The Mystery of Eels
Full Episode

Watch the full episode of The Mystery of Eels:

Eels can be found all over the globe, in fresh and salt water ecosystems alike. But today, risk of over-fishing and the presence of dams and other obstacles that prevent eels from reaching their oceanic spawning grounds pose new threats to an animal that once roamed the planet alongside the dinosaurs. Artist, writer, and naturalist James Prosek explores the mysterious world of the eel. Buy the film. The Mystery of Eels premiered April 17, 2013. (Video limited to US & Territories).

  • Greg Peterson

    Fascinating topic. Videography as good as any I’ve seen, of some truly stunning locations.


    How it managed to be both stultifyingly monotonous and breathlessly overwrought at the same time is a mystery more profound than that of the eels. Even that might have been forgivable, but the actual content of the narration is inane, pseudosophisticated, and riddled with weird non sequiturs. A sentence would start off making one point, and then end up saying something unrelated or even at odds with the first idea. Bizarre.

    If you watch this–and you should, eels really are bizarre and interesting–turn the sound off and put on some Pink Floyd. Maybe the experience will sync up somehow. But in any event, you will have spared yourself from having to listen to rubbish.

  • C.H.

    James Prosek … the most annoying voice. I thought I would learn something … huh … was I wrong. Wast of time

  • Karen

    Thanks to James efforts I’ve developed a new respect for eels. I always thought eels to be slimy eerie creatures – something that came from a darker world. Thanks James for a job well done. You brought some understanding and interest to a seemingly undesirable species.

  • Jim

    Wow, how could anyone say anything negative. This is a great doc and I’m so glad it was made. Maybe people are just spoiled in this digital age. Why waste the time busting on others? Beautifully done, beautifully narrated, highly recommend.
    Cheer up folks, life’s not that bad. You could be an eel facing much worse.

  • Cris Robba

    James Prosek has taken a slimey, dark creature and transformed it into a beautiful part of nature. James must be very enlightened, and anyone who does not think that this is one of the most beautiful and heartfelt documentary’s ever made is a person that is dark and full of anger. Can’t wsit for his next offering! Congrats.

  • Mimi

    Whoa…message for you Haters…I have NEVER been to the Nature website, but watching the Eels doc lead me to this site to learn MORE about the topic AND the artist inspired to create this doc.
    He may not be Morgan Freeman, but he is an ‘artist, writer, and naturalist’ who dedicated lots of time and passion to educating folks like us who may never make it to New Zealand to hang with Maori.
    I thank him for that, and always wonder how people are able critique anything that comes from someone else’s hard work and heart.
    I LIKE that the person who was lead to make this narrated it himself. I think it fits the peaceful, personal tone of the film. It’s called, “voice of the artist”.
    I also loved seeing the watercolors he did along the way, and the piece he made with actual eels (dead eels who would go to waste anyway) as a way to honor eels is amazing!! Great job, James!

  • Dawn Simpson

    What a beautiful and fascinating documentary! The timing could not have been better…as I am preparing a unit on the American Eel for the children at the special needs school where I teach. This special provides a much greater appreciation and understanding of eels than any book or internet search ever could. James interprets their fluidity of movement and graceful beauty in his artwork. His artwork, book “Bird, Butterfly, Eel” and this documentary are inspirational. Thank you James!

  • Victoria

    Thank you, James Prosek! Well done! Very interesting, educating. Yes narrator voice was somewhat monotonous, I guess just to mesmerize us better with pictures on the screen,

  • Nina

    I enjoyed this very much, quite informative and fascinating. I have no idea what the complaints above were about. I am also an artist and admire this artist for using art for good. Saving eels is a noble endeavor. They are worthy of our fascination and our protection. I have never eaten one and never will. So glad I am not alone in my love of these beautiful and amazing creatures.

  • BugBoy

    Wonderful, and personal. I was worried after those initial posts that Prosek’s narration would ruin the story…..but nothing could be further from the truth. As a first person exploration, no other voice would do.

