National

Tokyo aquarium holds video chat event for eels that 'forgot' about humans

Jiji

A Tokyo aquarium has held a video chat event to interact with shy eels that seem to have “forgotten” about humans during the facility’s shutdown from March due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Sumida Aquarium, housed in a commercial complex at the foot of the landmark Tokyo Skytree tower, keeps about 300 spotted garden eels, whose Japanese name is chin anago.

Before the shutdown, visitors enjoyed seeing the eels poking their heads out of their burrows in the sand.

The fish is wary by nature and quick to hide when it senses danger. But the eels at the aquarium were so accustomed to humans that they did not hide when approached by visitors.

The shutdown has changed this, however.

Sometime after the closure began, keepers noticed that the eels hide into their burrows as soon as they approach.

“I was surprised because I experienced it for the first time,” keeper Ryohei Horii said. “As we can’t see them, we’ve become unable to monitor their health.”

The aquarium decided to help the fish “recall” humans by holding an interactive event with the public through the FaceTime video call app over three days since Sunday.

For this, five tablet computers were placed in front of the tank. As soon as the event began, a flood of calls came in from those hoping to interact with the fish from home.

At first, eels hid into the sand in surprise when seeing the images of participants waving at them on tablet screens, but they grew gradually accustomed and began to poke their heads timidly, Horii said.

The event “has made me realize how much the eels are loved,” Horii said. “We’ll take care to keep them healthy until the day we’ll see you again.”

The event attracted more than one million calls and two million live viewers from around the world over the three days, the aquarium said on Twitter.

Your news needs your support

Since the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, The Japan Times has been providing free access to crucial news on the impact of the novel coronavirus as well as practical information about how to cope with the pandemic. Please consider subscribing today so we can continue offering you up-to-date, in-depth news about Japan.

Coronavirus banner