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Scientists study habits of endangered eel

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eel larvae

A team of scientists has spent the past four weeks combing the waters off the south of Bermuda trying to piece together one of the most remarkable journeys in the natural world.

The 22 European experts travelled to the Sargasso Sea as part of an ongoing project to study the breeding habits of the endangered European Eel.

Almost nothing is known about the animal’s 4,000-mile journey from the cold waters of Europe to the Sargasso Sea off Bermuda where it comes to breed and then die.

So, for the last month, the scientists have been busy taking samples from the water to the Island’s south to determine where exactly the eels breed and how plentiful their larvae are in the sea.

“The European Eel is considered an endangered species now because there has been a dramatic drop in its population,” said chief scientist Dr Reinhold Hanel from the Thunen Institute of Fisheries Ecology in Hamburg, Germany.

“Because it is endangered many countries in Europe have regulations to protect them and there is quite a debate about whether these regulations are needed.

“But we still know very little about how and why this creature travels all the way from Europe to the Sargasso Sea to breed and exactly where the animals breed.

Dr Hanel added: “We have been able to narrow down this spawning area during our latest expedition but there is still more work to be done.

“We have taken many samples from the sea and it will take months, maybe a year, for us to get the full results of the work we have done.

“But it has been a very successful expedition and I think we will be back again soon to continue this important work.”

The scientists have previously visited Bermuda in 2011 and 2014 on-board the Wolta Herwig vessel.

Their latest expedition saw the team use the Maria Merian, a research platform vessel, which is owned by the German Government and equipped with the latest in marine research technology and equipment.

The Maria Merian arrived at Penno’s Wharf at the end of March to pick up the scientists and then left Bermuda on April 1 for the Sargasso Sea. The ship arrived back in Dockyard on Wednesday. Captain Ralf Schmidt said: “The Maria Merian works mostly in the North Atlantic as a research platform for teams of scientists and is equipped with five cranes and thrusters that allow it to turn 360 degrees.

“She is a very sophisticated ship and ideally suited to these kind of research expeditions.

“This has been our first trip to Bermuda and it has made a welcome change from the cold temperatures we are more used to.”

Yesterday, a new team of European scientists arrived in Bermuda and boarded the Maria Merian in Dockyard. They are due to leave the Island on Saturday bound for Canada for the ship’s next research expedition.

The Maria Meren research vessel.
Scientists have taken a series of sea samples to the Island’s south to determine where exactly the European Eels breed and how plentiful its larvae are in the sea.
The Maria Meren arrived in St George's at the end of March to pick up the team of scientists.