Science //

The Victoria Park eels have been to New Caledonia

Elliott Brennan has not been to New Caledonia.

Elliott Brennan has not been to New Caledonia.

If you’ve ever found yourself compelled to stop on the bridge across Lake Northam in Victoria Park and stare wistfully into its radioactive-green waters, you might have seen a long-finned eel. Hell, you might have felt sorry for the poor ugly bastard you thought was spending its life condemned to this one tiny pond.

But before that ugly bastard of an eel had turned one year old, it had probably seen more (and achieved far more) than you.

In what has been an undemocratic blight on the fauna of Sydney University, these apex-predators have been completely neglected in the student media in favour of an extensive documentation of the ibis population. This i-bias manifested itself most clearly when a lengthy Honi article published last year posed the question, “Where are all the ibis babies?”

The answer was palm trees and long grass. Sick.

But, if you asked the question, “Where are all the long-finned eel babies?”, the answer is New Caledonia.

Eels 1, ibises 0.

When they reach sexual maturity, long-finned eels are compelled to leave the pond they have called home (sometimes for up to two decades) and make for the ocean. Before the European colonisation of Australia, the eels in Lake Northam would have had an easy time of it, too.

Back in those days the lake was more of a spring that connected to the swamps of Blackwattle Bay. But, now there are myriad of multi-lane roads, high density housing zones, quaint cafes built in 2013 and general obstacles that don’t involve water between Lake Northam and Blackwattle Bay. So how do the eels get to the ocean?

To put it simply, however the hell they can. Long-finned eels rise to meet every challenge modern society and nature throws at them and overcome it. Even when it is dry land. They will just go over it.

Yes, eels can travel on land. Bonus fun fact: They also don’t have sharp teeth, so you can pat them.

The eels will leave their pond either through its inlet and outlet system or will scale its banks and slither along the ground until they reach a stormwater drain. These drains will link to other ponds, and those ponds to other drains. They will continue doing this until they reach the ocean.

If this journey is literally (actually literally) impossible, the long finned eels will just continue to grow; the largest reported is a 3m long, 22kg marvel of biology. The Parramatta Eels are the only eels that lose.

When the majestic majority make it to the salt water of the ocean, receptors in their nose trigger a physiological change that puts a butterfly’s life cycle to shame. Their eyes enlarge and undergo pigment transformation to improve their vision in the salt water, their pectoral fins enlarge to rub more salt in Nemo’s wounds, their stomach disintegrates as they have eaten their last duckling and their anus shrivels to keep the salt water at bay.

The fasting, owl-eyed, anus-less eels then swim along the coast of Australia, up past the northern tip of New Zealand (where their Kiwi brethren join them), and further north to the southern tip of New Caledonia, presumably using the slip stream of P&O cruises the whole 2,020km. Here, the females release millions of eggs, of which an estimated one per cent survive.

The adult eels—after doing everything in their power to give their spawn a tropical life free from Sydney Uni college kids pissing in their pond—die.

Their offspring then undertake the journey in reverse, having never met their parents to know that life in Pacific paradise is a lot nicer than that in an overcrowded share-pond on City Rd.