Thursday 17 August 2017

Second sighting of deadly moray eel in Irish waters is 'alarming' - says expert

A rare moray eel, caught in a lobster pot off the Blasket Islands, is examined by marine biologist Kevin Flannery Photo: Sally MacMonagle
A rare moray eel, caught in a lobster pot off the Blasket Islands, is examined by marine biologist Kevin Flannery Photo: Sally MacMonagle
Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

IT shouldn't be seen in Irish waters but the second sighting of the deadly moray eel off the southwest coast this year is alarming, an expert has warned.

The moray eel was found alive by skipper of the Sea Biscuit, Peter Hand, near An Tiaracht, one of the Blasket Islands on Friday.

A moray eel in the wild
A moray eel in the wild

Despite efforts to keep it alive, the eel had died before it was brought ashore.

It is the second to be seen off the Kerry coast this year.

A moray eel was washed up on the White Strand in Cahersiveen in February. Though dead when it was discovered by a local man, walking his dog on the beach, it was still fresh, suggesting it had survived for some time in the cold Atlantic waters.

Marine biologist, Kevin Flannery, says the frequency with which they are turning up in Irish waters is an indication of rising temperatures, likely due to global warming.

He warned the appearance of the eel was detrimental to native marine species.

"Without doubt this is major evidence that our seas are warming up due to global warming.

"The numbers showing up here have steadily been increasing since the 1990s so we can say that with certainty now," Mr Flannery said.

"This is definitely the second but possibly the third or fourth sighting this year," he added.

"The first moray eel was caught by a trawler called the New Grange off the coast of Killmore Quay in Wexford in 1997 and there have been a few more since off the coast of Castletownbere.

"What's fascinating about this one is that it was found alive."

Usually found in tropical waters or in the Mediterranean, sightings of the moray in these waters are rare, though not unheard of.

Mr Flannery believes, with climate change, we may see more of them, which is not good news for native species.

Moray eels can grow up to 13ft long. The one found on Friday is 3ft long and yellow and brown in colour.

Like all eels, the moray can be aggressive and has been known to kill.

Mr Flannery, who is director of Oceanworld Aquarium in Dingle, believes the moray eel is moving northwards with increased water temperatures.

"People fear them because they have been known to kill with their bites.

"Some people believe they have a toxin in their bite but it's usually that people get bites that are so extreme they go septic and that's what kills," he said.

The eels usually lurk in crevices in rocks and feed on octopus, squid and crustaceans that pass the mouth of their cave.

Irish Independent

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