Mediterranean Moray Eel – (Muraena helena)

Highly respected by the Ancient romans and commonly referred to as; The Roman Eel. 

The Mediterranean moray (Muraena helena) is a fish of the moray eel family.  They are commonly found in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

Appearance and characteristics

With its elongated body the moray eel can achieve a length of 1.5 meters and weigh in over 15 kilograms. The skin has no scales, is slimy and smooth in texture. Colouration varies from dark brown with finely spread dark spots to dark green. It is not of an ornamented species, which often gives an appearance of a water snake. The mouth is strong, long and very robust stretching behind the gills, teeth are sharp pointed and long. The pharyngeal jaw is a unique feature of the eel; meaning it has another set of jaws located in its throat, or pharynx. This allows it to consume prey larger than itself. The pharyngeal jaw is believed to have originated as modified gill arches.  Pectoral fins are absent, the dorsal fin begins behind its head and continues to the caudal fin (fused with the anal fin)

Human Awareness

The bite of the Moray Eel can be dangerous to human beings mainly due to the mildly toxic slime of its skin. The eel will not go out of its way to cause you harm, but if provoked with hands or objects, it will bite!  It can be consumed in a boiled, baked or broiled form, while the skin can be used as leather.

Ecology

The Mediterranean Moray Eel is found in coastal waters of the eastern Atlantic, the Canary Islands and Azores as well as in the Mediterranean, being a very common sight here in Gozo.

It dwells among rocky bottoms and lives in depths from 5m to 70m, rarely exceeding 80 meters. During daylight hours the eel is found in cavities and cracks between rocks, it is a night active predator. The Mediterranean Eel lives a solitary life and is of fiercely territorial nature.  It hunts in the style of an ambush predator, attacking fish, crayfish and cephalopods. The eel is of a scavenger nature and will feed on carcasses of dead animals.

Reproduction

Not much of over the reproduction cycle is documented. It is known they spawn into open water, releasing on average 60,000 fertilised eggs. From these eggs, plantonic transparent Leptocephali will hatch and grow. Those surviving to juvenile stage will return to the rocky reef areas and continue their own life cycle.

A Parasitic crustacean, called the trematode (Folliculovarium mediterraneum) and the flatworm (Lecithochirium grandiporum) are known parasites of the Mediterranean eel.

Photo by Janet Bulmer at DiveSMART Gozo

Dive site encounters

Blue Hole

Xlendi Tunnel and Reef