Monster electric eels more than six feet long are the stars of this week’s episode of “Dangerous Encounters,” a documentary series on the National Geographic Channel.
University of Central Florida biologist Will Crampton, an internationally recognized expert in electric eels and other electric fishes, co-stars in an episode full of excitement. Crampton offers his expertise about these amazing creatures – and is shocked by one of the eels — as television host Brady Barr films the trek deep into the Amazonian forests of Suriname, on the northern coast of South America.
“Dangerous Encounters” follows Barr as he travels around the globe to study reptiles and other creatures in their native habitats. The “Giant Eel” episode airs at 9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 19.
Crampton spent two weeks in the Raleighvallen National Nature Reserve, a wild area of rainforest, giant rivers, waterfalls and creeks teeming with wildlife. Eels there can grow to more than six feet long and generate more than 600 volts of electricity – so they require great caution during their capture and handling.
Using nets and traps, Crampton catches smaller eels at first and finally lands a giant eel – the longest this biologist has ever seen. Behind the scenes, seconds after the moment is captured on film, Crampton and the team’s cameraman are shocked as the eel is returned to the wild. They’re OK, but they must rest before heading back to camp.
Crampton used a portable laboratory to record the electric discharges of the eels and knife fishes captured during the trip. He notes that they have encountered two ‘morphotypes’ of the electric eel – one of which is distinctly more slender and has a much longer electric signal. The search is on for more specimens to explore whether there may in fact be two distinct species of electric eels co-existing in the same area. Crampton hopes to return to Suriname in 2011.
“Natural history films are tremendously important because they bring these wild and exciting places and animals into people’s living rooms and imaginations,” Crampton said. “I can’t think of a better way of bringing home the importance of protecting these tropical wildernesses.”
Crampton joined UCF as an assistant professor in August 2006. With funding from the National Science Foundation, he has conducted many expeditions in search of electric fishes in South America – including Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Suriname and Uruguay. He is interested in the evolution and biodiversity of electric fishes and the conservation of the fragile tropical habitats in which they live. He has been involved with several other natural history film productions, including for National Geographic, The Discovery Channel, the BBC and the Japanese company NHK.