This Japanese Aquarium Wants You to Talk to its Eels

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Spotted garden eel at Sumida Aquarium in Tokyo
Credit: dokosola/Shutterstock

Have you been feeling like lockdowns and quarantines are depriving you of human contact to the point where, without video calls, you might forget what some of your friends and family look like? Well, if so, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s not only humans that have been feeling the physiological effects of lockdown. According to the caretakers of a Japanese aquarium, eels both miss human contact and appreciate the occasional Zoom call, too. 

The Sumida Aquarium in central Tokyo normally receives thousands of visitors daily. Many of these visitors come to check out the aquarium’s collection of tiny spotted garden eels, which are famous for poking their heads out of the sand whenever visitors appear. 

However, since the aquarium closed to the public at the start of March, the eels have started exhibiting strange new behavior. Usually comfortable with human contact, the eels now burrow into the sand and hide whenever the aquarium keepers approach them. The aquarium staff has determined that this new behavior is likely because the eels may have forgotten what humans look like.

This is a problem for the aquarium, since without being able to see the eels, the aquarium staff can’t take care of them properly. In a recent press release, the aquarium stated that “the disappearance of the Chinese eels made it difficult for the breeding staff to check whether they are doing well, whether they are healthy, are they thin, and are they ill.”

To remind the eels of humans and their non-threatening nature and to try and make the eels show themselves a bit more often, the aquarium held an “emergency face showing event” between the May 3 and May 5. 

During this event, people were encouraged to video call the eels and say hello. Promoted under the hashtag #pleaserememberhumans, the event was a huge success—at least at getting people to call eels on video chat. According to the aquarium’s Twitter account, over one million people tuned in over the three days of the event, and the eels have begun to show their faces “little by little.” 

So for both humans and eels, it’s true to say that nothing beats face time.