Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mysterious Creatures

     Last Saturday, I was paddling along a  Penobscot eddyline, demarking incoming tide and outgoing current.   On quieter days this line is easily visible, as a majority of the debris in the water, mostly leaves and branches is pushed there, marking a distinct messy trail in the river.
     Also in the eddyline: floating trash.  We’ve had a rash of shopping bags filled with garbage appear in the river recently.  Far more depressing than single cans or styrofoam cups, these bags don’t just blow off a rail, they’re actually being dumped in the river.  Why???  It’s not like trash cans are hard to find.
     Anyway, I’d picked up another noxious bag of garbage and was letting it drain on my back deck.  I had my camera out to attempt to capture the brown leafy road aspect of the eddyline and was wondering if Linda Greenlaw (The Hungry Ocean) had used a similar eddyline of seaweed and trash to spot the edge of the gulfstream current where swordfish like to hang out.  So I was there, camera in hand, when beside me a long shiny tube writhed up from under the leaves.
     Stifling my entirely appropriate squeal reflex, I snapped this rather poor photo before it sank once again into the depths.  

    American Eel, in the silver stage.  Quite a coincidence because I’d just finished James Prosek’s new book, Eels: an exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the world’s most mysterious fish.   

     Mr. Prosek, a man of impressive talents, tells the eels’ tale, concentrating on human’s interactions with eels, from what happens to the glass eels and elvers caught in Maine each spring, to Pacific Societies and their complex relationship with giant longfin eels.
     Maine often appears in Prosek’s book.  Maine and Atlantic Canada export glass eels.  Jim McCleave, a professor at the University of Maine is one of the top eel scientists, and is thought to have made more trips to the Sargasso Sea searching for spawning eels than anyone else alive.  It was a Maine journalist who helped file a citizen's petition to have the American Eel declared an endangered species. Some of the reasons people feel the eel is endangered are given at, a website in support of the Taunton River.
     Two things any reader will carry away from Prosek's book is how little understood eels are (despite centuries of study by some of the great scientific minds), and a curiosity about the great longfin eel.  A Youtube search turned up several videos of the longfin eel, but none which help show the nuanced relationship between humans and a food source as well as Prosek does with his book.  
     I'm no eel expert, but even I can tell the eel in my picture isn't well.  If you’re wondering why anyone should care, you might want to read, James Prosek’s book.
A few other eel sites:
  Where have all the Eels Gone?, Gulf of Maine Times


  1. I've thought about picking up that book. How many stars out of 5 do you give it?

  2. An interesting coincidence. The poor health of creatures in the water are a reflection of what we humans are doing to the environment and ourselves. It is hard to make people care these days. David Suzuki has been trying gallently for years. Thanks for all the efforts you make too!

  3. It is tough to make people care. Really we are lucky there is a Clean Water Act and a government which enforces it, and folks like David Suzuki keeping these topics in the public eye. Penbayman, I don't know if you read James Prosek's trout book? (I haven't) I would give the Eel Book four stars, because I liked the writing and felt the relationship between Maori and eels was enlightening. However, I borrowed it, and I don't think I'd want it permanently.