  • Cris Robba

    James Prosek has made a slimey, ugly animal into a beautiful part of nature.He must be very enlightened. This is a beautiful and heartfelt documentary – very well done in all respects. The negative comments are way off the mark and apparently come from darkness and anger. Congrats on a finely crafted work. Looking forward to James’ next offering.

  • Andrea

    Enjoy this with its good photography as it will help enlighten you when you read James Prosek’s book: Eels. Respect the eels and this good earth. Help save them by using no pesticides on your lawns and buying and promoting organic practices to help reduce pollution that fouls rivers and the oceans, their homes.

  • Dave

    I love Nature, but I can not say I enjoyed this episode. There was very little about eels and way too much introspection and preaching about living off the land compared to mass consumption. I don’t believe you have to neglect those messages, but they should be limited. This came across as James Prosek’s journey to become more connected to the lore of varoius cultures and people that have a connection to eels. In other words, It was more about James and those people than it was about eels . Heck, the ending was a montage of faces and beliefs. This is all fine and good, but please don’t put it on Nature.

    Also, I agree with the previous posts about the poor narration. Sorry, I’m just being truthful.

  • Dick and Sudjai Bentley

    Despite what some have said here, we thoroughly enjoyed the whole piece. And, learned a lot more than we ever realized about eels. As you have presented it, not only do we learn about eels, but we learn something about ourselves, how we interact with other creatures on this planet, and how we should give greater thought to how we treat our world. Most appropriate coming along as we approach Earth Day.
    My wife, Sudjai, was born and grew up in Thailand where the capture and consumption of eels is common. She has since learned that eels are now nowhere as plentiful as they once were. Not only has human population increased with an accompanying increase in consumption of these creatures, but the use of chemicals in agriculture has also had a negative effect on eels. It makes us wonder where this will lead; what kind of world will we end up with?

  • Bob

    What a beautiful program — fascinating, thought-provoking, and beautifully filmed. I learned, wondered, and reflected about these amazing creatures. I’m so glad I didn’t miss this — Well done James Prosek, Nature and PBS!

  • Chris Bowser

    Bravo to Nature, PBS, and James Prosek for a superb spotlight on one of the most amazing…and poorly understood…animals in the natural world! In many parts of the world, including the entire US east coast, eels migrate into every city creek or forest brook, yet many people aren’t even aware of them. Eels are far more than snakey fish or slimy monsters…this documentary emphasizes their beauty, mystery, and importance to our culture, economy, and connection to nature.

    As an educator, I recommend this video for teachers as a way to show students of all ages how eels are tied to people. As a scientist, I appreciate James’ approach to seeing the eel’s life cycle through the eyes of many cultures and people, especially his own personal journey. It’s a refreshing way to bring eels and their conservation to the minds of many people. I can talk about the classic ecological interdependence of oceans, estuaries, and watersheds, but eels live that connection.

    In addition to collecting good science on eels, its equally important to make sure that we don’t demote eels from being crucially essential to merely interesting. I think James and Nature has done a superb job of bringing the story of the eel…and especially our connection to the eel…to a larger audience in a vibrant immediate way. Thank you!

    Chris Bowser, estuary educator and researcher, Hudson River, NY

  • Cherry

    Thank you so much for the information about eels & the hard work. I like the question you pose in the end: “are we sometimes better off not knowing?”, In my humble opinion it’s probably better that way because we’re living in a wicked system where humans in general are short-sighted, exploiting & abusing nature’s amazing creatures & sophisticated systems that is responsible for making life on Earth thrive & in which we rely on has been polluted, extinct, altered & destroyed.

    Narration is very good.

  • Larry

    I am always appreciative if a person has the ability to change my perspective or limited view of a topic. James Prosek has done just this. With his careful observations of nature, intertwined with art and science, I have a new appreciation for the life history of the eel. Prosek’s journey is shared by connecting the stories of different characters and cultures around the world. The photography is stunning and the characters are memorable. He speaks honestly and wonders if the mystery of the eels is best left a mystery. Though some people may struggle with this conclusion, I find it comforting to know that the eels have eluded man, so far.

