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Science Wednesdays: The Mystery of Eels

Tue, 04/16/2013 - 10:45am -- WCVE

Though much of the natural world is discovered and understood, a few great mysteries remain. Consider the eel — snakelike and slimy, with a row of jagged teeth. Yet aside from these fearsome qualities, we know little about its life. Where it goes, what it does and how it dies, nobody knows.

Hailed by poets as the “siren of the North Sea” and “love’s arrow on Earth,” this shadowy creature has fascinated researchers for centuries. Now James Prosek, artist, writer and eminent naturalist, will take on the mystery of the eel, shedding light on the animal and the strange behavior it inspires in those who seek to know it.

Watch Nature: The Mystery of Eels April 17 at 8:00 p .m. on WCVE PBS / WHTJ PBS

According to Prosek, who wrote and narrates the program, his introduction to the slimy, muscular fish occurred when fishing as a boy in the ponds and rivers of Connecticut. He would catch the beady-eyed eels by accident when fishing for something else. But when an old game warden explained that they were born thousands of miles away in the Sargasso Sea, somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle, Prosek became hooked and determined to learn as much he could about the mysterious creatures.

Here are some facts about the freshwater eel that might surprise you. It can swim backwards equally well as forwards; while highly sought after in Asia, it’s virtually ignored here in the U.S.; some can live over 100 years. Eels are the only fish that spawn in the middle of the ocean, but spend their adult lives in freshwater, the opposite of most migratory fishes, like salmon and shad; and they are a multi-billion dollar business.