Collections of ophichthid eels on the surface at night off North Carolina
Abstract:During surveys of the commercial hard bottom fishery (snapper/grouper) off North Carolina, fishermen frequently reported observations of 'sea snakes' on the surface at night along the outer continental shelf. Occasionally these animals were abundant. Realizing that these observations must be of large eels, we requested that the fishermen attempt to capture these fishes. Most of the resulting specimens (all Ophichthidae) were eel species not commonly reported from off North Carolina. Many individuals exhibited well developed gonads, suggesting that spawning may be imminent.
The enlarged gonads coupled with surface observations/collections near the edge of the continental shelf was consistent with eel spawning behavior. Some eels undertake spawning migrations (Breder and Rosen, 1966; Thresher, 1984); however, there are few descriptions of spawning behaviors, locations, or timing. Eels that do migrate generally move from benthic, more inshore habitats to oceanic waters where spawning is assumed to be pelagic. Eels have been observed swimming at the surface while migrating from the estuary (Anguillidae and Ophichthidae, Tabb and Manning, 1961) and in offshore areas where the purpose was less clear (Thresher, 1984). Ophichthidae have been observed near the surface apparently in the process of spawning, although the actual spawning behavior was observed later in an aquarium (Deraniyagala, 1930). Other Ophichthidae (Ahlia egmontis, Cohen and Dean, 1970; Bascanichthys scuticaris, Leiby and Yerger, 1980) with mature gonads were observed and/or collected on the surface but spawning was not apparent.
We document the surface occurrence of four adult ophichthid species (Ahlia egmontis, Myrichthys breviceps, M. ocellatus, Ophichthus puncticeps). Their occurrence seems noteworthy because of the surface swimming behavior (not yet reported for three of these eels), their general rarity as far north as North Carolina, and the high level of gonad maturity indicating the approach of spawning. We document the conditions under which they were captured and present basic biological data.
Document Type: Short Communication
Publication date: January 1, 2003
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