Photographing the eels of Western Springs, Auckland

I saw these remarkable beings when walking in the park near Auckland Zoo.

Photo by Alexey Zaytsev

Te Wai Orea or Western Springs sources feed into the lake in which the eels live.

There are a significant number of eels in the lake, which is reflected in it’s Maori name: ‘Te Wai Orea’ (The water of the eels). It contains both New Zealand’s native species of eel, the shortfin (Anguilla australis) and longfin (Anguilla dieffenbachii).

The long-finned eel has been identified as a species in decline and could become extinct within the next 50 years. They like to swim under the pedestrian bridge from which visitors to the park often feed swans. What the swans do not manage to eat is eaten up by the eels. It’s a mutually advantageous neighbourhood!

The idea to photograph the eels came to mind at once, but the challenge was how to do it without disturbing them? I decided to use the wifi of my camera managed by means of a smartphone.

Water suppresses the weak radio waves from the camera if it is completely submerged underwater. But it is not necessary for shooting of eels floating near the surface.

Photo by Alexey Zaytsev

I fixed the camera on a long stick, about 2.5 metres, and activated the application from the smartphone. I then lowered the camera from the bridge in amongst a congestion of eels.

I waited for the necessary moment and pressed the button. The photo is taken! The only problem is, in this camera mode, there is rather a long delay before the camera’s operation is activated.

My council is to press the button slightly earlier, when the object of the shot is approaching the frame but not quite in the right place. I used the PT-056 Underwater Housing for an Olympus Tg-4 camera, and also a PTWC-01 wide-angle lens of Olympus. Lighting is natural. The app for the smartphone is called the “Olympus Image Share”.

The eels

The short-finned eel (Anguilla australis), also known as the shortfin eel, is native to the lakes, dams and coastal rivers of south-eastern Australia, New Zealand, and much of the South Pacific, including New Caledonia, Norfolk Island , Lord Howe Island, Tahiti, and Fiji. When full grown, they reach about 90 cm.

The short-finned eel has a typical regeneration time of 15 to 30 years for females and reaches a maximum size of about 1.1 m and 3 kg.

Photo by Alexey Zaytsev

The New Zealand longfin eel (Anguilla dieffenbachii) is the largest and only endemic freshwater eel species in New Zealand. (The others are the native Shortfin eel, Anguilla australis, and the naturally introduced Australian Longfin eel, Anguilla reinhardtii).

Longfin eels are long-lived, migrating to the Pacific Ocean near Tonga to breed at the end of their lives. There are records of females reaching 106 years old and weighing up to 24 kg. Males are shorter and less longer lived. They average 66.6 cm in length and average 23 years (12–35 years). Females grow considerably larger, from 73–156 cm with an average length of 115 cm.

They are good climbers as juveniles and so are found in streams and lakes a long way inland. They are an important traditional food source for Ma-ori, and are under threat and declining but still commercially fished.

(Information from Wikipedia)

Text and images by Alexey Zaytsev

Dive NZ will be running more of Alexey’s work in future editions.

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