New Zealand Longfin Eel

posted: 03/18/14
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New Zealand Longfin Eel
Daniel Huertas/Icon Films
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Maximum Length:

Over 6 feet

Maximum Weight:

Over 40 pounds

You've Got the Look:

The New Zealand longfin eel's shape makes it look more like a 12-inch (30-centimeter) Italian sub sandwich than a fish. The creature's long, slender body can grow up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) over the course of its life time. This eel — one of the largest freshwater eels in the world — gets its name from having a dorsal fin (top fin) that's longer than its ventral fin (bottom fin). And although it has scales and fins like a fish, these scales are extremely tiny and embedded deep within its skin.

Old School:

Longfin eels have been around for at least 65 million years, making their home in the inland rivers, lakes and other fresh waters of New Zealand. Maori, the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, have incorporated these aquatic animals into their culture and traditions for centuries. The Maori consider the eels a food source and good luck charms. Eel-like characters, such as the mythical monster Taniwha, even show up in Maori folk stories.

The Last Hurrah:

Unlike other animal species, longfin eels reproduce only once in their lifetime, and after they breed, they die. At the ages of 23 and 34, respectively, the males and females migrate upstream from freshwater to the Pacific Ocean for the purpose of breeding future generations. As they travel, they undergo a physical transformation: their skin gets darker and their eyes get larger. They stop eating when they get to the ocean and never eat again. The female's final act before death is laying millions of eggs for the male eel to fertilize.

Jeremy Wade's Tips for Catching New Zealand Longfin Eel:

"Eels have an exceptional sense of smell, so I chummed the water with the liquid from fish guts to bring them in and get them hungry. But I was very careful not to let any bits fall in the water because this would start to satisfy their hunger."

For the full story, watch Jeremy Wade's How to Catch a New Zealand Longfin Eel.

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