Have you ever thought of eels, besides the electric ones and those popular for eating in Japan? No? I didn’t really think of them much myself, until today at least. They’re the shizz in New Zealand, culturally important to the Maori people and a keystone species in the ecosystem. The little buggers slowly squirm their way upstream, aiming for the big open waters up up and away from the North Island. There are a bunch of dams in their way though, which means problems are ahead. They have cool suck-y appendages under their gills that let them muscle their way up small rocks and walls to continue the journey upriver, but that’s not so hot when you’re facing a wall that’s more than 40 feet tall. What are the little guys to do?!
(eel bucket pics)
Luckily for them they have a hero in the form of a local guy named Bill, aka eel-savior extraordinaire. This guy has dedicated the past 30-40 years of his life to helping the tiny clowns out. He actually transports them at all the dams in the area, but we were just visiting at one site. There he introduced us to the plight of these eels, starting with us feeling them up in all their slimy glory as they flopped around in a bucket. Then we descended a little staircase to see an operation base. Bill had a tub-like situation where he channeled eels that swam upstream, holding them in the tub/box until he could move them to buckets. Once we loaded them up in buckets we took them to our vans, where we packed them in safely enough to move to the dumping site. 20 minutes or so later of a drive and we made it to the dump site, where they were not-so-majestically set free via a pipe slide. I took enough shots to capture at least one good frame of them sliding out into the pond, where they proceeded to huddle together like losers despite having freedom. What clowns.
(eel freedom pics)
In the meantime we also had a great photoshoot session on the end of the dock, in which Sandy looked like a model and I looked like a tool. Just how I like it 😉 The lake was gorgeous, with a reflection of the sky to die for and nothing in it but clear blue ripples. We stood out there for about 20 minutes with Bill lecturing and us goofing before we went to his house for some more education.
After that we actually got to see Bill’s house. We didn’t go in the house, but we sat outside in a covered thing and Bill brought out all of these handmade boards with pictures and hella eel info. He got going for maybe 90 minutes, and even though we were all freezing with the crazy wind and lack of sunlight it was worth it. Man is knowledgable and super prestigious, he’s won multiple awards from the country for his conservation work and everything. It was an honor getting to hear him speak, and to top it off his wife had cooked delicious chicken, chocolate-topped banana bread and more for us. Plus some tea and coffee to warm our frozen souls. It was bombin’ and an absolute pleasure.
(bill’s info board pics)
We returned to the dam after that, where some stupid company was supposed to release a trial run of electric eels (as in actually mechanical, robot eels) to prove that they could handle going up fish ladders just fine. Which is a lie, since they’d scrape by barely alive before likely dying on the other side. But the companies just want to not have to tear down their dams, even though Bill having to save the eels every year is obviously not a sustainable system, even if it is admirable. Unfortunately the company was either slow getting there or didn’t want an audience of 26+ educated students critiquing them in their idiocy, and it started to rain, so we missed out on the test. We did get to chill back at the wananga though, so that was fun. It ended up as a very informative and kicked back day, and I think we all feel so lucky to have been able to learned about and from Bill. This program tops itself everyday. Go FA!