Japan aquarium asks humans to video call eels under lockdown

A Japanese aquarium asks people to video call eels under lockdown after a lack of people interaction is posing a problem for animals in captivity.

The Sumida Aquarium, which is housed in the Tokyo Skytree tower, noticed that its hundreds of tiny spotted garden eels have started acting oddly, such as burrowing into the sand when aquarium workers pass by the tank. The aquarium says that’s because the eels have become unfamiliar with humans, as it has been closed to visitors since March 1.

Garden eels are by nature highly vigilant and sensitive and do submerge themselves in the sand when triggered, but the aquarium said that the eels had learned to accept the presence of humans because there were so many visitors.

Now, as they get used to a human-less environment, the eels’ newfound shyness is making the work of aquarium staff difficult, as they cannot check on the health of the creatures.

According to the California Academy of Sciences, spotted garden eels are often mistaken for plants because of their slim size and the way they burrow partially into the seafloor in order to sweep up passing zooplankton.

In response, the aquarium is launching a three-day “emergency event” starting on May 3, known as the “face-showing festival,” with the goal of “not forgetting the existence of humans.” It is inviting people to call the aquarium’s dedicated account through an iPad or iPhone, and once connected, people are asked to wave or call out to the eels (but not too loudly) for five minutes at a time, during two time slots a day.

Traditionally a very busy time for domestic and international travel, Japanese authorities have asked people to stay home as much as possible this year to contain the spread of coronavirus, though there are no strict lockdown measures imposed.