  • cullen

    Great documentary. The narration was so awful. It sounds like the narrator doesn’t care at all about eels!

  • Lico M.

    Its inspiring to learn through the love and awe the “narrator” has for the the subject matter. It’s clear and sparkling for any child to wonder along. Plus “narrator” makes a great role model for any child ( “adult”) , in his multidisciplinary trajectories, James P. teaches in manifold ways. Thank you for this wonderful episode.This is also a great model on the “nature” documentary- the subject matter is never reduce to mere information but is carefully revealed through the attentive wonder of the narrator.

  • Noel

    idk this was a hopeful episode of nature but there was something that didnt seem right

  • Robert

    I’m very disappointed that episodes of “Nature” are not available to watch via the internet in Canada! Why is this the case? Large numbers of Canadians regularly donate to PBS, and yet we are left out of the loop! I find this very confusing. It makes me question whether continuing to donate is worthwhile.

  • walter

    The show just scratches the surface of the “Story of Eels”. For example, many of those hatched in the Sargasso Sea drift with the Gulf Stream dropping off and entering rivers; those settling in the No. American rivers become No. American eels while those who make Europe become European eels. Seems the artist could spin this into a series based on the habitats of the 16 mentioned species. In Japan I ate Regular eel lunch for about $11. person—but a “special” eel lunch was out of sight expensive—about $1,000. Likely the New Zeland one ; but, not knowing about it at the time I assumed it was a barbecued filet of the East Coasts conger eel.

  • Mal Gaff

    The shot of an eighty-year old female eel, its mouth gaping open and its eyes staring at the camera lens, showed a creature whose innermost core startlingly disclosed itself as being of the same essence as my own.

  • Don

    Excellent, ethereal narration… truly a mysterious species that has endured much at the hands of mankind. They deserve better.

  • Ralph

    I thoroughly enjoyed your piece. I think of all the eels that I have used striper fishing over the years without thinking twice about where they originated from (other than the eel tank at the bait shop). You are not a scientist and this was not presented as scientific research. It is a fun and entertaining clip that gets one thinking about an unlikely subject in a non-typical way.
    As far as those folks broken hearted that James Earl Jones wasn’t narrating they had better not watch an old Jacques Cousteau show. He was the epitome of monotone but I don’t recall people whining about it.
    James, maybe the critics can direct us to their scary body of work so we can all learn from them…
    Great job.

  • Greg Peterson

    To be clear: I love eels. I made a special date with my partner to watch this episode (and the NOVA show on Australai afterwards). I am fascinated by eels. I was very much looking forward to this episode of Nature. Also make no mistake–the videography was stunning, and I loved the images of the eels in various settings.

    The topic deserved a more serious, less “woo” treatment. I am NOT opposed to a little romanticiing of plants and animals–I do it myself, and think it’s justified, given we share the planet with an amazing managerie. But stuff like looking into the eyes of an eel and seeing one’s own essence–which is right in line with the subtext of the episode–make me snort.

    I also would not mind the artistic and mythological floursishes (I loved his eel print artwork) in the context of more serious-minded information and narration. But this was solid, wall-to-wall, nasally, whiney woo. Now, I realize there’s a market for such things–but you folks already took over the History Channel and much of Discovery, so could you perhaps leave PBS for people who don’t feel the need for superstition and psuedoscience at every turn?

  • Mal Gaff

    The feeling I momentarily gained in seeing ‘its mouth gaping open and its eyes staring at the camera lens’ was intuitive, as of a quale; it hadn’t anything to do with ‘woo’ beliefs, with ‘superstition and psuedoscience’. It fleetingly induced an ineffable experience whose sensation of super-awareness, of Gaia harmony, created no contexts into which such an experience can substitute identicals.

