‘Eel’ be seeing you: A Japanese aquarium under lockdown asks for video calls to its lonely eels

May 4, 2020

It turns out that eels have feelings, too: While animals all around the world have relished the chance to reclaim their natural habitats as humans recede into their homes during the pandemic, the keepers at one Japanese aquarium under lockdown believe that the months-long lack of human attention actually is posing a problem for the animals in their exhibits—specifically, for the eels.

In fact, the aquarists at The Sumida Aquarium, which is housed in the Tokyo Skytree Tower, have noticed that the hundreds of tiny spotted garden eels in their tanks have started behaving oddly—burrowing into the sand when aquarium workers pass by.

According to a report by Quartz, the keepers say that the eels are hiding because they have become unfamiliar with humans since the aquatic museum closed to visitors on March 1.

Garden eels are by nature highly vigilant and sensitive, and do submerge themselves in the sand when triggered—but the aquarium said that the eels had learned to accept the presence of humans because there were so many visitors.

As they acclimate themselves to a human-less environment, a newfound shyness is emerging that makes the work of aquarium staff difficult; as they cannot check on the health of the creatures.

According to the California Academy of Sciences, spotted garden eels often are mistaken for plants because of their slim size and the way in which they burrow partially into the seafloor in order to sweep up passing

Now, Quartz reports, the aquarium is launching a three-day “emergency event” starting on May 3, known as the “face-showing festival,” with the goal of “not forgetting the existence of humans.”

Sumida Aquarium is inviting people everywhere to call the aquarium’s dedicated account through an iPad or iPhone, and once connected, people are asked to wave or call out to the eels (but not too loudly) for five minutes at a time, during two time slots a day.

The aquarium said that the event is also something for people to do during the Golden Week holiday, which began April 29 and lasts until May 6.

Research contact: @qz

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