migrations from North The USA and Europe to the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic.

Over the previous 50 years, eel populations in the Northern Hemisphere bask in considerably declined.

“In a foreign places country, many species are in level of fact listed as threatened or endangered,” Dr Koster says, “so thought most significant components of their life history, cherish their migration patterns, is a in level of fact vital ingredient in guaranteeing Australian populations manufacture no longer practice a identical destiny.”

Two people shine a torch into a net at night.

Scientists from the Arthur Rylah Institute catching eels.

the head of an eel sticks out of a net.

An eel caught by scientists in Victoria.(

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wayne koster portrait

Wayne Koster, scientist at the Arthur Rylah Institute(

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a hand with knife slicing into an eel

Scientist Wayne Koster operates on an eel.(

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Welcome to eel country

In western Victoria, the scientists are taking part with Gunditjmara extinct owners to secret agent what prompts eels to transfer out of fresh water and initiate their migration.

The relationship between Gunditjmara folk and eels might maybe maybe well simply moreover be traced back hundreds of years through the extinct stone eel traps that weave through a lush swampy panorama is known as Budj Bim.

These are some of the oldest known fish traps in the world, dated to more than 6,000 years.

two stone walls form an opening in a forest

Muldoon’s acquaculture advanced at Budj Bim.(

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The Gunditjmara other folk that constructed them created a fancy aquaculture machine.

“The programs were designed to operate at varied times of the year as water stages rose and fell,” Gunditjmara man and Budj Bim venture manager Denis Rose says.

It intended the Gunditjmara had a official offer of eel — or kooyang — for loads of the year which they moreover smoked and traded.

a small stone wall in a forest.

A stone eel lure at Budj Bim(

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a man looks at the camera

Mr Rose spent his early life round these wetlands catching eels, a establish which many Gunditjmara folk bask in fought never to be separated from.

He can reel off assorted programs to acquire an eel.

“Bobbing, netting, excellent a hook and a few bait.

“I knew how to cook dinner eel about a assorted programs, how to prepare them — I historical to mediate for about a years that I knew a heck of loads about eels.”

However in the years since the Gunditj Mirring Extinct Owners Aboriginal Company employed an eel biologist, and now through this fresh research, Mr Rose says he continues to search out out about their advanced life cycle.

He says there are many pressures on eels, from native weather alternate to drainage of wetlands and commercial fishing.

“We’re getting some larger knowledge about their life cycle and hopefully to help in the protection and the continuing offer of younger eels.”

The usage of acoustic transmitters, Dr Koster’s body of workers has been tracking eels through the Budj Bim waters.

“What our research reveals is eel migrations in fresh water are often linked to adjustments in water level, adjustments in river flows,” he says.

For Gunditjmara folk, seasonal indicators let them know when the eels are starting their migration.

“When the acacias initiate to flower, we call that kooyang time, because of this of that’s when the eels are on the transfer,” Gunditjmara ranger and land manager Ben Church says.

The research will originate on extinct knowledge and help relate how water flows might maybe maybe well simply moreover be managed through the Budj Bim wetlands.

“It informs us for future management, no longer simplest of the kooyang, the eels, nevertheless moreover its habitat,” Mr Church says.

a man looks into the distance

Ben Church at Budj Bim(

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Managing the eels’ habitat will in turn offer protection to other species.

“It be no longer continually about one species for us,” he says.

“It be about the total country and caring for country as equal.”

As Mr Church finishes announcing this, a crow flies by low and fleet and lets out a definitive caw.

The ranger looks up and chuckles.

two men in a boat on a lake.

Wayne Koster and Ben Church at Budj Bim(

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In 2019, Budj Bim gained UNESCO World Heritage net page due to the cultural and historical significance of the stone eel aquaculture sites.

This establish of abode is eel country. The land is dotted with reminders of their presence and significance.

Now not removed from Budj Bim, further inland at Lake Bolac, an extinct stone eel sculpture became fair these days destroyed by a farmer.

An aerial view of a network of ponds surrounded by green vegetation.

The Tae Rak (Lake Condah) channel and retaining pond.(

Supplied: Tyson Lovett-Murray


“We’re in the job of building an eel aquaculture facility — in actuality a customer centre at Tae Rak (Lake Condah) to grunt the chronicle of the eel,” Mr Rose says.

“To highlight the significance of why we might maybe maybe well simply aloof be taking care of eels and why we might maybe maybe well simply aloof be bettering their habitat.”

One of the key findings from the research so a long way exhibits how migrating eels play a role as a meals offer.

“Sharks and whales are involving the eels off the Australian flit,” Dr Koster says.

It is which that you just might maybe take into consideration to clutch if an eel is eaten, he says, because of this of there is a sudden soar in temperature recorded in the knowledge.

“Potentially adjustments in the numbers of these marine predators cherish whales and sharks might maybe maybe well influence [eel] populations.”

eels in a net

Eels caught for research at Budj Bim.(

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Eels in a tub.

Eels caught at Budj Bim.(

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The research is moreover furious by how human actions a lot like offshore vitality trends and native weather alternate might maybe maybe well influence migrating eels.

On their approach to the spawning ground, eels swim in opposition to the East Australian Most fresh.

