Last week we reported, along with many other news agencies, that Ale the Swedish Eel has died after living in a well for 155 years. Ale’s longevity is many times the average age for this breed, which usually tops out at 20 years. Skeptics are eager to have Ale’s age verified by fish experts. So, Ale is scheduled for an autopsy at the Freshwater Institute in Stockholm.
by T.M. Burroughs
Our own readers are eager to hear about this Swedish well-dwelling celebrity. I personally have received requests for updates on this ancient aquatic wonder since his death made international news. In fact, an impassioned query came in just this morning by one avid Joe For America reader asking, “Where’s my eel story?”
To all of our readers who are waiting with baited breath (see what I did there?), I’ve asked that my editor send me to Stockholm where I can get the news immediately upon completion of the autopsy before the BBC, Huffington Post, NY Times, and The Telegraph scoop the story. The results of the autopsy are expected to be available by August 25.
Wish me luck on that. (What does one take
on a vacation to Stockholm during August?) In the meantime, here’s what I know about Ale’s status to date, from NBC and The Local, Sweden’s News in English respectively.
Swedish fisheries expert Håkan Wickström of the Swedish University of Agricultural Science’s Institute of Freshwater Research will examine the otoliths, the bone-like calcium carbonate particles in the eel’s head, to try to verify the creature’s true age. Similar to the growth rings on a tree, otolith rings can reveal the estimated age and growth rate of fish. “Hopefully the head is still whole and intact so the otoliths (earstones) are still there and in good shape,” Wickstrom told NBC News by email. “They have to be ground and polished and then analyzed in a microscope.”
Fellow fish expert Johan Wagnström said it wouldn’t be surprising if it turns out Ale lived as long as the press reports suggest. “I’m sure that it is a very old eel and I think it is possible that it was 155 years when it died,” Wagnström told NBC News. “According to the scientists, it is not an impossible age, although it is an extremely old age. A cold well have the specific conditions that the eel requires for a long life.” Ale was a European eel, Anguilla anguilla. The average life expectancy for the species is usually 10 to 20 years, though one specimen named Pute lived in an aquarium for 85 years, aquatic scientist and eel expert William O’Connor told NBC News.
All is well – the head of Åle the eel has been found.
There he lived, making headlines every now and then, and there he died in 2014, leaving behind his 110-year-old nameless friend.**
Fish expert Johan Wagnström searched in the old well – the eel’s abode for 155 years – for several hours on Tuesday with no success. There was still no head.
So finally he checked the freezer, where the eel’s body had rested before being sent for analysis – and voila, chilled eel head.
The eel now awaits its autopsy at the Freshwater Institute in Stockholm, where experts will analyze the ringed otoliths in its ears to determine its exact age.
“The owner of the well wasn’t too keen on getting down there himself,” Wagnström said. “And it was worth it, since it could give us new expertise on how to analyse the ear stones.”
The news shocked the eel’s owners, and indeed the world – which is now waiting in anticipation to hear exactly how old Åle was. The fishy body was sent to Institute of Freshwater Research in Stockholm county for study.
The eel has always been a minor celebrity in Sweden, but Åle became known on a global scale after international media picked up The Local’s story and interview with eel-owner Tomas Kjellman. The eel made appearances on BBC, The Huffington Post, NY Daily News, The Times, and The Telegraph, among others.
Åle also was the star of his own hashtag, with the #RIPÅlen (RIP Eel) campaign taking over Twitter, started by a priest and artist who calls himself Wisti.
“The eel’s death came timely,” Wisti told The Local, saying he believed it was healthy to have something to joke about at a time when so much violence is occurring in the world.
“We were able to unite in pretend-mourning and actually relieve our thoughts of catastrophe a bit.”
The farcical fun reached as far as Ireland and Canada – contribute your own homage to the eel.
Indeed, Ale the Swedish Eel is growing on me–with his little eel eyes and his little eel body. But I think it’s high time someone named his 110-year-old buddy and well mate.** Geez.
P.S. Do you suppose my editor will send me to Sweden if I promise to bring back a blonde masseuse?
more humor by T.M. Burroughs at www.resistantgray.blogspot.com
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