American eel tracked more than 680 miles

American eel tracked more than 680 miles
Eel travel map. (Courtesy: Missouri Department of Conservation)
Eel travel map. (Courtesy: Missouri Department of Conservation)

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - Scientists with the Missouri Department of Conservation are on a mission to learn more about the American eel.

In 2014, a team at the Big Rivers and Wetlands Field Station in Jackson, Mo. began a tracking study.

The project is aimed to learn more about the habitat and movement of the underwater creatures.

One of 20 eels tagged with a transmitter was detected five months later by researchers near the Gulf of Mexico, a 688 river mile journey from where it was released.

"American eels have a unique life cycle which requires long migrations to complete," Andy Bueltmann, a Southeast Missouri State University graduate student working on the project, said. "This detection most likely signifies that [it] was migrating back to the Sargasso Sea for spawning purposes."

According to the department, only female eels travel inland. Male eels spend their entire adult lives on the coast.

"After they grow to a certain size, they mature and begin to migrate back to the Sargasso Sea, like it seems this eel was doing," Bueltmann said.

The long journey to procreate also comes with a set of obstacles. American eel populations in Missouri have been reduced by large dams.

Most American eels in Missouri are located in the Mississippi River, but researchers know little about their habitat, what they eat or where they're going.

"Knowing where the eels go helps us to identify their habitat needs and the overall health of our big river habitat," Bueltmann said.

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