Southern Shortfin Eel, Anguilla australis Richardson 1841


Other Names: Australian Shortfinned Eel, Freshwater Eel, kooyang, River Eel, Shortfin Eel, Short-fin Eel, Shortfinned Eel, Short-finned Eel, Silver Eel, Yellow Eel

A Southern Shortfin Eel, Anguilla australis, from Gippsland Lakes at Angusvale, Mitchell River National Park, Victoria, November 2014. Source: David Paul / Museums Victoria. License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial

Summary:

Southern Shortfin Eels have long cylindrical bodies, and continuous dorsal, caudal and anal fins with the dorsal fin originating above or slightly in front of the anal fin. 

Adults spend up to 20 years in freshwaters, before undertaking an oceanic migration to breed in the Coral Sea. As they grow, the transparent leaf-like larvae are transported southwards via the East Australian Current, and metamorphose into glass eels before migrating back to estuaries in south-eastern Australia. During their migration to freshwater, the young eels are able to climb barriers such as waterfalls and dam walls.

The Southern Shortfin Eel was the basis of an ancient freshwater fishery in the Lake Condah region of south-west Victoria, dating back almost 7000 years. Indigenous Australians, the Gunditjmara people, engineered the landscape to create a very sophisticated aquaculture industry with diversion channels, weirs and stone eel traps. Large Aboriginal communities lived year-round in this ancient volcanic landscape, where they farmed, smoked and traded eels. In 2019, the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape was listed as a World Heritage Site.

The Eels of Dandenong Creek

Southern Shortfin Eels in Tasmania.

Spotted Galaxias (Galaxias truttaceus), Common Galaxias (Galaxias maculatus), Freshwater Flathead, Tupong (Pseudaphritis urvillii) and Southern Shortfin Eel (Anguilla australis) in Fotheringate Creek, Flinders Island, Tasmania.


Cite this page as:
Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2024, Anguilla australis in Fishes of Australia, accessed 25 May 2024, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/1423

Southern Shortfin Eel, Anguilla australis Richardson 1841

More Info


Distribution

Coastal drainages of eastern Australia, from the Burnett River, southern Queensland, south and westwards to near Mypolonga on the Murray River, and the Onkaparinga River, South Australia, including the Bass Strait islands and coastal drainages of Tasmania; also Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island in the Tasman Sea. Elsewhere, the species occurs in New Caledonia and New Zealand, including the Chatham Islands.

The Southern Shortfin Eel occurs in a wide variety of habitats including streams, lowland rivers, lakes and swamps, preferring still waters with little flow. The species is catadromous, with adults migrating to spawn in the Coral Sea, possibly off the western side of  New Caledonia.

The transparent leptocephalus larvae metamorphose into glass eels before migrating to estuaries and transforming into juvenile eels called elvers.

Features

Pectoral fin 14-16; Vertebrae 109-116.

Body elongate, tubular, snake-like; head moderately small (10-14% SL); eyes small; mouth moderately large, horizontal, reaching to below posterior edge of eyes; teeth fine, in a broad band on each side of both jaws and on the vomer, vomerine patch much shorter than bands laterally in jaws; gill openings small, just in front of lower half of pectoral fin bases.

The tiny scales are elongate, arranged in a basket work pattern and embedded. The lateral line is straight and not associated with scales.

The dorsal, anal and caudal fins are continuous. The dorsal fin originates just in front of, or just behind a vertical line drawn through anus. The pectoral fins are small and fan-like. Pelvic fins are absent.

Size

Although the Southern Shortfin Eel may grow to a maximum total length of 110 cm, most individuals are less than 70 cm. Eels in landlocked populations may grow much larger.

Colour

Adults and elvers are uniformly olive-green above, becoming greyish-white to silvery below. The fins are the same colour as the adjacent part of body, except for the black pectoral fins of adults returning to the sea.

Leptocephali and glass eels are mostly transparent.

Feeding

A voracious opportunistic nocturnal predator that usually preys on fishes, crustaceans, molluscs and insects.

