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Eel dies after trying to swallow a puffer fish


A greedy eel bit off more than it could chew after trying to swallow a puffer that had puffed up in its mouth and was choking.

Tim Mayer, a German-born diving instructor, saw the unusual sight last month on the island of Titikaveka, part of the Cook Islands in the Pacific

39-year-old Tim initially mistook the 4-foot moray eel for a piece of driftwood, but as he approached next to three-year-old daughter Charlie, he realized what he had found.

The dead eel

Tim Mayer, a German-born diving instructor, found a dead eel with a puffer fish in its mouth last month on the beach on Titikaveka Island, part of the Cook Islands

Marine biologist Kirby Morejohn said the eel likely choked after the puffer fish blocked its neck because, unlike fish, eels need to suck water through their throats in order to breathe

Marine biologist Kirby Morejohn said the eel likely choked after the puffer fish blocked its neck because, unlike fish, eels need to suck water through their throats in order to breathe

Tim was so amazed that he called Mrs. Lucile and son Yann from their nearby mansion to witness the scene before the family contacted local marine biologist Kirby Morejohn to confirm what had happened.

Kirby explained that the eel was likely trying to feed on the porcupine pufferfish, which then puffed up as a defense mechanism.

While most fish breathe with gills behind their heads, according to Kirby, eels suck in water through their mouths, much like humans breathe air.

That said, if the puffer fish is stuck in its throat, the eel will likely choke, Kirby concluded.

The biologist, originally from San Diego, California, said he had never seen anything like it.

"I was overwhelmed when I saw it," he said. “I couldn't believe that this type of interaction existed and that I had never heard of it.

“One of the reasons eels are found scary is because of their open, gaping, toothy mouth, but it turns out that's how they breathe.

After the eel 's dinner inflated and lodged in its mouth, the eel would not have been able to ingest water and would likely have died of asphyxiation.

“Nature usually seems to have solved the problems. If porcupine fish are typically on an eel's menu, I would expect eels to target sizes that can be swallowed. But of course that is not the case. & # 39;

Yann Mayer, Tim's son, poses next to the 4-foot eel after spotting it on a morning walk on the beach

Yann Mayer, Tim's son, poses next to the 4-foot eel after spotting it on a morning walk on the beach

Tim was so amazed at the find that he asked Mrs. Lucile (left), son Yann and daughter Charlie (left) to investigate

Tim was so amazed at the find that he asked Mrs. Lucile (left), son Yann and daughter Charlie (left) to investigate

Tim from Nordenham said: “Our first thought was that it was driftwood, but we don't get that here on this side of the island.

As we got closer I realized it was an eel and hurried back to the villa to get my cell phone. I was breathless and excited, but I didn't tell Lucile or Yann what we'd found.

“We all ran to the beach and it was such a spectacle. The eel would have been about three feet long.

“It looks like the porcupine fish defeated the eel, but they both paid the ultimate price. And right behind them a rainbow appeared on the horizon. It was surreal.

“The children couldn't really understand what was happening, but they were amazed that both animals had died fighting. They just wanted to touch it.

“They really wanted to show their boyfriend the discovery, even though it meant they were late for school. So we had to send the photos to their teachers for explanation.

"When they came in, they were excited to tell their friends about it, and there was even a science study where the teacher showed the photos to the whole class."

Tim and his 34 year old wife, Lucile Mayer, from Grasse, France, have lived in the Cook Islands for seven and a half years and work as diving instructors.

The couple, who run a family blog called Azure Coconut, met buddy and marine biologist Kirby on a scuba diving class and called him to shed some light on their discovery.

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