Morays

One can often hear stories about scary and dangerous predators with poisonous teeth – morays – from those, who spent vacations at Red Sea. This short story of mine is to destroy some myths about these peaceful and intelligent sea dwellers.

Morays live a very private way of life – at daytime they hide in coral reef crevices spending the whole day like this, if not disturbed. Atnightmostofspecieshunts. Morays feed on fish, cephalopod and crustacean. Some morays can feed on mollusk and even sea urchin.

Morays are absolutely harmless for human; through giant moray has a rather impressive appearance – they can be up to 3 meters long and 50 kilos of weight. Be a moray provoked, an attack with serious consequences for a swimmer may follow, but moray’s attack is very rare.

Some morays are eatable, but flesh of large ones, giant moray, for example, is poisonous.

In Red Sea there are 32 species of moray.Most species lifetime is 57 years, but there are cases of 15 years and more for morays in captivity. One of the closest morays’ relative – an eel – lived in aquarium for 57 years.

A moray begins its life as a tiny larva, leptocephalus. This is a creature with small head and body of about 7 mm in a shape of willow leaf with hardly noticeable muscles. It has pigmented eyes, developed jaws with long teeth and a small yolk sac. Leptocephalus is so transparent, that it can be looked through as glass. At 610 months, depending on specie, young moray drifts with other plankton. Then it rather quickly turns into small moray, which grows up to adult size. A moray usually becomes mature, when it is 4 years old.

Catching a moray is described by G. Klingel, who explored one of Bahamas island, Inagua:“… in about ten minutes the ugly green head slowly began to project... A bare fraction of an inch at a time my intended victim slid forward, creeping sinuously between the algae… Deliberately the mouth opened, exposing a row of straight ivory teeth... The beast gulped and then glided backward. With all my strength I pulled on the line. There was a sudden swirl of blue water and the cord whipped out through my fingers, burning them as it passed. Quickly I caught a turn on a knob of rock and hung on. The line was as rigid as a bar of iron. Down it went and curved back under the cliff… We were checkmated. Rushing back to the house I grasped a small block and tackle left from the rigging and dashed down to the surf again… The tackle gave me the strength of several men but I could not move the moray out of its hole. What prevented its throat from being torn away I do not know... Inch by inch I dragged the moray out of its crevice. It fought stubbornly, twisting its body violently, gained a little and then suddenly gave way. In a frenzy of hate and pain it flung itself into the surf and attacked the line. With a rush I pulled it up on the moss-covered shelf and then turned to free the tackle so that I could drag it out of reach of the water. But I did not reckon with the blind hatred of the gasping eel. In a series of flapping dashes it threw itself across the algae, striving to reach me. I scrambled out of the way, dropping the line and bounding toward the upper rocks. Its teeth snapped savagely, making a noise like castanets; its mouth was dripping with blood. I knew that one bite of its teeth might result in a festering wound that would take months to heal… The beast slid into the water again and strove to get away.

This time I grasped the line well out of its range and dragged it high out of the reach of the surf where it lay gasping and thrashing… Several times when I had thought it dead and prodded it with a stick, it suddenly turned and snapped at the wood. One piece, nearly an inch in thickness, was ground into slivers... The skin of the creature was thick and leathery with no visible scales and was covered with a heavy layer of slime. This mucus had been scraped away where the skin had dragged over the rocks and showed a bright blue integument beneath. The slime itself was brilliant and translucent; the combination of blue skin and yellow mucus made the animal appear green. Altogether it was a very unsavory looking beast. Its eyes were small and evil ferocity was etched in every line of its narrow ugly head...”

To my mind moray is a peaceful and rather smart fish. Let me describe what was happened at the Paradise site. I met a moray with a large hook stuck in its mouth. It looked at me with open mouth (that’s not an aggressive sign at daytime, but way of breathing) as if asking for help. I tried to remove the hook carefully and the moray bent its head aside as if helping me. I dragged the hook feeling a piece of flesh is moving with its tip, but the moray had not an intention to resist, it had just rare twitches of pain and did not close its mouth realizing that it was being released. Later we met again not once and a small scar on its lip could be easily traced. In several months the scar disappeared as well.