Eel Encounters

Our first was in Tahanea. We were strolling on the exposed side of a motu, where the sand gave way to weather beaten coral filled with tide pools, and Dominic’s foot must have gotten too far underneath an overhang, because an eel came leaping out and slithered away.

We came across a few two-foot eels in those surroundings, including one that we were able to track for a few photographs as it slithered through the shallows.

The eels have grown larger in the Society Islands. In Moorea, I saw a Giant moray with its two-foot-circumference-head and three feet of exposed neck floating outside its coral cavern. I shrieked, a shriek loud enough for Dominic to hear through my snorkel as he paddle boarded nearby.

They seem to love the fossilized and recovering coral formations, with plenty of crevices and hollows from which to lurk, mouths gaping, waiting, for an unsuspecting damselfish to flutter by.

Or perhaps an unsuspecting damsel swimmer—I hopped in the water yesterday for a little cardio swim, and on my way back to the boat I watched all ten feet of a Giant moray emerge from underneath a small coral rock, snake across 15 feet of sand, and burrow beneath a larger coral head.

I was in forty feet of water at the time, the same forty feet where I watched a Manta ray cruise spaceship-like the day before, so I had plenty of distance between myself and the monstrous eel.

I hope it isn't insensitive to interspecies diversity to refer to a ten foot eel as a monster. They seem to earn the reputation: they’re larger than humans and have giant teeth; they're not known for aggression, but they’re not afraid to bite; they manage to pack a lot of creepy into their slither; thinking about them too hard gives me the heebie-jeebies…seems like we’re safely in monster territory, despite whatever beauty they may maintain as ancient marine animals.

Dominic and I agree we’d rather swim with sharks than eels (depending on the shark: Black-tips, White-tips, sure, Bull sharks, potentially, Great whites, not so much). Maybe I’ll grow more accustomed to my new gigantic friend when I’m out swimming today, but don’t expect this girl to get close enough to take a photo.