[Coral-List] Potentially new eel species

Michael Newkirk michaeljnewkirk at gmail.com
Fri Sep 18 16:41:18 EDT 2015

Dear Coral-List Community,

I would like to collaborate with a Caribbean eel expert and an illustrator
to submit a description of a moray eel that I observed that appears to be
undocumented in the FishBase and Global Biodiversity Information Facility
databases. Below is my detailed description of the eel. A Fishbase
researcher and administrator gave me some questions to use as a template.
The points to follow are the answers to those questions.

*1)* The Muraedinae Gymnothorax that I documented was located in Grenada in
the Southeastern Caribbean. I could probably determine the exact
coordinates if needed.

*2) Habitat: *coral reef; not in eel grass, brackish water, etc.

*3) Depth: *~5m, so quite shallow; thus, I was quite close to it.

*4) Swimming habit:* on the bottom, not swimming through the water column;
very active and on the move but staying close to structure.

*5) Day and time of sighting:* May 2010, midday high tide. (Yes, I’ve been
looking for a record of this eel for a long time. *A contact at the UNEP
suggested that I try Coral-List, so I signed up.*

*6) Time observing the eel:* 10 minutes, in which I discussed the eel with
two other colleague eye witnesses to finalize my notes.

*7) Observation:* directly overhead, submerged at a 45 degree angle at
approx. a 3m distance (eel swam a little faster), and eye-level (180
degree/parallel to reef floor at 2m; eel showed slight agitation, faced me,
and then swam away faster; eel remained on reef floor and out of cover for
the entire observation). I find that this multi-angle approach is a good
way to get a sense of the coloration and to rule out iridescence or,
potentially, the ability to change or accentuate color when
approached/threatened. I did not think that this would be possible, but I
wanted to try. There was no change in color in the dots or the main body at
any viewing angle, hence confirming the color.

*8) Color and pattern:* Here is a link to a Yellowtail Damselfish
Chrysurus*), intermediate stage.


This *almost* perfectly resembles the coloration and pattern of the eel: a
dark cobalt-like blue body with bright, turquoise spots. The only
differences are as follows:

   - The eel had uniform spots. There can be slight variation the shape of
   the spots on the yellowtail damselfish;
   - There was no yellow on the eel;
   - There were no turquoise accent lines on the dorsal fin of the eel to
   match the accent lines found on the pectoral and anal fins of the
   Yellowtail Damselfish).

The diameter of the dots was 7mm (#2 pencil). They were small on the body
compared to the sharptail snake eel or the goldspotted eel (smaller eels
whose spots are larger in diameter, may contain more than one color, and
are quite ostensibly not uniform in shape). The distribution was also
uniform, so the dots did not concentrate around the head or eyes, etc.

*9) Phase: *This moray eel was an adult and was approximately 150cm in
length, which I believe likely rules out that the eel is a rarely seen
intermediate phase of a common eel in the area.

*10) Skeletal notes: *The head/skull structure of the moray eel was like
the spotted moray eel and not like some of the smaller, slenderer heads on
moray eels seen in other regions of the world.

*11)* *Potential name:* Given its striking similarity to the Yellowtail
Damselfish, I would call this eel *Gymnothorax Chrysurus*. I did some
research on Fishbase and noticed that many of the *pending *names are so
because the name is questionable. So, I figured that it would be better to
use two already accepted names and put them together.

*Final comments:* I spent a few hundred hours snorkeling in Grenada (lived
there for 2.5 years) cataloging all that I observed. Again, I have searched
all FishBase and Global Biodiversity Information Facility records for every
region of the world, which took a long time, but I can confirm that this
eel has not been documented in either system. I have also contacted dive
experts, authors, researchers, FishBase members, and no one has come back
to me with a report that this particular eel species is invasive or listed
under various names in different parts of the world. After a few (5) years
of inquiries, I believe that it is time to take the eel encounter to the
next level, if possible. Unfortunately, I do not have a photo of the eel,
as my camera died after taking it too deep under water, or academic
expertise in the marine sciences. However, I do have extensive field notes
because I was able to discuss the eel for 10mins with two other witnesses.
I have noticed that some entries on FishBase are illustrations, not
photographs. I can describe the eel in better detail than the pencil
sketches on FishBase and can do so in color, *as demonstrated above*. I
believe that combining my description, a skilled sketch, and the marine
expertise of a Coral-List member would be a fantastic experience. Likewise,
the real reward would be if documenting this eel led to greater protections
being placed on certain marine areas in the Caribbean, which could also
lessen the human impact of overfishing if such areas overlap. The UN
contact mentioned above said that her office will be monitoring the
discussion of this eel to determine if it has been documented elsewhere. If
you have seen this eel, please get in touch.

Kind regards,

Michael Newkirk.
Chief Editor-International
Head of Recruitment-International

More information about the Coral-List mailing list