Species: European eel (Anguilla anguilla)
Status: Critically Endangered (CR)
Interesting Fact: The first three years of the European eel’s life are spent drifting in the ocean as a larva.
The European eel has a long, narrow body, with a continuous dorsal, anal and tail fin. The colour of adults depends on the age of the individual, but usually ranges from brown or black to olive-green, with yellowish bellies. Some adults may be silvery, and young European eels are transparent and are known as ‘glass eels’.
The European eel has a fascinating life cycle, breeding in the sea and migrating to freshwater in order to grow, before returning to the sea to spawn. It is thought that all European eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea. The larvae drift in the plankton for up to three years, and are carried by the Gulf Stream towards the coasts of Europe. They then spend between 6 and 20 years in freshwater, before migrating back towards the sea on dark, moonless and stormy nights to mate. European eels can live for up to 85 years.
The European eel is found in the rivers of the North Atlantic, Baltic and Mediterranean Seas. It is also seen along European coasts from the Black Sea to the White Sea in Russia.
The population of the European eel is threatened at present, and eel stocks have declined in recent years. There is currently very little scientific knowledge of this species and the threats it faces. However, pollution, overfishing, habitat degradation, parasite infection and changes in climate have all been suggested as potential causes of the European eel’s decline.
The European Union is currently funding research that aims to halt the decline of the European eel population.
Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author