10 Facts on the Ottawa River Eel

Have you ever had that moment while swimming in a lake or river where something unknown grazes your leg, lurking beneath the surface of the water? If you grew up in Ontario then chances are you’re familiar with this experience, as this province is home to over 250,000 lakes––which equates to about a fifth of the world’s freshwater supply. Within this vast landscape of water, there are approximately 1200 species of fish, ranging from minnows to sturgeons, and––to the horror of those trying to convince themselves that the sensation they feel by their shins is just seaweed––eels.


The Ottawa River is home to a dwindling population of a species known as the American Eel. Here are 10 facts you need to know about your underwater neighbours.


  1. The American Eel was once the dominant fish species in the Ottawa river, and one of the top three species caught by commercial fishers in Lake Ontario.


  1. The adult female eel can grow to over a metre in length, while the males average between 30-40 centimetres.


  1. This fish species is the only one in North America that is catadromous––meaning they live in both fresh and saltwater environments. They breed and hatch in the ocean, travel to freshwater to live, and return to saltwater to spawn.


  1. American eels can absorb oxygen through their skin, making them able to travel over wetlands, mud, or swamp-like conditions.


  1. They can live as long as 50 years.


  1. American eels regularly burrow in the sand and mud at the bottom of the lake or river floor to hide from predators.


  1. They are nocturnal creatures––meaning you’re more likely to encounter one on a night swim than a midday one.


  1. Eels can swim as easily backwards as they can forward.


  1. The term “slippery as an eel” comes from the mucous that forms along an eel’s skin, making them nearly impossible to catch and hold.


  1.  The American Eel is now considered an endangered species in the Ottawa River, after facing a massive decline in population over the past 40 years. Conservation efforts are being made to rectify this issue.


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