The Electric Eel – by Peter Halder

The Electric Eel

by Peter Halder


Electric eel

Electric eel

Growing up as a child, I had often heard about the dangerous electric eel from adults in my neighbourhood since there was the La Repentir Cemetery trench, the Sussex Street trench, the Punt Trench and the Lamaha Canal in the Sussex Street backland. I swam in the Cemetery Trench, the Sussex Street trench, the Punt Trench regularly as a kid, at Clay, the Paaloff and near Cooper Street, Albouystown and in the Lamaha Canal. I was nipped by a piranha at Clay but to my delight, I never came across an electric eel. I also swam in the Demerara, Essequibo, Berbice, Pomeroon and Ireng Rivers; Kara Kara, Catabuli, Kamuni, and Mahaicony Creeks. Never came across one.


    The first time I saw one was circa 1950 when my friend Carl Agard joined me to pay a visit to the British Guiana Museum which was then located at Main and New Market Streets.

The first Museum, which I visited, was on the second flat of the Georgetown Public Free Library at Main and Church Streets. It housed a section of the National Museum on Company Path and was opened in February, 1937. I recall the well-dressed, almost life-like effigy of a Porkknocker, standing on the platform of the short stairway leading from the concrete bottom floor to short flight of stairs on the right and the left. I visited the Museum there often but saw no electric eels. For me the most outstanding exhibit was a giant black cayman, in a glass case, which was maintained in tip top condition.

    In the wake of the Great Main Street Fire of 1945, the Museum moved to Main and New Market Streets.

Carl and I were keen on visiting the new Museum to see an electric eel on display in a large water tank outside the building housing the Museum. We walked with a light bulb to touch the eel with it and see if it would light up. We saw the gray, yellow bellied eel swimming in the tank, vicious looking. The sight dimmed our courage.

The Eel

    Electric eels in Guyana live in rivers, creeks and even in swamps. They feed on fishes and amphibians.

The eels have long, snake-like cylindrical bodies, with flattened heads. They generally have dark green or gray bodies with a yellow underbelly. Their life span is about 15 years. Their average length is about three and a half feet though some grow to about nine feet. Their average weight is about 3 lbs.

Their bodies contain electric organs with about 6000 special cells called electrocytes that store energy like tiny batteries.

Normally they move sluggishly in the water  emitting just about 10 volts of electricity. In addition to using their electric power to defend themselves against attackers, they also use it to obtain their food and as radars to move around their habitat. They can, if the need arises, give off a jolt of electricity of over 600 watts.

When the eels are threatened or they are attacking a prey, the cells discharge power simultaneously. They are capable of emitting several levels of discharge depending on their objective.

They breathe in air to survive. They go to the surface every ten minutes or so to take in as much air as they can.

The electric shock from an eel could kill a person but it rarely happens. A number of shocks however could cause respiratory failure leading to drowning.

Persons most in fear of coming in contact with electric eels are those living in riverain areas and use rivers or creeks for swimming or bathing.   


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  • compton de castro  On October 11, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Interesting facts of one of Guyana s indigenous species of fresh water fishes.
    As a child swimming in the esequibo river at Bartica an adult
    female swimmer suffered a shock while swimming in waist
    deep water what must have been an EE bypass. She panicked
    and shouted as she desperately tried to swim ashore…coughing and shouting in her panic. Some of us
    9 – 10 yo rescued her to the shore. She could have drowned
    not so much from shock of eel but more from her panic.
    It took us smells time to venture into water but in shallower
    waters…..nearer shore.
    Growing up in Guyana was adventurous fun with all its
    risks and wild life. Today those dangers exist but wisdom
    comes with ageing and understanding her a little better.
    Respect !
    Write on brother Pedro

    • phillipa morrish  On October 11, 2014 at 2:05 pm

      Peter, your story brought back memories of fishing with my brothers. My first throw landed me an eel, they cut up the eel and told me that it would attract a “hurrie” Well that cut up eel only landed me another eel. That was my first and last fishing expedition.

  • David Hazell  On October 28, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    I was born and raised in Georgetown. There is a canal that runs parallel with clay. One day in the 50`s with some friends we were there. I almost drowned in that canal my friend saved me. What an experience I`ll never forget.

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