Sunday 3 May 2020

Japanese aquarium urges public to video-chat eels who are forgetting humans exist

Sensitive creatures are starting to hide when keepers walk past, as a result of the lack of visitors

When the garden eels at a Tokyo aquarium remove their heads from the sand, they are usually confronted by pairs of human eyes staring back at them through the glass.

But like other animals around the world, the eels at Sumida Aquarium are finding their environment transformed by the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.

They also appear to be forgetting what humans look like. Concerned that the garden eels – so named because their grass-like appearance when, en masse, they poke their heads out of the seabed – could come to see visitors as a threat, the aquarium is asking people to get in touch in the form of a calming video calls.

The aquarium, housed in Tokyo Skytree – Japan’s tallest structure – has been closed since the start of March and its garden eels have become used to a largely human-free environment.
Garden eels are forgetting that humans exist Photograph: Billy Hustace/Getty Images

But the aquarium said the “unprecedented situation” had had put the eels and other creatures ill at ease.

“They don’t see humans, except keepers, and they have started forgetting about humans,” it said on its Twitter account this week.

“Garden eels in particular disappear into the sand and hide every time the keepers pass by,” it said, adding that their oversensitive nature was making it difficult to monitor their health.

“Here is an urgent request,” the aquarium wrote. “Could you show your face to our garden eels from your home?” it said, naming the event a “face-showing festival”.

While garden eels are sensitive and wary by nature, the 300 of them living in one of the aquarium’s tanks had grown accustomed to human visitors and rarely hid when approached by visitors.

To help the eels reconnect with their admirers, the aquarium is setting up five tablets facing their tank, with users asked to connect through iPhones or iPads via the FaceTime app.

Once the video calls start, people are asked to show their faces, wave and talk to the eels. But, given the animals’ natural bashfulness, they are requested not to raise their voices.

The festival is scheduled for 3-5 May, at the height of the Golden Week holiday, when many people who would normally travel are staying home during the country’s Covid-19 state of emergency.

The aquarium’s plea has attracted lots of online support, under the Japanese hashtag #PleaseRememberHumans.

“‘When you gaze at the garden eels, the garden eels gaze at you.’ 
Understood. I’m happy to take part,” one Twitter user wrote.
“They need training to learn humans are not a threat!” another wrote. “Interesting.”

Many called on the aquarium to offer access to the eels via another app to allow those using PCs and phones with Android operating systems to take part.

“I never regretted my Android phone this much before,” one wrote.

(Source: The Guardian)

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