Moray Eel – Animal Spotlight

Moray Eel
Snowflake Moray Eel

Is there a more misunderstood animal in the world than the moray eel? These serpentine like marine creatures suffer from an undeserved negative reputation among the human populace. Of course there is no real reason for this bad reputation other than boasting sharp teeth and a breathing problem. Let’s delve into why the moray eel deserves to be thought of as a high character member of the ocean population.

Moray Eel – What is It?

Moray eels are a family of elongated, serpentine looking fish found throughout the world. There are over 200 different species of moray and they live in a variety of habitats. In Indonesia, they can be found on coral reefs, on sand flats, and along steep vertical walls. They are mainly found at home in their burrow, however, they can be found swimming in the open from time to time. We normally see at least one species of moray on every dive.

Moray Eel and Shrimp
Moray Eel and Shrimp

Moray Eel Fierce Predator?

Morays are fascinating to observe. One of the reasons for their “shady” reputation is simply due to the way they breathe. Unlike many species of fish, the moray doesn’t have gill covers, this means it needs to breathe through its mouth. Therefore, a moray constantly pumps its mouth open and closed to pump oxygen through its gills. To the inexperienced, this looks like the eel is constantly growling or showing off its teeth in a menacing fashion. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth as they are simply breathing. In fact, moray eels are quite shy and prone to pulling back into their holes when divers approach. They are not aggressive in the least unless unnecessarily provoked by careless divers.

Although they do look like a fierce predator, they interact often with other animals. The most common occurrence is to find cleaners with eels. Cleaners are shrimp or small fish that specialize in “cleaning” parasites and debris off the skin and teeth of other animals. Eels are notorious for using cleaning services as they have one in attendance almost constantly. In fact, morays often live in the same burrow as their cleaning shrimp. A rather luxurious existence, no need to leave home to visit the spa!

White Eye Moray Eel
White Eye Moray Eel Looking Fierce

Encountering Moray Eels in Indonesia

Finding moray eels is easier said than done. However, our keen eyed guides are always on the lookout. Eels mainly inhabit natural holes or under-hangs underneath large coral heads or similar. They range in size from several fingers wide to the football sized head of the giant moray. Although they don’t necessarily utilize camouflage, they do tend to blend into their surroundings and can be hard to spot. One of our favorite destinations to find morays is the Komodo National Park. The rich reefs of this region are home to many different species which are readily approachable by divers. They are a wonderful photo subject for underwater photographers.

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