The moray eel must keep its mouth open, constantly taking in enough
water to supply its body with oxygen, which is extracted as water flows over
the gills. Seeing this gaping mouth full of needle sharp teeth, it is easy
to see why in the past this animal has been mistaken as an aggresive one.
Photo: Genevieve Johnson
November 10, 2000
An encounter with a Moray Eel
This is Genevieve Johnson talking to you from the Odyssey. It is difficult
to stay out of the water here in the central topical pacific. The clarity is
brilliant, the temperature perfect at around 26 degrees (Celsius), and the reefs during the
day are teeming with life.
Today we were fortunate to come across an animal we had not expected to see,
a moray eel. The moray is a nocturnal hunter, so night is usually its most
active time. Over 100 species of moray have been identified around the world, ranging in
length from 2 - 10 feet. Many have beautiful colored patterns which serve as
camouflage from predators on the reef. In fact, we almost missed this animal,
as it blended in so perfectly within its coral surroundings. Morays have
muscular, snake like bodies which assist them in weaving their way amongst
the coral and into their favorite dwellings, under ledges and in caves. We
spotted this particular animal while it was partially emerged from its
crevice, its pointed face sticking out of its cave with jaws wide open.
Viewing this animal at close range, it was obvious why this eel has long
been misunderstood. People often mistake this pose as a threat, an animal
whose mouth is brimming with needle sharp teeth, looking for a tasty morsel.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. The moray must, in fact, keep its
mouth open to constantly take in enough water to supply its body with oxygen
which is extracted as water flows over the gills.
Morays have been feared in the past and still are by some, its reputation
not enhanced as stories are told and exaggerated, such as divers being
locked in a vice like grip by an angry moray. While some may be territorial
and even aggressive, when the full story surfaces, more often than not the
fault must lay squarely at the feet of the diver who is often searching for
shells or lobsters, poking hands into crevices that are occupied by a
As with our encounter today, most experiences with morays show them to be
gentle and perhaps even curious. Morays who are visited regularly by
divers have even appeared to enjoy being stroked.
As with all wild animals, when left alone and observed from a reasonable
distance, they pose no threat at all. Ironically it is us who have been
eating them for centuries!
Log by Genevieve Johnson
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