Eels Are Doing Virtual Hangouts Too


Science | By Sabrina Crosby | May 23, 2020

The social distancing requirements of the coronavirus pandemic have had obvious effect in flattening the curve and buying time for improved testing, contact tracing, and the development of viable vaccines and treatments. But it has come at a personal cost to each person largely keeping to themselves at home.

Humans are unavoidably social creatures, and to deny that part of oneself is to suffer concrete consequences of the body and of the mind. And while that might seem to set the species apart from the rest on Earth, there are a myriad of examples of creatures cuddly or otherwise with similar needs.

Both old services like Skype and Facetime and newer ones like Zoom and Netflix party have facilitated the best approximation of what fulfills that basic need that can be found, and it turns out that more creatures under the sun than humans are benefiting from them, such as the humble spotted garden eel.

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Hell Is Other Eels

Residing in the Sumida Aquarium in Tokyo, Japan are three hundred spotted garden eels, who normally make the acquaintance of crowds of visitors each day. Unfortunately, the outbreak of coronavirus compelled the aquarium's closure to the public on the first day of March, and the employees of the facility who continue to come to take care of the animals say that they were beginning to grow timid around humans absent those interactions with visitors.

"As the (aquarium) has been closed for a long time, the animals aren't seeing any other people other than the staff ...they're beginning to forget about humans. The garden eels in particular have started to burrow themselves into the sand and hide even when aquarium (staff) pass by their tank," said the aquarium in a statement.

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Eel Welfare Checks

The growing reticence of the eels was significant because if they should become too afraid of people to emerge from hiding in their presence, it is difficult or impossible for handlers to ascertain that they are healthy. Therefore, the aquarium issued a call for the public's assistance in re-familiarizing the eels with humans so that aquarium employees could more easily conduct their welfare checks and prevent and deterioration in the health of the fish.

The request came in the form of what they call a “Face-Showing Festival, a three day event in which participants were permitted to reach the eels via five Facetime-enabled iPads encircling their tank, and were encouraged to wave or verbally address the eels, though at a moderate volume in order to not scare the fish – something that human Facetimers also appreciate.

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Anything Eels Can Do

Though the face showing festival has passed, its success and the uncertain timing of things opening up again on a global basis being what they are, those eager to shout out a lonely eel, a grouper, a manta ray or the like may just get their chance yet, so make a point of preparing your waves and conversation openers now so that you won't freeze up under pressure.

And in the meantime, if worst comes to worst, why not Facetime a person? They're nothing but eels with Animal Crossing accounts, and you can still wave at them or address them at a moderate volume, just as you would do with an eel. Just as they do, you require periodic interaction in order to both monitor and enhance physical and mental health, so get connecting, eel-style!

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