On Christmas day, sweltering in an unexpected heat wave, and waiting for news, Mr D’s cousin’s partner and I went for a walk along the tiny stream near the in-laws house, hoping to find a pool big enough to stand in to cool off.
We found the perfect little pool, I was ankle-deep in heaven, I took a step forward, and discovered that the pool had another inhabitant, who also moved forward to protect its territory. There was a bit of an undiginified scramble out of the water but at least I managed to refrain from squealing.
So what charged me? A New Zealand eel.
There are two varieties of native eels in NZ – the longfin, found only in New Zealand, and the shortfin, which is also found in Australia and across the Pacific. Both are threatened due to loss of habitat and overfishing.
The eels are pretty amazing creatures. They live to be over 100 years old, grow only a cm or two a year, and breed only once at the very end of their life, when they swim downstream, and out into the Pacific (Tonga for longfins, New Caledonia for short fins). This makes them very susceptible to overfishing – take one in New Zealand and it never has a chance to breed.
Even if I don’t like sharing my footbath with eels, I thing they are fantastic, and very interesting. And I know they like all sorts of meat scraps. And thanks to the holidays we had a pretty much unending supply of ham scraps. So every evening we were in Nelson I took all the ham rinds and trotted off to the stream to feed the eels.
It turns out there wasn’t just one or two eels. Start dropping ham in the water and dozens of them would turn up. At one point we counted 23 (Fact: counting eels is harder than herding cats).
You don’t have to just drop ham in the water either. By day 3 the eels were eating right out of my hand. They learn fast!
It wasn’t just my hand either. Sometimes my little pink toes just above the water were a bit too tempting, and they had a nibble at them:
Wanna see that up close?
It was a lovely way to finish the day and de-stress a little at a hard time. All the visitors who came for Christmas, or later for Gran’s funeral, got treated to eel feeding.
Nature is a wonderful thing!