Moray eels are aliens!


I’ve always been a little leary of moray eels on dive trips.  One of my most recent dives in West Palm Beach put us on a wreck in 50′ of water where lots of concrete tubes and piping had sunk to the floor.  Soft corals were starting to take over, with macroalgae and corallines covering the areas not holdfasted by Gorgonia

Inside one of the pipes was an e-nor-mous green moray eel and I was freaked beyond description at seeing her lazily emerge from the pipe.  She danced around in her ribbon-like way for awhile, and then slunk away.   She had to be five feet.  Maybe more.  Enormous fish. 

So why the fuss?  Well, I’ve just never really trusted them.  Now researchers have confirmed my good instincts.  In a UC Davis study, scientists discovered that moray eels have TWO sets of jaws.  The second jaw lays waiting towards the back of the mouth.  There are a few other fish that have so called pharyngeal jaws. 

The crazy-creepy thing about morays?  Their second set of jaws can move.  Yeah, move.  So they’re perfectly capable of moving inside the mouth of the eel to grab onto food and drag it towards the throat and down the gullet.  Creepy. 

Is anyone else reminded of Aliens

In related news, we pulled up a 14″ American eel, Anguilla rostrata, today from the IRL system in a seagrass bed.  That’s the first time I’ve ever seen them in the ‘grass flats.  The super cool thing about American eels is that, in reverse of the famed salmon runs, they spawn in the Sargasso Sea (ahem, the ocean) and the babies move back into estuaries, and eventually ascend to freshwater areas as adults.  Special word for this?  Catadromous. 

There were other rare but interesting fish that have found their way into the lagoon, probably due to incoming Sargassum rafts and higher-than-usual salinity. 

  • Sargassum frogfish
  • Tilefish
  • Searobins
  • Pigfish
  • Larger-than-typical mangrove snapper juveniles
  • Cool Florida blennies
  • Sargeant major juveniles
  • and even what I think was a juvenile doctorfish (in the surgeon family)

Interesting, eh? 

Two fish I was excited to see and also immediately paranoid about: an oyster toadfish and a plumed scorpionfish.  Both are venomous, so I wasn’t thrilled.  But they are incredibly cool fish and make great teaching moments.