Claire Corlett

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Animal Class: Electric Eel

Animal Class: Electric Eel

[swoosh] ANNOUNCER: Here is an
AMI This Week Shortcut with Grant Hardy. [music playing] GRANT HARDY: Welcome
to Animal Class. I’m here at the
Vancouver Aquarium with aquarium interpreter
Natalie Graham. Natalie, I’m always
fascinated by the fact that people who can
see kind of take it for granted that seeing
is the best way to perceive your environment. But other animals
sense their environment in many different ways, right? Like different marine
creatures, for example. NATALIE GRAHAM:
Yeah, absolutely. So our world is completely
dynamic with lots of different environments and
challenges to face as animals. And sight may not
always be the best way to sense your environment. So, for example, dolphins
rely very heavily on sound, that echolocation,
bouncing sounds off objects. We have, say, snakes that are
able to kind of “see,” using infrared. They can be heat
mapping for their prey, if they’re trying to find things
that are hiding in burrows. And then we have
electrical reception, which a couple of
animals do quite well. So sharks do it, platypus do it. And, of course, the champion
of electrical reception, the electrical eel. GRANT HARDY: So let’s get to our
not so cuddly star of the show. How does the electric eel
sense its environment? NATALIE GRAHAM: Yeah,
so the electric eel is found in South America. I always like to think of
why would it need electricity in the first place, because
it’s quite a strange thing in my mind to develop. So they live in very
murky, muddy waters. So eyesight, definitely
not the best tool for them. But electrical reception
is really useful because it can be
used no matter what lighting, night or
day, and they have organs throughout
their whole body that send out electrical pulses. GRANT HARDY: What does the
electric eel look like? NATALIE GRAHAM: The electric eel
is about a 2 metre long fish, tubular in shape. It has a very long
anal fin that goes around pretty much like the
whole underside of its body, kind of like a ribbon attached
to the base of the fish. And that’s really what it’s
using for movement, its very small rippling movements. It’s very dark in colour because
it lives in murky brown water, so it wants to camouflage its
own body in case of predators as well. GRANT HARDY: And the
electricity is also used to stun their prey, right? NATALIE GRAHAM: Yes. So they have-the
Sach’s organ is used to send out small
pulses, where they’re just sensing where a prey item is. So sensing for
electrical activity being given off by an animal. So your heartbeat
at the moment is giving off electrical activity,
and any muscle movements you do give off electricity. Once it’s sensed
something using that back Sach’s organ at the
end of its body, then the main and Hunter’s
organs really kick into play and they send out a huge
electric voltage, about 860 volts to stun that prey. GRANT HARDY: How dangerous
would that kind of voltage be to humans? NATALIE GRAHAM: It would
definitely be uncomfortable. I wouldn’t recommend it. But it wouldn’t be enough
to kill an average human unless you had already some
difficulties with your heart and pace making and
things like that. GRANT HARDY: Natalie,
I’m going to ask you, my phone’s running a
little low on power. Is there any way the
electric eel could hook me up with a bit of a top-up? NATALIE GRAHAM:
Technically, it could, though you would need a lot of
eels and a pretty big battery pack and a lot of animal
care involved to do that. So you might want to
stick to your charger. GRANT HARDY: OK. No worries. Hey, it was a lot
of fun chatting about the electric eel. Thank you so much. NATALIE GRAHAM: Thanks so
much for coming and learning about it.

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