Biology

Freshwater eels have multiple life phases. The transparent leaf-shaped marine larval stage is known as leptocephalus. As they reach continental waters, these larvae transform into glass eels, then develop into pigmented elvers, which grow into yellow eels. The final stage is the adult silver eel, characterised by its large eyes and silvery counter-shading, which migrates in deep waters to spawning grounds in the Coral Sea.

Males mature at about 14 years and females at 18-24 years; adults may remain in freshwater environments for 10-20 years or even longer, before migrating to the sea to breed and then die.

Females produce small pelagic eggs that float upwards toward the surface. The leaf-like leptocephalus larvae are transparent, elongate and compressed. Leptocephali are believed to be passively transported to the continental shelf by oceanic currents before metamorphosing to the glass eel stage. Leptocephali range from 53-54 mm TL immediately preceding metamorphosis. 

During metamorphosis, a reduction in body length and width and loss of teeth occurs. Early-stage glass eels vary between about 47-73 mm TL. Glass eels move shoreward into estuaries and rivers. During their time spent in estuaries, glass eels acclimate to reduced salinities and develop rapidly into fully pigmented elvers with teeth and stomach development. This is followed by a secondary upstream migration of silver eels into freshwater.

Fisheries

A small but important commercial fishery exists for the Southern Shortfin Eel in southeastern Australia. Most of the catch is exported overseas, either live, frozen or smoked.

A small aquaculture industry also exists for this species. Glass eels, elvers and sub-adult eels are captured from the wild in Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales, and Queensland, with most of the production occurring in Victoria. Most are taken from Victorian and Tasmanian coastal rivers and they are grown out in the aquaculture industry to a marketable size in lakes, swamps, wetlands and farm dams.

Freshwater eels provide good angling and can be taken on hook and lone. They are thought of as a delicacy in many parts of the world, and considered to be excellent-eating, especially when smoked.

Conservation


Remarks

The Gunditjmara people of south-western Victoria know this species as kooyang. Over a period of more than 6000 years, the Gunditjmara developed one of the oldest and most complex aquaculture systems in the world. They modified the Budj Bim landscape to create an extensive system of channels, weirs and dams to trap, house and harvest short-finned eels.
In July 2019, The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape on Gunditjmara Country was inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Similar Species

Differs from the Longfin Eel, Anguilla reinhardtii, in having a shorter dorsal fin that commences over or just before the anal-fin origin. It also has a uniform coloration vs. the mottled colour pattern of the Longfin Eel.

Etymology

The specific name is from the Latin australis (= southern) in reference to the southern hemisphere distribution of this species - type locality 'Australian seas' (actually Port Arthur, Tasmania). 

Species Citation

Anguilla australis Richardson 1841, Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond. 9: 22. Type locality: Port Arthur, Tasmania.

Author

Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2024

Resources

Atlas of Living Australia 

Australian Faunal Directory

Catalog of Fishes  

Southern Shortfin Eel, Anguilla australis Richardson 1841

References


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Crook, D.A., MacDonald, J.I., Morrongiello, J.R., Belcher, C.A., et al. 2014. Environmental cues and extended estuarine residence in seaward migrating eels (Anguilla australis). Freshwater Biology 59(8): 1710-1720 https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.12376

De Silva, S.S., Gunasekera, R.M. & Collins, R.O. 2002. Some morphometric and biochemical features of ready-to-migrate silver and pre-migratory yellow stages of the shortfin eel of south-eastern Australian waters. Journal of Fish Biology 61: 915–928.

Dijkstra, L.H. & Jellyman, D.J. 1999. Is the subspecies classification of the freshwater eels Anguilla australis australis Richardson and A. a. schmidtii Phillipps still valid? Marine and Freshwater Research 50(3) 261–263.

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Quick Facts


CAAB Code:37056001

Biology:Migratory - catadromous

Conservation:IUCN Near Threatened

Fishing:Commercial species

Habitat:Freshwater/marine larvae

Max Size:110 cm TL

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