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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
Real Audio


Log Transcript

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 resident moray.

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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