“That fresh is projected to strengthen and push further south below native weather alternate,” Dr Koster says.

“So, in years with a stronger southward trek with the circulate, doubtlessly this might maybe well maybe well buy eels longer to put these spawning grounds.

“Or fewer eels might maybe maybe well in level of fact manufacture it there, which has implications for spawning and recruitment success.”

For eel fisherman Zac Taylor, water is the vital ingredient every to the well being of eels and his industry.

A second-technology eel fisherman, Mr Taylor lays his nets in the winding rivers discontinuance to the Twelve Apostles.

The eel migration is the excessive level of the wild eel fishing season.

“That is where I manufacture most of my cash,” he says.

Mr Taylor presents an exporter who sells eels to several Asian international locations where they are a delicacy as well as supplying some native fish markets.  

He moreover sells juvenile eels to fishermen with licences to fatten them up in lakes; it is a long way what is known as stock-enhanced fishing.

“The alternate is according to us catching tiny eels out of the rivers and supplying the lakes inland to develop out.

“Down right here they’ll buy 20 years to develop real into a sizeable fish, whereas up there they can turn them over in about four to five years.”

A man with a black t-shirt reaches into a tank that contains water and eels.

Zac Taylor is an eel fisherman from discontinuance to Lake Condah in Victoria. Might well maybe moreover 2021.(

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A man wearing a jacket and beanie stands in a boat and brings up his net.

Zac Taylor brings in his acquire.(



A man with red hair and beard stands next to his ute.

Zac Taylor moreover works as a plumber.(

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However the millennium drought wreaked havoc on Victoria’s commercial eel alternate. It is why Mr Taylor is moreover a plumber.

“This is the reason my dad made me trek and gather a alternate, one thing to topple back on, which he did not bask in for the length of the drought and it became exquisite laborious times.

“In the occasion you manufacture no longer gather floods, you manufacture no longer gather eels. It be as straight forward as that.

“The tiny ones bask in got to approach upstream, and the colossal ones bask in got to approach down, so whereas you manufacture no longer gather floods it gained’t happen.”

A small stream leading into a lake.

Water stages in Lake Condah influence eel numbers.(

Supplied: Tyson Lovett-Murray


A body of water surrounded by grass with a wooden fence built across it.

A channel with a reconstructed stake branch and weir at Lake Condah.(

Supplied: Tyson Lovett-Murray


However Mr Taylor says he’s confident there are enough rivers and lakes closed to licensed fishermen to be sure the inhabitants is maintained.

Now not like some other current involving fish, eels can no longer be bred in captivity for commercial production because of this of their life cycle is so advanced.

Scientists in Asia and Europe, on the other hand, proceed to develop the technique.

However aged scientist turned eel exporter Lachlan McKinnon says he can no longer peek it happening in Australia.

“Truly, closing the life cycle for Australian species of eel, it is no longer a colossal enough alternate or colossal enough market to manufacture that model of funding,” he says.

eels in a net.

Eels caught at Budj Bim(

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Mr McKinnon believes a home and export alternate according to wild catches is beefy of attainable, nevertheless fisherman Graham Milner is less optimistic.

“I affirm the Victorian eel fishery is doomed,” he says from his lounge room in Colac.

Surrounded by taxidermy deer, rabbits and geese, Mr Milner spends more time working as a professional shooter (employed by Landcare groups to buy care of feral animal numbers down) than he does fishing eel.

A person stands in their loungeroom with taxidermy animals around them.

Graham Milner at his rental in Colac(

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Carp is the main impart of affairs, and water – the draining of wetlands or drought, he says.

“I affirm that no longer in my lifetime, nevertheless in my son’s lifetime and the other younger fishermen in the alternate, in 40 or 50 years’ time they gained’t bask in an export alternate. Because of this of of the carp.”

The cycle repeats

Eels are vital to asserting wholesome waterways, Dr Koster says.

“They play a role as a predator in freshwater environments, so they can shape or influence aquatic ecosystems.”

Wayne Koster catching eels

Wayne Koster catching eels(

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However he says these slimy, serpentine creatures perhaps bask in no longer enjoyed the attention they deserve in Australia.

“I mediate being a tiny bit snake-cherish, it does tend to do folk off and because of this they bask in turn out to be an overpassed animal.

a person sews up a small cut in an eel.

“We manufacture no longer bask in a staunch estimate on the quantity of eels or the trends in their populations [in Victoria].

“There’s so many knowledge gaps, so we’re hoping to possess some and help make contributions to the sustainability of their populations into the future.”

As the satellite tv for computer-tracking venture continues indefinitely and more knowledge about eels is documented, these mysterious creatures are a reminder that everything is connected.

Waterways, meals chains, folk.

What began as larvae drifting on ocean currents from spawning grounds in the Coral Sea, at last washed into fresh water and remodeled real into a ambitious muscular fish. 

“After spawning, the adults die. The larvae then open that move back to the flit,” Dr Koster says.

“And the cycle repeats.”


Reporter: Rhiannon Stevens

Pictures: Rhiannon Stevens

Video: Rhiannon Stevens and Peter Healy

Digital producer: Daniel Franklin

On the tail of the eel – creatures of mystery