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Since Aquarium Closed To The Public, Eels Appear To Be Lonely

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

I think it's safe to say many of us are starting to feel a little lonely in quarantine.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Yes. But employees at Sumida Aquarium in Tokyo think it's not just people feeling this way. They noticed eels have been acting different since the museum closed. Eels live in burrows on the sea floor and inside of the aquarium tanks. And they have been hiding more lately.

GREENE: The aquarium speculated that these eels are feeling a little shy now that they don't have human visitors anymore. We called up a couple of biologists to ask them to weigh in on the emotional lives of eels.

JAMES ALBERT: I'm James Albert. I'm a professor of biology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

CHRIS BOWSER: My name is Chris Bowser. And I am the Hudson River Estuary education coordinator for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

KING: Chris Bowser says the thing you need to understand is that eels have feelings.

BOWSER: Eels - in fact, all animals are probably much more complex than we give them credit for. Some animals thrive in social settings. And for many of those species, if they become isolated, well, that's a feeling that they are then vulnerable.

KING: So how to deal with the isolation and vulnerability? Do what humans do, FaceTime. The aquarium has asked people to start FaceTiming their eels.

GREENE: OK. Albert agrees that eels likely do feel emotions but thinks loneliness might be a bit of a stretch.

ALBERT: Almost certainly fishes have emotions. Probably all vertebrates have fear and anger (laughter).

KING: Bowser says all fish have at least one feeling, which is hunger. So it may not be humans that the eels are missing.

BOWSER: People probably meant possible food to them. Hey, look; when people come by, sometimes they feed us. So stick your head out. Hey, people. How's it going?

GREENE: So what if eels don't actually miss humans? Albert says the FaceTime initiative was as much about eels not forgetting people as it was about us not forgetting the aquarium.

ALBERT: This is a story that helps remind people of these public facilities and how we can learn more about nature.

GREENE: Even if it's from a distance.

(SOUNDBITE OF IHF'S "CLOUDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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