LADIES & GENTLEMEN... EEL YOUNG!
Time to once again introduce you to a Van Andel Living Shores resident, and this week I've chosen our California moray eel. He has one of the more interesting back stories. A gentlemen who conducted education programs with live animals had decided to leave Michigan, and was looking to place his marine specimens. While he was located in the Detroit area, we were the only facility in Michigan dedicated to coldwater fish and invertebrates. We were also given some sea stars and our swell shark (the pudgy brown one you MAY have seen in the kelp tank - more about her another time). Anyway, he had rescued Eel Young (I didn't name the eel by the way, although it is the sort of thing I might do. I was sure such a big and charismatic animal probably had a name already, and made a point of asking before we left) sixteen years earlier from an Asian restaurant in San Francisco where he was destined to become a meal. Eel Young has been here at JBZ five years now, making him at least twenty-one.
Morays are considered true eels because they lack pectoral and pelvic fins, as well as gill covers, making them very snake-like in appearance. Since he doesn't have covers to move the water across his gills, Eel Young must hold his mouth open and "gasp" in order to breathe. This can give him a rather frightening appearance, especially coupled with his mouthful of sharp little teeth, but morays are typically shy and unagressive. Having said that, they're a good reason to never stick your hand in a crack or crevice while scuba diving (Ever see that movie "The Deep"? Yikes!). If you ever watch the rockfish in our Kelp Tank eat you'll notice that they do so by opening their mouths wide to create a sort of vacuum that literally sucks the food in. Not an option when wedged in a cave. But Eel Young and friends have an adaptation that allows them to eat in the tight spaces where they hunt and hide: a second set of jaws at the back of the mouth that literally pull prey toward their throats. How cool is that?