The slippery eel – of which so little is known – having become tagged is about to disclose its whereabouts on the ocean floor.
|Distribution and size of Leptocephali Larvae of|
the European Eel, Anguilla anguilla c/o Wikipedia
In the very late 1800s it was only realised that eels needed both fresh water and sea water during their life cycle. After this in 1922 it was found that the eels were travelling further and further across the Atlantic Ocean until the smallest eel-larvae were caught off Bermuda in the Sargasso Sea (that barren, windless, weed-filled area of the Atlantic Ocean), postulating the theory that this was the eels breeding ground – how they swam 4,000+ miles is another mystery.
|Distribution and size of Leptocephali Larvae of the|
American eel, Anguilla rostrata - c/o Wikipedia
There are shoals of eels all over Europe – Scandinavia, France, England and Ireland ... which stir in November from their resting places – river beds, lake bottoms and marshlands around Europe, heeding the ancient call to breed.
These slippery silver serpents grow in strength and size, some to lengths over four feet, before undertaking the daunting journey travelling overland through muddy rivulets, down streams, into rivers heeding the call of the ocean.
They will take the ‘easiest’ route to their spawning grounds .. using the currents to make their journey more efficient, rather than perhaps the shortest route.
This explains their migration north through the Scottish trenches, though plenty still use the English Channel, all traversing the deep ocean trenches, crossing the undersea mountain ranges and gliding over the continental shelf.
Their journey can be 4,000 to 4,500 miles, exceeding the1,800 mile migration of the Atlantic salmon, but dwarfed by the grey whale’s journey of up to 12,500 miles from Baja California to the Bering Straits. (the world’s longest animal migration).
These larvae that make this three year migration back to the rivers, turning into glass eels along the way, then adapt to the fresh water by metamorphosing into elvers; their journey up streams, across wet lands to the head waters seem to colonise many continental rivers.
They can live for ten – fourteen years, though some have been found to live for considerably longer. When they’re ready to breed ... the call of the sea lures them and they begin their long journey yet again towards the Sargasso Sea.
No wonder little has been known about these slippery creatures .. as each life cycle so little resembles the previous one .. and what a journey they make.
|Eel and Pie House|
The populations of eels are fast disappearing and no-one is exactly sure why – disease, man-made developments, over fishing etc .. but the $ market per kilo is like the gold rush or the oil price ... going up exponentially and moving the markets from Europe to America and Asia. It seems the eels are generating a similar fervour as grips the King Crab season in the Bering Sea.
Eels were popular with the Romans and widely eaten during the Middle Ages, while jellied eels were a staple for the poor, particularly in London, in the 18th Century; Eel Pie and Mash houses sprang up to satisfy the hunger of the working Londoners.
One of the islands in the Thames, up river in the borough of Twickenham became known as Eel Pie Island - the island being used as a pleasure resort for boating parties and visitors; the eel pies served became famous and led to the renaming of the island, but as the eels declined due to pollution in the Thames in the 1800s .. so did the pie production!
Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) in his Diary describes his whip thus: “With my salt eele, went down in the parler, and there got my boy and did beat him”- eel skins were used for whips. However ‘eel-skins’ were known in old slang for very tight trousers or tightly fitting frocks .. they’re sometimes still described as such.
I just find it interesting how eels have been eaten throughout the world and throughout the ages and how customs and traditions have grown up around them .. and yet how little we knew about these slippery customers until very recently.
Just as a small PS ... I've mentioned King John in another recent post (Magna Carta) .. well in the year 1213 the following were ordered for his Christmas feast: about 3,000 capons, 1,000 salted eels, 400 hogs, 100 pounds of almonds and 24 casks of wine - I wonder how many guests he had?!
Dear Mr Postman today is a day for slippery customers .. information and snippets that my mother enjoyed .. my brother cooked eel for me on one of my trips back from South Africa .. and I have to say it was not a meal I particularly enjoyed, however some love it, .. but perhaps if I'd been able to give the eel the credit it deserves for its life .. I'd have relished it more!
Thank you for visiting .. my mother will enjoy being reminded of our lunch that day .. I seem to think we were both surprised at the choice of eel .. it is very rich, and definitely not to everyone's taste .. especially after a long over night flight ....
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