    ‘[M]ore serious-minded information and narration.’? Perhaps thespian-narrated science and serious-minded technology programs would better suit your judicable mind, which so sensibly recoils from such ‘doo’ as the ‘subtext’ of this PBS Nature program.

  • Erin

    I have never left negative comments on anything before. In fact, I tend to keep my opinions to myself, but after watching “The Mystery of Eels” I simply couldn’t stay quiet.

    I should start by saying that I am a biologist, so I admittedly have standards for nature shows that are likely not shared by most people and that’s fair. I should also state that I have been watching Nature since George Page used to narrate (just dated myself) so I have seen a LOT of Nature episodes. That having been said, I literally thought Nature should be ASHAMED of having made this show. . Nature has consistently been one of the best weekly shows to showcase natural history and biology. This episode was ATROCIOUS. Virtually no biology at all! I LITERALLY learned more went I went to Wikipedia after the show finished….come on guys…you can definitely do better than that.

    Complaints about his voice seem a little silly to me (although I agree he didn’t have a great narration voice) but my issue was with the content which was utterly lacking. And to be clear, I don’t always need an episode full of rigorous science…in fact 2 of my favorite episodes of all time were “My life as a Turkey” and “Broken Tail:A Tiger’s Last Journey” both of which were a bit “light” on science….but they had a framework of biology and most importantly were aimed at TEACHING something! This episode could have been just as aptly named “An artists attempt at science: how to scratch the surface with pretty cinematography”. This reminded me of what an undergrad would make in their “Documentary 101″ class….excellent visuals no substance

    As if the overall lack of information wasn’t enough….the final dagger through my heart came at the end with the line “It’s refreshing that there are still some things in nature that we don’t understand….and maybe we don’t need to.” Ummmm…are you serious?? This is a DOCUMENTARY! If funding agencies agreed with this logic, basic research would no longer be funded. I felt this was incredibly irresponsible to end an episode this way.

    The only reason I feel so strongly about this is because Nature has and always will be one of my absolute favorite shows. In fact (and this is completely true) I ended up studying animal behavior entirely because of a Nature episode I saw when I was 12 years old. I was hooked.

    I love art and I love science. There are many ways of melding them together. This show would have been great at a film festival or a variety of other forums. It was not appropriate at all for a nature series, and certainly didn’t come close to the excellent standards I have come to expect for this show. Looking forward to better episodes in the future…and I will always be a loyal viewer.

  • Mal Gaff

    The feeling I momentarily gained in seeing ‘its mouth gaping open and its eyes staring at the camera lens’ was intuitive, as of a quale; it hadn’t anything to do with ‘woo’ beliefs, with ‘superstition and psuedoscience’. It fleetingly induced an ineffable experience whose sensation of super-awareness, of Gaia harmony, created no contexts into which such an experience can substitute identicals. ‘[M]ore serious-minded information and narration.’? Perhaps thespian-narrated science and serious-minded technology programs would better suit your judicable mind, which recoils from such ‘doo’ as the ‘subtext’ of this wonderful PBS Nature program.

  • Mark Story Jenks

    Great program. I wish the artist would contact me, I have some possibly astounding information for him. Our Dad was a Baymen, and growing up on the NJ coast Eeling was part of our sustenance spring and fall each year. (not glass Eels)

  • Lawrence

    This is one of the best NATURE episodes that I have viewed in many years. A complex story told with poetic insight and a quest for knowledge. May the eel species live forever; wild and free. Thank you PBS and James Prosek for producing this fine film. Sincerely, Lawrence.

  • Blake

    Great program! It was beneficial for my own personal interests as well as a tool to help educate my students about the importance of aquatic ecosystems and riparian habitats. Many thanks for sharing your work James.

  • Claire I.

    A refreshing new look at one of the most curious oddities of the earth. Definitely a good watch.

  • olivia

    argh! i can’t watch it – not available in my area. how can i watch this in france?

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