Creature Feature: Eels! With Dr. Tom Byrnes
The Cayman Islands are host to a variety of moray eels from the family Muraenidae. They are diurnal, feeding during the day on small fish, crustaceans and mollusks. Spotted, Viper, Chain and others are found among our reefs although all take a second seat behind the magnificent Green Moray, Gymnothorax funebris, which can attain a size up to 8 feet! These large animals can look threatening because of their habit of gaping which is a necessity to pump water over their protected gills. Generally not aggressive, unless you are poking around in holes; they are however, well equipped to do some serious damage. The fact is even without doing a death twist, their bite is strong enough to crush bone and they even have a second jaw like the monster in the movie Alien! A pharyngeal jaw – a second set contained in the throat, separate from the primary jaw. This second jaw grips and retracts to swallow prey.
Unfortunately, although predictably, we divers have created a dangerous situation with these animals by either directly or inadvertently, (discarding kills), feeding them invasive lionfish. The good news is they are thriving on them and have even been seen regularly trying to catch them on their own. The bad news is they are not very successful and see divers as a source for lionfish. It is no longer safe to approach an eel to watch up-close or photograph…. now the prudent thing to do is swim for the hills as they are not very good at differentiating you from a lionfish.
About the Author: Dr. Tom Byrnes has been running dive charters in Grand Cayman for 30 years making him one of the most knowledgeable captains on the water today. Cayman Marine Lab started as a strictly academic endeavor teaching college students tropical marine biology but as it turns out the hunger for a marine biologist to show and teach tourist divers the secrets of the reefs and various other marine habitats was overwhelming. CML is the adventure dive operation in that we go out of our way to bring you to the least dived reefs Cayman has to offer…and what a difference it makes.