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Oceanic migration and spawning of anguillid eels

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Abstract:

Many aspects of the life histories of anguillid eels have been revealed in recent decades, but the spawning migrations of their silver eels in the open ocean still remains poorly understood. This paper overviews what is known about the migration and spawning of anguillid species in the ocean. The factors that determine exactly when anguillid eels will begin their migrations are not known, although environmental influences such as lunar cycle, rainfall and river discharge seem to affect their patterns of movement as they migrate towards the ocean. Once in the ocean on their way to the spawning area, silver eels probably migrate in the upper few hundred metres, while reproductive maturation continues. Although involvement of a magnetic sense or olfactory cues seems probable, how they navigate or what routes they take are still a matter of speculation. There are few landmarks in the open ocean to define their spawning areas, other than oceanographic or geological features such as oceanic fronts or seamounts in some cases. Spawning of silver eels in the ocean has never been observed, but artificially matured eels of several species have exhibited similar spawning behaviours in the laboratory. Recent collections of mature adults and newly spawned preleptocephali in the spawning area of the Japanese eel Anguilla japonica have shown that spawning occurs during new moon periods in the North Equatorial Current region near the West Mariana Ridge. These data, however, show that the latitude of the spawning events can change among months and years depending on oceanographic conditions. Changes in spawning location of this and other anguillid species may affect their larval transport and survival, and appear to have the potential to influence recruitment success. A greater understanding of the spawning migration and the choice of spawning locations by silver eels is needed to help conserve declining anguillid species.

Keywords: Anguilla; Japanese eel; migration; silver eel; spawning area; spawning behaviour

Document Type: Regular Paper

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1095-8649.2009.02242.x

Publication date: June 1, 2009

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