Should we be afraid of moray eels?

Present in all the tropical and temperate seas of the world, reaching an incredibly long size and perceived as aggressive by many people with its long and sharp teeth, is the moray eel really a dangerous animal ?

Murène ouvrant la gueule
© Philippe Lahousse

What is a moray eel?

The moray eel is a fish.

If it surprises you, it’s understandable because it is far from the cute clown fish or the nice grouper.

However, although they do not have paired fins, no pectoral and ventral fins and their skin is smooth without scales, the moray eels are a family of anguilliform fish or eel.

Une murène jaune sortant d'une crevasse
© Philippe Lahousse

Where to look to see it?

Anywhere at a depth of 0 to -100m

During the day, the moray eel will remain willingly hidden under a rock, in a crevasse or inside small caves.
This predator dreadful amateur of fish, cuttlefish and other crustaceans is waiting for the night to go hunting and enjoy the day to rest.

Do not disturb the moray eels that you see during your dives!
If you want to see it in open water, it will be enough for you to make twilight dives (at sunrise or at dusk) to see them go out and go in search of their prey.

A camouflage expert

The moray eel, like many other fishes, has beautiful colors and patterns that allow it to camouflage itself to remain discreet.

Scuba diving enthusiasts like to take it as a model to make beautiful shots.

The meaning of cooperation for moray eel

The moray eel has long understood the interest of cooperating: while it can associate with some other species of fish to hunt, she willingly leaves shrimp or cleaner fish to enter his mouth for a small maintenance that will allow these opportunistic to feed.

Une murène sortant d'une crevasse
© Philippe Lahousse

Should we be afraid of it?

Although its long, sharp teeth may frighten us, moray eels are relatively fearful fish. In front of danger, they will usually prefer to escape. They will only attack if they feel threatened.

Murène ouvrant la gueule
© Philippe Lahousse

But still, some people are bitten

And yes, it must be recognized, you will regularly find divers telling you the story of a diver that had been bitten…..

Without denying that these bites exist, it should be noted that they are mostly the result of an intrusion into their territory (the diver who absolutely wants to place his camera as far as possible to make a beautiful shot … that he will probably never use !’) or hand-feeding practice performed to attract tourists (similar to the shark feeding I told you about here).

As moray eels have poor vision (but an excellent sense of smell), they will easily confuse your hand with food.

Murène éclairée par un plongeur
© Philippe Lahousse

Did you know :

  • Some moray eels have a second pair of jaws in the back throat. If necessary, this jaw advances and allows the swallowing of prey, nice, isnt’it?
  • The largest species of moray eels can reach the incredible size of 4 meters
  • Moray eels can look for contact with divers : do not confuse this with an act of friendship. They rub themselves to eliminate parasites present on their smooth skin! But remember that it is not good for them to be touch by your hands at the risk of transmitting your own bacteria
  • Moray eels open and close their mouths constantly … but it’s not to bite you. This maneuver simply serves to ventilate them
  • Some moray eels change color up to three times in their lifetime
  • The moray eels are born males before becoming females as adults 😉
  • The giant moray eel can travel up to 6500 km to reproduce
  • When they breed, moray eels spawn a thousand eggs. Larvae mingle in plankton during the first year

Dangerous or not dangerous?

The moray eel remains a wild animal with a formidable dentition, stay on the safe side !

You will have the opportunity to observe and make wonderful shots by taking the following precautions: do not enter his territory (and want to find her burrow) and do not dive in places where people practice feeding and / or with instructors accustomed to such practices.

Murène ouvrant la gueule
© Philippe Lahousse

Divers are guests of this underwater world that we love. Do not forget to respect it and don’t go too far with marine animals as I told you about it here

Thank you to my friend Philippe Lahousse, a talented photographer, for sharing photos that illustrate this article.

So, are you reassured now?

And most importantly, do not forget to be happy 🤗

Helene

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